Physical attractiveness


Physical attractiveness

How attractive we find someone's face

Major role in formation of relationships

Shackelford and Larsen - symmetrical faces are considered more attractive - could be sign of health and genetic fitness

Also attracted to neotenous features e.g., widely separated and large eyes, delicate chin and small nose - trigger a protective, caring instinct

Eastwick - found that women find physical attractiveness less important for 'serious' realtionships

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Halo effect

Physically attractive people create favourable impression of possessing certain characteristics - psychological effect

Self-fulfilling prophecy - behaving positively towards these people because we believe they have certain traits

Dion et al - attractive people consistently rated as successful, kind and sociable when compared to unattractive people

Disproportionate influence on our judgements of a person's other attributes 

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Matching hypothesis

Choose partners based on own level of attractiveness

Realistic judgement must be made of our own attractiveness - often discrepancy between level of attractiveness a partner would like in a potential mate and what they must settle for

If matching hypothesis brings 2 people together it is proposed they will feel more secure with eachother with less fear or jealousy that the other may cheat or end the relationship

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Matching hypothesis study


To examine the matching hypothesis


'Computer dance' for freshers - male and female students rated for physical attractiveness by 4 independent judges 

Ppts completed a questionnaire about themselves which they were told would match them with someone for the dance -  actually paired randomly

During the dance and 4-6 mths later - asked whether they found their partner attractive and whether they would go on another date with them

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Matching hypothesis study - RESULTS


Hypothesis not supported - most liked partners were also the most physically attractive rather than taking their own level of attractiveness into account

Pattern was echoed in willingness to ask out the partner on another date

Females who were rated as physically attractive were frequently asked out on a second date by males who were not rated as physically attractive

Berscheid et al replicated the study, this time each ppt was able to select their partner from people of varying degrees of attractiveness - ppts tended to choose partners who matched them in physical attractiveness


Students expressed higher appreciation of their partner if the partner was attractive, regardless of their own level of attractiveness - contrary to matching hypothesis

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Research support for halo effect

Palmer and Peterson - physically attractive people were rated as more politically knowledgeable and competent than unattractive people - so powerful that it persisted even when ppts knew the attractive people had no expertise

Findings have implications for the political process - suggests there are dangers for democracy if politicians are judged as suitable by their physical appearance

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Evolutionary explanation evaluation

Cunningham et al found that women who had features of large eyes, prominent cheekbones, small nose and high eyebrows were rated as highly attractive by white, Hispanic and Asian men

Research concluded that what is considered physically attractive is consistent across different societies

Attractive features are a sign of genetic fitness and therefore perpuated similarly in all cultures (sexual selection)

Importance of physical attractiveness at an evolutionary level

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Research challenging matching hypothesis

Taylor et al studied activity logs of dating site -  real world test of matching hypothesis because it measured actual date choices and not preferences

In keeping with the original hypothesis which concerned realistic choices

Found that online daters sought partners that were more physically attractive than them

Undermines validity of matching hypothesis because it contradicts the central prediction about matching attractiveness

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