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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
MEREDITH, T. A. (2001). Does Our Level of Attractiveness Shape Our Perceived Personality?. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 4. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 6, 2022 .

Does Our Level of Attractiveness Shape Our Perceived Personality?

Sponsored by: Brian Cronk (cronk@missouriwestern.edu)
The purpose of this study was to examine whether others perceive our personality according to our level of attractiveness. It is hypothesized that physically attractive people are more often associated with positive personality traits than non-attractive people. The difference between how men and women view attractiveness is also examined. In the study, 42 college students in a chemistry class were given a survey. The survey pictured three males with varying levels of attractiveness and 6 descriptions of positive, negative and neutral personality traits. The students then matched the personality trait they thought best described each of the three pictures. Male college students viewed both the unattractive and attractive male photos more negatively than the women. A significant difference appeared when the men viewed the neutral male photo more positively than the women. This significant finding may be due to same sex leniency. The men in the study may view themselves as average looking and therefore be more accepting and more positive when it comes to rating the attractiveness of other average looking men.

Are certain personality traits associated with certain people? This is a question that research has been trying to answer for over 30 years. The association being tested is that physically attractive people are also more likely to have certain personality traits. These personality traits are considered to be more desirable (or positive) than those of non-attractive people. But is this idea really true? Researchers have attempted to prove this idea by focusing on level of attractiveness and how it relates to personality traits. A study conducted by Reed (2000) used pictures of women that were both attractive and unattractive and had them rated by men on six facets of personality. These personality facets included likableness, perceived social competence, perceived vanity, perceived integrity, perceived prosocial behavior, and perceived academic potential. It was found that whether women were unattractive or attractive, there was no specific pattern of what personality traits were associated with them. The pictures were found to impact how men rated the women’s attractiveness, but not how they categorized their personality traits. The personality traits had no definite pattern in relation to how attractive the women were.Another study conducted also examined the relationship of personality traits to physical attractiveness. Feingold (1992), using a meta-analysis of 200 studies, found that physically attractive people were perceived as more sociable, dominant, sexually warm, mentally healthy, intelligent, and socially skilled than physically non-attractive people. The author also suggested that good-looking people were less lonely, less socially anxious, more popular, more socially skilled, and more sexually experienced than unattractive people. Although a positive correlation was found, the author emphasized that the relationship occurring between individual’s physical attractiveness and measures of personality and mental ability, was a trivial one.Another study challenges the trivial associations found in previous research between attractiveness and personality. Eagly and Makhijani (1991) examined the principle of “what is beautiful is good” stereotype. Using a meta-analysis, the authors discovered good looks induced strong inferences about social competence. Attractive individuals were found to be associated with more favorable personality traits. Contrary to those findings, they also discovered a weaker inference in relation to potency, adjustment and intellectual competence. The weaker association relates to other research showing that some personality traits vary across all levels of attractiveness. Overall, it was concluded that what was beautiful was good because attractive individuals within the study were found to be ascribed by others to have more positive personality traits than unattractive individuals.Further research conducted is suggesting that personality traits are not only assigned to individuals based on their attractiveness, but that physical appearance has a direct affect on personality. One study by Popkins (1998) proposes that physical appearance is a major factor in the development of personality. In this study the author examined environment and its impact on an individual’s perceived personality. It was suggested that attractive individuals are associated with positive personality traits because it is what is expected of them. The conclusion drawn was that people tend to fulfill the expectations they believe others have for them regarding their personality; therefore, attractive individuals who are treated as having positive personality traits are more likely to possess those qualities. An example being, if an attractive person is thought they should be outgoing, they will become outgoing.Though nature may play a role in personality development, other researchers focus more on individual preferences to personality over their physical attractiveness. In one study, a photo was used of an unattractive individual with positive personality traits and compared it to a photo of an individual who was highly attractive with no mention of personality traits (Buchanan, 2000). Upon comparing these different scenarios, people rating these photos were more attracted to the individual with positive personality traits than the highly attractive individual. These results suggest that personality traits play a role in how a person perceives an individual’s level of attractiveness. The data presented also showed the variation of personality association to an individual’s attractiveness. Using previous research the relationship between attractiveness and personality will be examined. Attractive individuals and unattractive individuals will be assessed along with positive and negative personality traits. This study is constructed to find a positive relationship between an individual’s the level of attractiveness and personality traits associated with that person. More directly, the purpose of this study is to show that physically attractive people will be more likely to be associated with positive personality traits.


This study was conducted using 42 general chemistry students from Missouri Western State College in St. Joseph, Missouri. The participants consisted of approximately 29 females and 13 males.

A survey consisting of demographic information, a listing of five personality trait descriptions, and three male pictures was constructed.

Each student in the general chemistry class was given a paper and pencil survey to fill out. The students viewed each of the three pictures and read the 6 descriptions found below them. The pictures ranked from attractive to unattractive on half of the surveys and were in the reverse order on the remaining surveys distributed. The students then filled in the number they thought best described each of the male photos and check marked their sex at the bottom of the instrument.

A 3 x 2 mixed design ANOVA was calculated to examine the effects of the levels of attractiveness of the male photos (attractive, neutral, and unattractive) on the sex of the participants. A significant attractiveness level x sex interaction was present (F(2,8) = 4.222, p = 0.18). In addition, the main effect for level of attractiveness was significant (F(2,80) = 29.364, p <.001). The main effect for sex was not significant (F(1,40) = 7.457, p >.05). Upon examination of the data it was found that men viewed attractive and unattractive male photos more negatively than women and also saw the neutral male photo as more positive than women.

Through this study it was found that women and men share the same views on whether the male photos they were exposed to were attractive, neutral or unattractive. Some differences between the sexes surfaced on the extremity of their views of attractive versus unattractive males but were not significant. The men saw both the attractive and unattractive male photos as less attractive than their female counterparts. The significant difference, on the other hand, was between the sexes concerning their views on the neutral male photo. It was found that males viewed the neutral male more positively than the females did. All of the findings of this research have been fairly consistent with previous research on the topic of attractiveness and how it relates to associated personality traits. The study conducted by Feingold (1992) found that physically attractive people are more often associated with more positive traits than unattractive people. These results show that whether the participant was male or female, they still associated positive personality traits with the more attractive male and vice versa. These findings between men and women were also consistent with Buchanan (2000) who found that personality traits play a role in how a person perceives an individual’s level of attractiveness. In other words, if a person is known to have certain personality traits they are also thought to have a certain level of attractiveness to accompany those traits. Though the findings of this research have been consistent with some research, it has also been inconsistent with others. Reed (2000) found that women in photographs, whether attractive or unattractive, had no specific pattern of what personality traits were associated with them. The pictures were found to impact men’s decisions as to who was more attractive but there was no clear relation between positive personality traits and attractive women. This contradicts the overall finding that attractive people are associated with “attractive” personality traits. These results contradict this study because positive personality traits were more often associated with the attractive male photo. On the other hand, this study’s findings may explain the significant data concerning the neutral photo. Upon examining this study of attractiveness and perceived personality traits, it can be concluded that its findings not only converge and diverge with previous literature but that it also has flaws. One flaw was the unequal distribution of men and women in the study. There were proportionately less men in this study than women. Another flaw is that the findings of this research can only be generalized to a small population. This study could only be applied to the opinions of college-aged students. This study also lacked a pilot study that was needed to determine the scale’s reliability and validity. The statements used to describe certain personality traits needed to be tested against other similar and established scales prior to its use. Though this study had its inconsistencies, overall it could be applied to other situations. The findings of this research would be the same for any college-aged student. If the same test or test similar to it was given to anyone of college age, no matter their occupation or major in college, the same results would appear. Individual’s opinions of who is attractive and what personality traits they think that person has is unchanging regarding time, place or situation. Still, these results may differ according to one’s age. Life experience may cause individuals to view other people differently. Older people, especially, after encountering more people in their lives may not associate attractive people with positive traits. Also, society’s ever-changing view of what is attractive may also differ from generation to generation and ultimately affect their opinions on who is attractive. Due to the fact that my study could not be applied to every age group, future research should be developed to adhere to older generations. Furthermore, research should be geared toward individuals’ view of attractiveness within their own sex. Using photographs of older individuals on the scale applied should be used to see if the same results would be found. Also, for both younger and older age groups it would be interesting to see how people viewed those of their same sex. Most of the previous studies done on attractiveness and associated personality traits had to do with what men thought of women. An interesting spin on that research would be to see what women thought of women and men thought of men because of the significant finding found in this study.

Buchanan, T. (2000). Internet Research: Self-monitoring and judgments of attractiveness. Behavior Research Methods, Instruments & Computers, 32, 521-527.Eagly, A. H. & Makhijani, M. G. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but…: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109-129.Feingold, A. (1992). Good-looking people are not what we think. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 304-341.Popkins, N. C. (1998). Natural characteristics that influence environment: How physical appearance affects personality. Retrieved October 11, 2001, from Northwestern University, Personality Research Web site: http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/popkins2.htmlReed, S. B. (2000). An investigation of the physical attractiveness stereotype (Doctoral dissertation, University of Connecticut, 2000). Dissertation Abstracts International, 60, 6425.

Submitted 11/28/2001 9:53:55 PM
Last Edited 11/28/2001 10:04:26 PM
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