A study published in 2000 aimed to pair participants with partners based on personality traits and beauty.
The researchers Guido Caldarelli (University of Rome) and Andrea Capocci (Fribourg University in Switzerland) incorporated what they called the “vogue factor” which labelled certain images of people as intrinsically more attractive than others.
When the vogue factor was ignored, the participants were able to find a partner who demonstrated their desires in personality.
However, when the vogue factor was included, participants all wanted the most attractive people. The personality traits people wanted were far less important than the physical beauty of their potential mate.
Of course, there is an evolutionary basis for this. Our ancestors mated with the healthiest of the species and these people were deemed to be more attractive. They didn’t mate with those who looked sick or disordered in some way, because they needed to produce healthy offspring.
Therefore, we are hardwired for look for beauty because it’s a shortcut to predict physical, psychological and even financial health.
But here’s the obvious problem. One can be introduced to another who has the traits they want in a partner but that person may be overlooked for someone else who merely looks attractive and whose personality traits are assumed to be positive.
This phenomenon is explained by psychologists as the “halo effect” whereby a positive trait (in this case physical attractiveness) that is observed about a person or thing leads one to assume more positive traits about the person or thing.
Another study from 1974 illustrated this phenomenon in a rather interesting and alarming way.
Participants were given essays with a photo of either an attractive woman or of an unattractive woman attached. They were told to read the essay and judge its quality.
The results showed that participants who were given an essay with the attractive woman’s picture attached viewed the essay as more creative, more incisive and better written than participants who were given an essay with the unattractive woman’s picture.
Was the attractive woman’s essay actually better? No, because participants were actually all given the same essay.
As a matter of fact, when the study was repeated but this time with an obviously awful essay, the gap between the ratings of the essay was even greater.
Researchers concluded that people expected good performances from attractive people, but when they failed to live up to their expectation, they are forgiven. People celebrate but are also more lenient of attractive people.
With the halo effect explained and the understanding that we are hardwired (for better or for worse) to give preferential bias for physical attractiveness, you can probably see how this could wreak havoc in your dating life.
You could see a man or woman that exudes all the physical traits that light you up on the inside and it causes you to assume that they are a good person or a good match for you.
You become blind to the personality traits that are displeasing, toxic or are simply incompatible with your own traits if you both got into a relationship.
But because they’re hot you try your best to maintain the relationship because you still think they are a good match for you. You just need to stick it out and wait for them to change.
The only problem with this is that if you need them to change, then you don’t really want them now do you? You want an idealized version of them that suits you. Let’s face it. If what you’re getting now isn’t enough, then it’s best to cut your losses.
But can you really part ways with such a beautiful or handsome specimen? Nope. It’s a bias that not only gives the most attractive among us benefits that they don’t necessarily deserve but it keeps both people in the relationship hanging on to something they both should let go of.
Please bear in mind that they probably are using the halo effect on you too if they find you attractive. Because they find you attractive, they think you’re understanding, warm, friendly, patient and all the traits they would want in a partner.
And maybe you are those things to some extent, but they are overvaluing you because of the halo effect and are not looking at the reality of who you really are, what you really want and the incompatibilities between the both of you.
Eventually, the frustrations are going to kill the relationship. But because you have the bias that attractiveness on the outside can predict attractiveness on the inside, you make the same mistake with a new partner.
This will continue until you figure out that physical attractiveness is not a reliable predictor of anything. But I have to admit, it’s still pretty damn powerful. Fortunately, there is an antidote.
First, picture the person in your mind. Then replace their attractiveness with ugliness. Finally, let them behave in the way that they normally do and say the things they normally say. What do you notice?
Chances are, you are now seeing who this person really is. Now you can truly gauge their personality for what it is and you can gauge the compatibility between you and the other person.
And the next time you see an attractive person and you feel somewhat intimidated, do this again. You know deep down they’re just like anyone else, but the halo effect is causing your body to respond in a completely different way.
No problem, just replace their attractiveness with ugliness and see their personality for what it really is. It will be easier to talk to them or you’ll realize that you really don’t care about talking to them. It was their attractiveness that made you feel like you should talk to them.
You know that looks shouldn’t matter so much and that personality is really the most important thing. You knew this all along but now you can actually live this truth.
It may be difficult to shelf a value that we love so much. Physical beauty is truly awesome, but it can also double as a trap. We have seen our peers may stupid decision after stupid decision because of someone they saw as attractive.
We have seen ourselves do it too. We know the pain and it’d be nice to finally get the egg off of our faces.
So give yourself the advantage that you need in the dating game. Eliminate the other person’s power over you and make a level playing field.
And when you find someone whose beauty is both inside and out, you’ll be glad you never settled for beauty that was skin deep.