Does looking good give you an edge? Various studies have shown that attractive people are usually hired sooner, get promotions more quickly, and are paid more than their less attractive coworkers. This article discusses the psychological phenomena associated with physical attractiveness, how our obsession with beauty runs deep and the impact it has on the decisions we make. While most of us might be horrified by the idea that our physical appearances dictate our chances of success in life, research indicates that this is what happens. We agree, being beautiful has its perks, however, there is plenty of room to catch up.
Do doors open automatically if you are good looking? Some of us would like to believe that it does. It is not uncommon for most individuals to get swayed by appearances. Being attractive gives one an added advantage in all ways in our society whether it is a job or marriage. If beauty and appearances did not count why would people dress up for interviews or important business meetings? According to Dr. Gordon Patzer, International Expert on Physical Attractiveness Phenomena, who has concluded three decades of research on physical attractiveness, human beings are hard-wired to respond more favourably to attractive people. “Good looking men and women are generally regarded to be more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts”. Experts in human behaviour have long argued that a person’s looks affect how he/she is perceived and treated by others.
Research shows that attractive people also have more dating experience and occupational success than their unattractive counterparts. With a few exceptions, plenty of empirical studies support the contention that physically attractive individuals receive more favourable treatments than their less attractive counterparts. So, if you thought intelligence is the key to career progression then here is the newsflash: good looks with a dash of smartness can help people score the job and earn the money they have always dreamt of. Let us examine why and how.
“I have an attractive friend who flies frequently for work and whose employer buys first-class tickets for her. She tells me that 99% of the men who occupy the seat next to her start talking to her at some point during the flight, and half of them end up asking for her phone number. Sometimes, she closes her eyes and pretends to be asleep to avoid being bothered. No one bothers me when I sit in the last row of the economy class. Sometimes, I am lucky enough that no one is sitting next to me on either side, so I can stretch my body across three seats, close my eyes, and sleep for real.”
Psychology Today: The Truth about why Beautiful People are More Successful (2012)
What is Beautiful is Good
The principal explanation of attractiveness advantage in social psychology is, “what is beautiful is good” stereotype. The core argument in this stereotype is that individuals make inferences about other people’s traits and qualities based on their physical appearances. Physically attractive people are ascribed to a range of positive traits such as high intelligence, honesty, likeability, friendliness, leadership skills, etc. By contrast, unattractive people, both adults, and children are ascribed to negative traits. Also, related to this concept is the“extended halo effect”. Individuals may benefit by being associated with a physically attractive person either through friendship or marriage and it may be a “payoff” in the long run because it transmits positive social status onto others— a stereotypical example of a man benefitting socially by having a beautiful wife.
According to Gordon Patzer, physical attractiveness phenomena occurs through a four-step
process whereby : (1) physical attractiveness occurs as an informational cue (2) from which extensive information is inferred (3) that triggers assumptions, expectations, attitudes, and behaviours (4) which then cause powerful/pervasive effects and consequences.
In the recent past, on an international platform, Deutsche Bank CEO had said that the presence of women in his team contributes to his excellence. Although this statement was subject to immense controversy, the main idea conveyed here was that in the 21st-century career growth does not thrive merely on talent but also depends on a lot many factors. “From dressing sense to communication and non-verbal aspects such as body language, everything holds due importance. A complete package is what the corporate world looks for,” remarks advertising guru, Alyque Padamsee. Although some of us would like to believe that this phenomenon is limited to mostly women, however, this is not the truth as experts believe that physical attractiveness phenomena and the related consequences are not limited to gender, age, or race.
Being good-looking is useful in so many ways. Studies have shown that in addition to whatever personal pleasures it gives to the individual, being attractive also helps one earn more money. Attractive people earn on an average of 3 to 4 percent more than people with below-average looks, according to David Hamermesh, Professor of Economics at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of the book Beauty Pays: Why attractive people are more successful. An article in Psychology Today (The Truth about Why Beautiful People are More Successful: 2012) says that beautiful people tend to bring in more money for their companies and are therefore seen as more valuable and hard-working employees. This is also known as “Beauty Premium”. The existence of the beauty premium in the labour market is well documented. Hamermesh, also believes that “attractive people tend to have desirable personality traits like – higher self-confidence – likely a direct result of their good looks – that appeals to most employers. There is also a possibility that beauty and attractiveness of one’s personality are positively related and that it is the general sparkle of one’s personality and not one’s beauty that increases the earnings.” Catherine Hakim, professor of sociology at the London School of Economics and the author of book Erotic Capital, added further evidence by suggesting that professional women who use their erotic capital: beauty, sex appeal, charm, dress sense, liveliness, and fitness, get ahead at work. According to her, “ beauty premium” is an important economic factor in our careers, citing a US survey that found good looking lawyers earn 10-12% more than less attractive colleagues.
The principal explanation of attractiveness advantage in social psychology is, “what is beautiful is good” stereotype. The core argument in this stereotype is that individuals make inferences about other people’s traits and qualities based on their physical appearances.
There is no escaping the force of your physical image at work: Social psychologists and career experts agree that you are judged not only by your abilities, but also your clothes, style, and grooming too. There are certain jobs especially in areas such as hospitality, client servicing where looking good, and having an attractive personality is an added bonus. In these sectors, success depends a lot on your presentation. Grooming experts and image consultants say that candidates applying for jobs have started increasingly giving importance to personal grooming and style. Studies have also shown that attractive people have more chances of getting hired during a recession. Personality grooming is not limited to a selected few, it is becoming increasingly popular.
Although the majority accepts that beauty and a good personality can act as a stepping stone to success in the workplace, on the other hand, few findings have refuted this conception. Attractiveness is a difficult topic to study. One of the difficulties is that it’s an amorphous construct, lots of things go into it, so researchers have to make a choice of how to measure it. Researchers at Colorado University have found that only in some special jobs good looking women are likely to receive favours. It was also reported that in male-dominated work fields, women have to face bias because here “good looks” do not play a role and it is here that functional knowledge and experience are considered more important. Based on the above findings, it can be concluded that the bias in favour of the physically attractive is robust. Since it is not fair to base hiring decisions on non-job-related factors such as attractiveness, training hiring managers to avoid this bias is one way to reduce this inequity. We all suffer from the “Halo Effect” – without even realizing it, we judge a person’s entire character by their physical appearance.
For better or worse, physical attractiveness does play a major role in success. Although the findings presented here are perhaps somewhat politically incorrect. Social code says that we have to say that beauty does not play a role either in staff selection, promotion, or salary negotiations. However, the research cites a completely different picture. These findings should be a warning to those employers or managers who may subconsciously favour the more attractive. It is, therefore, important that we become more aware of this phenomenon (and no longer try to deny it) and that we should protect people from this kind of discrimination wherever possible. Also, the beautiful has an advantage over the rest of us, but there is plenty of room to catch up.
Manavi Pathak is the head of Talent and Leadership Development at Trent Limited. She is a seasoned HR professional with over 15 years of experience in HR Consulting and Academics. Prior to this, she has worked with some big names in the industry namely, TATA Motors, Cipla, KPMG to name a few. Complementing her rich consulting experience in the field of Talent Management, she maintains a strong academic interest in this area. An alumna of XLRI Jamshedpur, she has done her Ph.D. in Organisational Behaviour. Her specialities include – Talent Management, Psychometrics, Assessment, Leadership Development, Competency Mapping, Organisational Change, and Executive Coaching.