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Beauty Goes Down to the Core: Attractiveness Biases Moral Character Attributions

Abstract

Physical attractiveness is a heuristic that is often used as an indicator of desirable traits. In two studies (N = 1254), we tested whether facial attractiveness leads to a selective bias in attributing moral character—which is paramount in person perception—over non-moral traits. We argue that because people are motivated to assess socially important traits quickly, these may be the traits that are most strongly biased by physical attractiveness. In Study 1, we found that people attributed more moral traits to attractive than unattractive people, an effect that was stronger than the tendency to attribute positive non-moral traits to attractive (vs. unattractive) people. In Study 2, we conceptually replicated the findings while matching traits on perceived warmth. The findings suggest that the Beauty-is-Good stereotype particularly skews in favor of the attribution of moral traits. As such, physical attractiveness biases the perceptions of others even more fundamentally than previously understood.

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Availability of Data and Material

The data and materials of all studies are available at https://osf.io/bp2hc. We confirm that all measures, conditions, data exclusions and methods of determining sample sizes were reported.

Code Availability

Not applicable.

Notes

  1. 1.

    In all studies, sample size was determined before any data analysis.

  2. 2.

    For all studies, we reported all measures, manipulations and exclusions.

  3. 3.

    Attractive faces had been rated 4.90 and unattractive faces had been rated 1.77 on 7-point scales from 1 = not at all attractive to 7 = extremely attractive.

  4. 4.

    Additional analyses revealed that excluding participants had no substantive impact on the results.

  5. 5.

    In the attractiveness condition, two different attractive faces were presented, and in the unattractiveness condition, one of the presented faces was attractive. Excluding ratings of Asian female faces had no substantive impact on the results.

  6. 6.

    The unstandardized coefficients are presented in Table S1.

  7. 7.

    Additional analyses revealed that excluding participants had no substantive impact on the results.

  8. 8.

    The norming data (Ma et al., 2015a) assessed attractiveness on a scale ranging from not at all attractive to extremely attractive, making it difficult to determine the degree of unattractiveness of the unattractive faces.

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Authors

Contributions

CK developed the study concept. All authors contributed to the study design. Data collection were performed by CK with the help from YL. CK performed the data analysis and interpretation under the supervision of BB. CK drafted the manuscript, and JR, KG, YL, and BB provided critical revisions. All authors approved the final version of the manuscript for submission.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christoph Klebl.

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Klebl, C., Rhee, J.J., Greenaway, K.H. et al. Beauty Goes Down to the Core: Attractiveness Biases Moral Character Attributions. J Nonverbal Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-021-00388-w

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Keywords

  • Attractiveness
  • Moral character
  • Beauty-is-good stereotype
  • Person perception