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Health Research Findings: Part Two - The Benefits Of Being Beautiful!

Pretty faces 'prime' our minds to make us more likely to associate the pretty face with a positive emotion. This recent study backs up a lot of earlier beliefs. Are your looks helping you? Learn more...

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It is said beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but research is mounting to validate the long held belief that attractiveness is hard to resist, with the "attractive" being more readily associated with positive traits regardless of personality type.

Hard Wired Beauty

According to a report from the University of Pennsylvania, subjects who were given a fraction of a second to judge "attractiveness" did so to such an extent they have given additional support to the belief that our selectiveness when it comes to identifying beauty may, in fact, be hard wired.

Participants in this study, also, more readily identified beauty with positive traits, lending support to the notion that the "attractive" are innately viewed more favorably.

Study author and researcher at Penn State's Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Professor Ingrid Olsen of Penn's Department of Psychology, suggests that attractiveness could play a much greater role in personal perception than previously thought.

"We're able to judge attractiveness with surprising speed
and on the basis of very little information,"
she says.

"It seems that pretty faces 'prime' our minds to make us more likely to associate the pretty face with a positive emotion." Conducted in January 2006, the study, recently published in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion, was designed to investigate the cognitive processes underpinning why people with beauty have greater advantages over those who are considered unattractive - a very real phenomenon.

Research into attractiveness is nothing new, with previous findings overwhelmingly demonstrating that attractive people are looked upon more favorably. In "real world" examples, the attractive are subject to greater career advancement, judged to be more intelligent, and given more attention, researchers have found.

Psychologist Elliot Aronson researched this phenomenon thoroughly as far back as 1972, coming to the conclusion that attractive people are indeed viewed in a more positive light. His famous work, The Social Animal, presented research showing that attractive participants in various studies were judged positively, compared to unattractive participants, despite high incompetence on the part of the "better looking" subjects.

Elliot Aronson:
One of Aronson's key areas of interest and research has been the theory of cognitive dissonance. Aronson is credited with refining the theory, which posits that when attitudes and behaviors are inconsistent with one another that psychological discomfort results. This discomfort motivates the person experiencing it to either change their behavior or attitude so that consonance is restored.

Three Experiments

In this latest study, Olsen, along with co-author Christy Marshuetz used three experiments to investigate the preference for attractiveness.

Experiment 1: Speed Assessment.

    In the first, face pictures of non-famous males and females (taken from three different high school year-books and the internet) were flashed for .013 seconds on a computer screen, while subjects were asked to rate the faces.

    This experiment was expected to show how rapidly beauty can be assessed - whether an accurate, relatively unconscious identification can be made on what is deemed to constitute physical beauty.

    "There are no definite rules to what kind of face can be called beautiful, but we chose faces of either extreme very ugly or very pretty," Olson said.

    It was shown, in this particular experiment, that subjects did indeed make accurate assessments on beauty despite the minimal allotted time.

Experiments 1 & 2: Word Association.

    In the second and third experiments, physical attractiveness and its relationship to positive attributes was investigated more closely. In the first of these, a face was flashed on a computer screen and followed soon after with a word in white text on black.

    Participants were timed on how long it took to identify the word as either good or bad, having first received instructions to ignore the faces and focus on these words alone. It was found that response times to good words, such as happiness and laughter, were faster after the subjects viewed the attractive face.

    The researchers during this experiment, specifically wanted to understand the underlying processes that prejudice us to respond to attractive faces without an apparent awareness of doing it.

    "In a way, pretty faces are rewarding;
    they make us more likely to think
    good thoughts,"
    says Olson.

    In the third experiment, images of houses followed by the same white words on black background were used to gauge whether beauty is seen in phenomena other than socially important stimuli such as faces.

    It was shown that response times to good words were not as fast after viewing an attractive house, compared with a pretty face, lending to support to the belief that faces hold a special kind of beauty compared to objects or art.

    "The beauty bias has a real influence upon us,
    something we should be mindful of when dealing with others,"
    says Olson.


On the face of it, it would seem that those born with the right looks are destined to reach greater heights in a variety of areas, based on a possible superficial assumption stemming from an innate process linking beauty to positive traits. As alluded to by Olson, there is a danger in automatically associating beauty with what is perceived to be good.

Clearly, beautiful people are pleasant on the eye, and are often, rightly, the subject of admiration and adoration. However, is not the harder-to-identify inner-beauty, something we should seek to uncover as we attempt to identify whether one really does have the positive attributes we desire.


  1. University of Pennsylvania: Office of University communications. First impressions of beauty may demonstrate why the pretty prosper. [ Online ]

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