Remember that guy you dated in college, whose striking good looks grew less noticeable as you began to see how annoying he was? Or girl -- you know the one I mean. New research shows it wasn't just you. We judge each other's looks not just by hair and cheekbones, but by personality traits. This is good news if you're facing a jury and your client isn't -- or you're not -- beautiful.
Pretty is as pretty does
The paper is "Personality goes a long way: The malleability of opposite-sex physical attractiveness," by Gary Lewandowski and others, in a journal called Personal Relationships. There isn't a free copy on line, but you can get the gist from the abstract and the press release.
The experiment was simple: take 78 college students, show them pictures of people of the opposite sex, and ask them to rate how attractive the people in the pictures are. Then wait while they "participate in a distraction task." (I just love social-science writing.) Later, ask them to rate the pictures again -- but this time, tell them something about the personalities of the people they're looking at.
Just like that guy in school, the people in the pictures got plainer or prettier, in the eyes of the research subjects, depending on what their personalities were supposed to be like. Honesty and helpfulness looked good; unfairness and rudeness looked bad. As the abstract puts it, "personality information produced significant changes in ratings of physical attractiveness for attractive, neutral, and unattractive targets."
More than skin deep
Does this have anything to do with juries? Absolutely. Like it or not, physical beauty matters to jurors, as a British study in March most recently showed. Back then I got to spend one long post on the study itself and another one on what to make of it. One thing I said was "Remember 'more than skin deep.' . . . If you have a witness you think may be stereotyped because of the way he looks, there are ways to let the jury see the beauty of his character." I didn't have a study to cite when I said it, but there is one now.
(Photo by Franco Folini at http://www.flickr.com/photos/livenature/269044687/; license details there.)