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The halo effect of attractiveness v

Social Behaviour is one of the topics that are studied in HPS121. Social Psychology is
the science of how other people may influence our feelings, thoughts and behaviours
and how we may influence them. Being social creatures we spend a great deal of our
lives thinking about other people. We form impressions (Impression Formation) about
the people we meet, have been described to us by friends, or who we have seen in
movies, television or magazines. However, it appears that rather than being basically
rational when making attributions about other people we are, in fact, not very careful
or scientific when making these attributes. We appear to take cognitive shortcuts, and
we do this because of the constant judgements we need to make about other people,
the shortage of time we have to make these judgements. This need for a speedy
appraisal seems to make us rely on quick judgements. These judgements suit our
goals and motives, so we do not seem to spend too much time rationally and carefully
making a decision about a person.
When we meet someone for the first time we seem to swiftly put all our various
perceptions about the person into a rapid single perception. When we initially meet a
person we are virtually swamped with information regarding their physical
appearance, their style of dress, their manner of speech, and so forth. Nevertheless,
even a brief meeting with another person is usually enough to leave us with a distinct
first impression of him or her. Through verbal and non-verbal cues we quickly form
some idea of a person’s appearance, personality traits and dispositions, and the causes
of their behaviour.
A trait is a relatively persistent and consistent behaviour pattern manifested in a wide
range of circumstances or is some consistent biological characteristic which leaves an
impression on us. In an early study in this area of rapid appraisal, Asch (1946) noted
that in forming impressions of people we tend to latch onto certain pieces of
information that have a disproportionate influence over our final overall impression of
a person. These are called central traits. Other pieces of information called peripheral
traits have much less influence on our judgements. In his classic demonstration of the
importance of central traits, Asch (1946) gave his participants a description of an
individual that contained several traits including the central trait of “warm”. Other
participants were given exactly the same list except “cold” was substituted for
“warm”. Substituting cold for warm made a substantial change in the participants’
impression of the other person.
So it appears that central traits influence our judgement on other traits. Central traits
can be rated in terms of how positive they are. For example, attractiveness is generally
considered an extremely favourable quality, and accordingly people usually assign it a
maximum value regardless of any other characteristic. Attractiveness is an important
central trait because even though we may say we should not judge a person by their
appearance, most of us do. Also, a person’s appearance is the one characteristic that
is immediately present whenever we meet someone new. Other traits may be more
relevant and important but they are harder to discern in a quick appraisal. Because
attractiveness is an immediate favourable first impression it may cloud our impression
regarding other traits.
The halo effect and attractiveness
The halo effect is the tendency to rate a person either higher or lower on peripheral
traits on the basis of one outstanding central trait (such as attractiveness). Does this
cognitive bias occur in real life? If so, it really does not take much imagination to see
how this largely unconscious form of bias could have important practical effects. If
this bias occurs then it would appear that physically attractive people would seem to
have significant advantages. For example, attractive people may be perceived as being
more likeable, exciting, interesting, and sociable, and may be thought to have more
skills compared to someone of average or unattractive appearance. Also, attractive
people may be perceived as less likely to possess undesirable traits than a less
attractive person. This may be a reason why attractive celebrities are used to endorse
products which may only be remotely connected to them.
A practical possible example of this phenomenon may have been Schapelle Corby
(who you may recall was jailed in Indonesia for drug importation). She is still
mentioned in the media as her confinement in Indonesia continues. Regardless of any
evidence of her innocence or guilt, many people in Australia felt that Schapelle could
not possibly be a drug courier. The media reinforced the fact that she was an
attractive, young Australian woman who was caught in a horrific nightmare. The view
that she was attractive probably gave her case a lot more prominence than other
similar drug cases. Many of us may have felt sympathy for a young, attractive female
caught in this dilemma regardless of the crime.
In the early seventies, a good illustration of the halo effect of attractiveness was
provided in a study by Dion, Berschfield and Walster (1972). Their studies used
photographs. Participants in the Dion et al. (1972) study were given pictures of people
who were either physically attractive, average looking or unattractive. The
participants then rated each of the people on a number of characteristics that, to the
participant, seemingly had nothing to do with attractiveness. The results showed that
the attractive person was rated highest and the unattractive person was rated the
lowest on almost all of the positive characteristics. Just because they were physically
attractive, and therefore had one positive trait, the halo effect showed that they were
perceived as having other positive traits. Conversely, those who looked unattractive
were perceived as having more negative traits. Dion et al. (1972) therefore found that
a stereotype existed for both attractive and unattractive people with the attractive
stereotype having distinct advantages.
In addition to attractiveness affecting peripheral trait perceptions, it also seems that
wearing glasses can affect ratings on other traits (Harris, Harris, & Bochner, 1982).
Participants in the Harris et al. study were given descriptions of a fictional target
person and asked to rate the target person on a number of traits. The authors found
that a stereotype for people wearing glasses does exist.
The first part of the present study was an attempt to see if the halo effect of
attractiveness still occurs after all these years. In the present study we firstly asked
students to rate one of two pictures of two composite facial images on attractiveness
(PHOTO A and PHOTO B). Students either saw PHOTO A or PHOTO B and the
selection was random.
It was predicted that one would be rated more significantly attractive than the other. If
that was the case we then proceeded to see if there were any significant differences in
the ratings on other socially desirable traits.
The second part of the present study was to investigate whether glasses had an
influence on ratings of intelligence. The present study asked students to rate one of
two pictures of the same composite facial image, with one wearing glasses (PHOTO
C) and one not wearing glasses (PHOTO B).
Our Study
In light of the above previous findings and to see if these stereotypes still exist
we attempted to address the following research questions:
1. Would the female in PHOTO A be rated as more attractive than the female in
2. Would a person who was perceived to be attractive receive a higher rating on
other socially desirable traits than a person who was perceived to be less
3. Would a less attractive person wearing glasses be rated as more intelligent than
the same person not wearing glasses?
From these three research questions you will need to generate three testable
Writing up the report
Now that you have the background, it is your job to read and understand the central
references and develop your introduction, aims and hypotheses. A number of
references will be made available for you on Moodle, including the primary references
of Asch (1946), Dion, Berschfield, and Walster (1972), and Harris, Harris, and
Bochner (1982). It is necessary that you thoroughly read, understand and use these
core papers because they will form the basis of your arguments. A good paper could
easily be written using only these core references. It is not necessary for you to use other referencing



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