"Stop browbeating her! Can't you see she is sexy?"
At our house, we're watching the DVD of The Pink Panther (the one with Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau, not the one with Peter Sellers) a lot lately, and we crack up at that line. The reason it's funny, of course -- besides Martin's Pepé le Pew accent -- is that Clouseau says out loud what everybody else thinks but would never say. When British researchers announced on Thursday that jurors are more lenient with attractive defendants than they are with plain ones, Clouseau would have said something like, "But of course."
The researchers gave volunteer "jurors" identical facts describing a mugging, but showed them photographs of different people -- some attractive, some not -- as the supposed defendant. Attractive defendants were less likely to be judged guilty. The researchers weren't surprised. "Our findings confirm previous research on the effects of defendant characteristics, such as physical attractiveness, on the deliberations of jurors," said Dr. Sandie Taylor, who was in charge.
Is it true blondes have more fun?
She's right, and it isn't just jurors. Your lifelong suspicion that beautiful people get more breaks in the world is supported by stacks of scholarly research. Here is just the first paragraph of a 2003 paper by Comila Shahani-Denning, an associate professor of psychology at Hoftstra, reviewing some of the literature:
The bias in favor of physically attractive people is robust, with attractive people being perceived as more sociable, happier and more successful than unattractive people (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972; Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani & Longo, 1991; Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986; Watkins & Johnston, 2000). Attractiveness biases have been demonstrated in such different areas as teacher judgments of students (Clifford & Walster, 1973), voter preferences for political candidates (Efran & Patterson, 1974) and jury judgments in simulated trials (Efran, 1974). Recently, Smith, McIntosh and Bazzini (1999) investigated the “beauty is goodness” stereotype in U.S. films and found that attractive characters were portrayed more favorably than unattractive characters on multiple dimensions across a random sample drawn from five decades of topgrossing films. The authors also found that participants watching a biased film (level of beauty and gender stereotyping) subsequently showed greater favoritism toward an attractive graduate school candidate than participants watching a less biased film. In the area of employment decision making, attractiveness also influences interviewers’ judgments of job applicants (Watkins & Johnston, 2000).
I know it's hard to accept the unfairness of this, so you might need more. Some examples from a few scratch-the-surface Google searches suggest that attractive people are more likely to be perceived as:
- Worth higher pay. "[P]lain people earn less than people of average looks, who earn less than the good-looking. The penalty for plainness is 5 to 10 percent, slightly larger than the premium for beauty." That's from the abstract of "Beauty and the Labor Market," a 1993 paper by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle.
- Competent. "[A]ttractive people were perceived as more competent than less attractive people" in research published by the Social Psychology Quarterly in 1995. "Attractiveness effects were stronger for males than for females" in the study; I'll get to that tomorrow.
- Competent again. Students rate good-looking instructors as better teachers, Hamermesh and Amy Parker found in a 2003 paper. (They noted that since the instructors in question were real people, the experiment couldn't determine whether they really were better.) Again, good-looking men had a bigger advantage than good-looking women did.
- Trustworthy. In a study last year at Rice University, subjects were more likely to trust attractive people than unattractive people.
And while it's easy to blame the media for all this bias, it may be as likely that the bias shapes the media. In research by Professor Judith Langlois at University of Texas at Austin, babies as young as three months old showed, in their baby ways, that they'd rather have an attractive caregiver.
Tomorrow's post will have some thoughts on what to make of all this.
(Drawing by Alan at http://flickr.com/photos/goo/225456736/; license details there.)