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Halo Effects of Attractiveness

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 9 months ago

The following quotes taken from Robert Cialdini (1988) Influence: Science and Practice (Second Edition) pages 160-163. I've added abstracts and links for some key papers. Some links may require you to have journal subscriptions.


"Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence [...]. Furthermore, we make these judgements without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. [...]"


"It now appears that, unless they have used their attractiveness to commit a crime (for example, a swindle), good-looking people are likely to receive highly favorable treatment in the legal system (Sigall & Ostrove, 1975). [...]"

Harold Sigall and Nancy Ostrove, Beautiful but Dangerous: Effects of Offender Attractiveness and Nature of the Crime on Juridic Judgment (Full Text PDF)

Journal ol Personality and Social Psychology

1975, Vol. 31, No. 3, 410-414

The physical attractiveness of a criminal defendant (attractive, unattractive, no information) and the nature of the crime (attractiveness-related, attractiveness- unrelated) were varied in a factorial design. After reading one of the case accounts, subjects sentenced the defendant to a term of imprisonment. An interaction was predicted: When the crime was unrelated to attractiveness (burglary), subjects would assign more lenient sentences to the attractive defendant than to the unattractive defendant; when the offense was attractiveness-related (swindle), the attractive defendant would receive harsher treatment. The results confirmed the predictions, thereby supporting a cognitive explanation for the relationship between the physical attractiveness of defendants and the nature of the judgments made against them.


"[In a study of] the damages awarded in a staged negligence trial, a defendant who was better-looking than his victim was assessed an average amount of $5623; but when the victim was the more attractive of the two, the average compensation was $10,051. What's more, both male and female jurors exhibited the attractiveness-based favoritism (Kulka & Kessler, 1978)"

Richard A. Kulka, Joan B. Kessler "Is Justice Really Blind?–The Influence of Litigant Physical Attractiveness on Juridical Judgment" Journal of Applied Social Psychology 8 (4), 366–381.
The present investigation examined the influence of litigant physical attractiveness on the decisions of 91 undergraduates playing the role of nondeliberating jurors in an automobile negligence trial. Seeking to achieve a more realistic simulation of actual courtroom practice than that produced in prior studies, which have relied exclusively on short written synopses as their method of trial presentation, this experiment tested the hypothesis that physical attractiveness would have a significant impact on juridic judgments even though an audiovisual presentation of the trial permitted the introduction of a variety of other important stimuli typically present at a jury trial. This prediction received empirical support: Subjects exposed to an attractive plaintiff and an unattractive defendant more often found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded more money in damages than students viewing an unattractive plaintiff and an attractive defendant. However, in contrast to findings from general studies of interpersonal evaluation, analyses of student perceptions of the two litigants provided only limited evidence for a global (positive) physical attractiveness stereotype within the context of a simulated trial. Instead, the observed effect of physical attractiveness on student decisions was apparently mediated by differential perceptions of the seriousness of the accident itself. Possible implications of the results for the judicial process were mentioned.


"Other experiments have demonstrated that attractive people are more likely to obtain help when in need (Benson, Karabenic, & Lerner, 1976) and are more persuasive in changing the opinions of an audience (Chaiken, 1979). [...]"

Peter L. Benson, Stuart A. Karabenick and Richard M. Lerner "Pretty pleases: The effects of physical attractiveness, race, and sex on receiving help" Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 12, Issue 5, September 1976, Pages 409-415

The major purpose of this study was to investigate whether favoritism for the physically attractive, a phenomenom demonstrated amost exclusively on the basis of rating scales, generalizes to nonreactive, behavioral helping responses. Four hundred and forty-two males and 162 female white adult callers in public phone booths in a large metropolitan airport found a completed graduate school application form, a photograph of the applicant, and an addressed, stamped envelope. The picture was used to convey information as to the physical attractiveness (attractive vs. unattractive), race (black vs. white), and sex of the applicant. As predicted, delivery of the application was facilitated more for attractive than unattractive persons. There was also a significant race effect, with whites receiving more help than blacks. Implications of these findings for the physical attractiveness literature are discussed.

Shelly Chaiken, "Communicator physical attractiveness and persuasion" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 1979 Aug Vol 37(8) 1387-1397

In a field setting, each of 68 physically attractive or unattractive male and female communicator Ss (undergraduates) delivered a persuasive message to 2 undergraduate target Ss of each sex. Results indicate that attractive (vs unattractive) communicators induced significantly greater persuasion on both a verbal and behavioral measure of target agreement. In addition, female targets indicated greater agreement than male targets. Data gathered from communicator Ss during an earlier laboratory session indicate that physically attractive and unattractive communicators differed with respect to several communication skills and other attributes relevant to communicator persuasiveness, including GPA, Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, and several measures of self-evaluation. These findings suggest that attractive individuals may be more persuasive than unattractive persons partly because they possess characteristics that dispose them to be more effective communicators.

MLP Comments: It's not so straightforward that there is a halo effect of attractiveness on persuasion. Chaiken's paper isn't strictly a halo effect study because it doesn't measure the effect of attractiveness on its own. Attractive people may be more successful than persuading others, but it's not their attractiveness that does the work. Instead it could be the social confidence they've built up from a lifetime of positive responses from other people. The paper cites a number of papers which found no effect of attractiveness on persuasion, although in arguably artificial laboratory environments.


"Research on elementary school children shows that adults view aggressive acts as less naughty when performed by an attractive child (Dion, 1972) and that teachers presume good-looking children to be more intelligent than their less-attractive classmates (Rich, 1975)."

K. K. Dion, "Physical attractiveness and evaluation of children's transgressions" Journal of personality and social psychology, 1972 Nov Volume 24, Issue 2: 207-13.

Preliminary evidence indicates that effects of a physical attractiveness stereotype may be present at an early childhood developmental level. Several of the mediating processes that may be responsible for these effects presuppose that adults display differential treatment toward attractive and unattractive children in circumstances in which their behavior is identical. The present study used a situation integral to the socialization process, that in which the child has committed a transgression and the socializing adult must evaluate the child's behavior. 243 female undergraduates rated 7-yr-olds reading descriptions of the act and viewing a photograph of the child involved. Within a 2 * 2 * 2 * 2 design (Attractiveness of Child*Severity of Transgression*Sex of Child*Type of Transgression), support was found for the hypotheses that (a) the severe transgression of an attractive child is less likely to be seen as reflecting an enduring disposition toward antisocial behavior than that of an unattractive child and (b) the transgression itself tends to be evaluated less negatively when commited by an attractive child. No differences in intensity of advocated punishment were found. These and additional findings are discussed.

Jordan Rich, "Effects of Children's Physical Attractiveness on Teachers' Evaluations"

Journal of Educational Psychology, 67, 5, 599-609, Oct 75

After viewing a photograph of an attractive or unattractive child and a vignette of possible misbehavior by that child, female teachers evaluated each student for blame, punishment and personality. Attractive children received better personality ratings than did unattractive. Unattractive girls were given more lenient punishments than unattractive boys.


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