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Monday, February 14, 2022

Beauty Goes Down to the Core: Attractiveness Biases Moral Character Attributions

Klebl, C., Rhee, J.J., Greenaway, K.H. et al. 
J Nonverbal Behav (2021). 


Physical attractiveness is a heuristic that is often used as an indicator of desirable traits. In two studies (N = 1254), we tested whether facial attractiveness leads to a selective bias in attributing moral character—which is paramount in person perception—over non-moral traits. We argue that because people are motivated to assess socially important traits quickly, these may be the traits that are most strongly biased by physical attractiveness. In Study 1, we found that people attributed more moral traits to attractive than unattractive people, an effect that was stronger than the tendency to attribute positive non-moral traits to attractive (vs. unattractive) people. In Study 2, we conceptually replicated the findings while matching traits on perceived warmth. The findings suggest that the Beauty-is-Good stereotype particularly skews in favor of the attribution of moral traits. As such, physical attractiveness biases the perceptions of others even more fundamentally than previously understood.

From the Discussion

The present investigation advances the Beauty-is-Good stereotype literature. Our findings are consistent with extensive research showing that people attribute positive traits more strongly to attractive compared to unattractive individuals (Dion et al., 1972). Most significantly, the present studies add to the previous literature by providing evidence that attractiveness does not bias the attribution of positive traits uniformly. Attractiveness especially biases the attribution of moral traits compared to positive non-moral traits, constituting an update to the Beauty-is-Good stereotype. One possible explanation for this selective bias is that because people are particularly motivated to assess socially important traits—traits that help us quickly decide who our allies are (Goodwin et  al., 2014)—physical attractiveness selectively biases the attribution of those traits over socially less important traits. While in many instances, this may allow us to assess moral character quickly and accurately (cf. Ambady et al., 2000) and thus obtain valuable information about whether the target is a threat or ally, where morally relevant information is absent (such as during initial impression formation) this motivation to assess moral character may lead to an over reliance on heuristic cues.