Halo & Devil Effect
“We've created this series of articles to help newcomers understand our views on beauty through the available clinical research so that as a whole we can stop the cycles of beauty biases from continuing.
It will also help you to improve your looks (which is pretty important)!”Shafee HassanFounder
There are many entitlements that better looking individuals benefit from, like cutting the line at the grocery store or having the cashier give you a little extra with your order. Generally, we classify these under the broad umbrella of Looks-Based Advantage, AKA ‘Pretty Privilege.’
Pretty Privilege is in itself a subset of ‘Social Privilege.’ An example; you are likely well aware of is Racial Privileges, where across the world and throughout many cultures, even in white minorities, members belonging to the fairer skin colour group gain social benefits such as increased economic mobility and more positive discrimination.
Everyone knows it is better to be beautiful than to be ugly¹
There’s no scientific justification for discriminating between black, white or a colour inbetween. Similarly members of a religious group come in all shapes, forms and walks of life, so religious privilege is purely a social construct too, but looks-based discrimination is strongly biological as sociologists have identified.
That fleeting primal repulsion we feel when we see a severely scarred, deformed or diseased face is a natural human response and this is what makes this form of privilege and discrimination so difficult to overcome.
The size of this beauty premium is economically significant and comparable to the race and gender gaps in the U.S. labor market²
Most tasks are uncorrelated with physical attractiveness. Does it really matter how hot the computer programmer building your website is? But in the service-industry, such as hospitality (think bartenders, waiters, waitresses) looks are arguably more important than service or skill in many cases.
Another prominent example is in real-estate, where the majority of agents acknowledge the important of ‘personal-image,’ not necessarily looks, but the appearance of having your life together such as pulling up in a fancy car and being well dressed to sell a house.
This translates into a 3.6-percent increase in wages for a one-standard-deviation increase in beauty²
The beauty premium is strongest for women. I.e. Attractive women benefit more than attractive men³
Beauty premiums are an indirect result of the halo effect. We assume attractive = more intelligence + capable⁴
It is not caused by something directly measureable like height or weight but by intanglible attributes like confidence (which undeniably come from being more attractive, perhaps taller and skinnier)⁵
This is especially visible in STEM fields which are in constant skilled short supply and looks arguably matter the least. If you’re a less attractive individual, then investing back into yourself to learn new skill (for example a programmer learning a new language) will make the Beauty Premium nonexistent during hiring. This means that you will neither benefit from it, but nor will you be penalized for it against your attractive peers.
Hospitality jobs such as waiters and waitresses are especially prone to the Beauty Premium as the average customer is unaware of their own biases, they are prone to tipping attractive faces more. Probably a good idea to avoid customer facing fields of work here…
Rosenblat 2008 has recommended blind interviews where possible³. STEM and tech fields are especially meritocratic, having programming and technical tests which do not involve a human interviewer at all (in the early stages of the process) and so there’s little risk of Beauty Bias.
Ask your employer if you can phone interview first (instead of coming in immediately), or try to steer your availability away from taking the first “can you come in for an interview” offer they give. Usually calling them after you’ve secured their interest but before the in-person interview helps them gauge your personality without the risk of looks-based discrimination and is the most effective hack to securing more jobs (for the aesthetically disadvantaged).
For QOVES, our hiring process involves an initial ‘work/portfolio submission’ round, such as for a video editor to submit their portfolio, with no profile pictures and sometimes obfuscated names. Due to much of our work being done remotely, we conduct a telephone interview next and lastly a zoom interview to confirm that they are indeed a real person. In doing so, we hire people who are actually capable, and not just a pretty face.
Abolishing the tipping system in hospitality fields and codifying anti-lookism laws (anti-discrimination) are some ways to get actual social change as business owners rarely change unless it affects their bottom line.
if an individual is viewed as having some good qualities, there is a bias toward assuming that the person in question has all good qualities⁶
The halo effect is very prolific in psychology. It shows up everywhere from assuming more stylish cars are faster and objectively better purchases to assuming handsome children are more intelligent, hard-working and better behaved (even when they’re not)⁷.
This is the ace in the hole for beauty-related psychology, because it implies that the benefits and costs of being attractive and unattractive are not linear, but rather exponential. Not only is a subject unattractive, but we as a society impart further negative biases onto them, such as assuming they are more likely to commit norm violations⁸, fancy-speak for being doing things that are seen as ‘creepy’ or ‘anti-social.’
You may have also noticed from the previous segment on Beauty Premiums, that the Halo Effect is one of the mechanisms that determines how much extra you can earn for your looks. An attractive person is assumed to be more capable (halo effect) thus earning better promotions (beauty premium).
…being attractive allows an
individual to violate social norms with fewer potential consequences compared to [unattractive] social violations¹⁰
An example of a norm violation could be forgetting to flush the toilet. This is called a ‘purity violation,’ (a subset of norm violations) because it implies unclean behaviour. Klebl and colleagues found that unattractive people are presumed to be more morally ‘impure,’ and unhygienic.¹¹ Thus the norm violation of an innocent mistake has punished the unattractive participant more harshly than the attractive one, because we assume the worst.
We assume the worst because of unpredictableness. With attractive individuals, we excuse norm violations as exceptions rather than typical behaviour. Talamas et al describes this as being blinded by the halo effect.¹² We expect the attractive groups to behave predictably and be socially well-adjusted (due to being treated better). We expect the unattractive groups to be dangerously unpredictable due to their resentment towards their mistreatment by society, and so we justify avoiding them by creating false presumptions of purity, morality… etc.¹³
Norm violations are especially detrimental (for the unattractive) when they involve social interactions. The difference between a norm violation being taken as creepy or innocent is based on the same mechanisms described. Norm violations are magnified for unattractive individuals because of the ‘ double devil-effect;’ refer to the podcast below.¹⁴
If your gender and your race haven’t kept you off the short list, your physical appearance still might¹⁶
While it is legally unlawful to discriminate based on race, age or sex, it IS legally permissible to discriminate based on looks in many parts of the world. Afterall, how can you reliably prove that you were rejected because of the way you look? Unlike the former examples, looks are much harder to quantify and thus prove and enforce anti-discrimination.
Lookism ties back to the idea of the beauty premium. If good-looking employees were undesirable or had no social benefit to the company, then employers would not pay a beauty premium for them. Aesthetic labour is a commonly used term in this field that explains how unattractive employees must physically labour (grooming, exercise, surgery … etc) to meet the beauty standard and thus corporeality. Think of it like shaping the employee to represent the brand, and no brand wants to be associated with unattractive looks because of the devil effect described above.
Lookism also shapes your dating prospects. Midtgaard 2022 argues that dating preferences have become so distorted by the availability of online dating apps, that we fail to separate blatant looks-based discrimination from merely ‘stating a preference.’ This amplifies to us producing more extreme beauty requirements and never ultimately being satisfied with what we have in our partners.
@qovesstudio Beauty overstimulation is a real and documented psychological effect, although it disproportionately affects men more, and in turn harms women more. It takes 2 to tango. #aesthetics #qoves #psychology #beauty #science ♬ Stranger Things - Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein
…participants who are led to believe that they have been rejected by others experience a drop in self-esteem¹⁹
Attractive people enjoy a higher quality of life, i.e. on average, they live easier lives due to a number of confounding privileges and can experience events to their fullest. While we can look at beauty QOL from a number of perspectives, such as physical health, socio-economic earning or social interactions the most significant benefit to being beautiful is having higher self-esteem and thus greater confidence, leading to all else that is good.
Sociometer theory explains that self-esteem is determined by your likeability (desirability) by others²⁰. This framework explains why we wish to keep a level of acceptance even from the people who hate us; rejection from anyone stings hard. It is unsurprising then, that unattractive people experience greater rejection from a larger body of people, from romantic to professional (see Podcast below).
Your interpersonal sociometer is especially sensitive to your desirability as a mate. In simple speak, being rejected romantically hurts more than rejections professionally, platonically or other²¹. Romantic rejections are heavily skewed for physical looks.
Those with high self-rated attractiveness also have high self-esteem, but by sociometer theory, your self-esteem is tied to how others view and rate you, so in reality, your self-esteem is dependent on how society treats you for the way you look. Lastly, high self-esteem is just one such metric that contributes to quality of life.
The Trivers-Willard hypothesis predicts that mothers of a species bias their offspring ratios (males/females) and/or paternal investment depending on the condition of the mother. If the mother is healthy, more favoritism towards the sons, and if unhealthy, more towards the daughters.²²
One example of TWH in humans is that mothers of low socio-economic status in agropastoral villages in northern Kenya produce more nutritious milk when breastfeeding daughters than sons, and vice versa for mothers of high socio-economic status.²³ This is an example of a generational effect that is influenced by the health of the mother.
females of biparental species must make a tradeoff between better genetics but reduced parental care
The polygyny threshold refers to the minimum level of inequality in male resource holding, such that a given female’s reproductive success is enhanced by becoming the second mate of a resource-rich and already paired male, rather than the sole mate of a resource-poor unpaired male.²⁵ ²⁶
In humans, whether this practically exists is debated, but with greater social inequality, we do see a tendency for resource (and looks)-poor men to go invisible off the sexual market.
Masculine faces often show ‘male ornamentation.’ These characteristically masculine features are produced by high testosterone and indicate strong genetic quality as testosterone is actually immunosuppressive and tough on the body.²⁸
For women to compete with men in spreading their ‘genetic seed,’ they need to essentially produce more men that carry on the female genetic line. To guarantee so, they need to tradeoff for highly masculine fathers which are often poor long-term partners. This is called the sexy-son hypothesis.²⁴
Fisher’s runaway process is one final example. Due to mating effects like the Sexy-son hypothesis, male facial features are predicted to become more and more extreme (dimorphic) to the physical detriment of their health, but making them more sexually attractive to pair with. The average man on however, will not be able to compete (in theory).
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