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Personality of 'Beautiful' People More Accurately Rated

December 2010 - People identify the personality traits of people who are physically attractive more accurately than others during short encounters, according to a new University of British Columbia study.

While previous research showed that people tend to find attractive people more intelligent, friendly and competent than the rest of us, a study, published in the December edition of Psychological Science, confirms that people pay closer attention to those they find attractive, Prof. Jeremy Biesanz, UBC Dept. of Psychology, PhD student Lauren Human and undergraduate student Genevieve Lorenzo set out to determine whether an individual's attractiveness has an impact on others people's ability to accurately discern their personality

Around 75 male and female participants were allocated to groups of 5-11 people for three-minute, one-on-one conversations. The participants rated partners after each interaction on their physical attractiveness and five major personality traits:

  • openness
  • conscientiousness
  • extraversion
  • agreeableness
  • neuroticism

The participants also rated their own personalities.

Jeremy Biesanz said that the researchers were able to determine the accuracy of people's perceptions by comparing participants' ratings of others' personality traits with how individuals rated their own traits. He added that steps were taken to control for the positive bias that can occur in self-reporting. Not surprisingly, participants showed an overall positive bias towards the people they found attractive but they also identified the "relative ordering" of personality traits of attractive participants more accurately than others. Participants tended to agree on 'attractiveness' but even when they did not agree they were best at identifying the personalities of people they themselves found attractive.

According to Jeremy Biesanz:

"If people think Jane is beautiful, and she is very organized and somewhat generous, people will see her as more organized and generous than she actually is. Despite this bias, our study shows that people will also correctly discern the relative ordering of Jane's personality traits - that she is more organized than generous - better than others they find less attractive."

People pay closer attention to beautiful people for many reasons, including curiosity, romantic interest or a desire for friendship or social status, according to the researchers. Noting that the study focused on first impressions of personality in social situations, like cocktail parties, Jeremy Biesanz said:

"Not only do we judge books by their covers, we read the ones with beautiful covers much closer than others."

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