Interesting Reading…

February 28, 2010


Why do we trust that “beautiful” people are nice? What drives us to make that (stupid) assumption? The answer to the question might lie in Robert Cialdini’s book: “Influence: The psychology of Persuasion”. Please note at this point that I am not promoting this book, I just came across the following (long) quoted passage and found it to be serving the message of this blog: do not cast judgements based on appearance only. “ Although it is generally acknowledged that good-looking people have an advantage in social interaction, recent findings indicate that we may have sorely underestimated the size and reach of that advantage. There seems to be a click, whirr response to attractive people. Like all click, whirr reactions, it happens automatically, without forethought. The response itself falls into a category that social scientists call ‘halo effects’. A halo effect occurs when one positive characteristic of a person dominates the way that person is viewed by others. And the evidence is now clear that physical attractiveness is often such a characteristic. Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favourable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence. Furthermore, we make these judgements without being aware that physical attractiveness plays a role in the process. Certain of the consequences of this unconscious assumption that ‘good-looking equals good’ scare me. For example, a study of the Canadian federal elections found that attractive candidates received more than 2 and a half times as many votes as unattractive candidates. Despite such evidence of favouritism toward handsome politicians, follow-up research demonstrated that voters do not realise their bias. In fact, 73 per cent of Canadian voters surveyed denied in the strongest possible terms that their votes had been influenced by physical appearance; only 14 per cent even allowed for the possibility of such influence. A similar effect has been found in hiring situations. In one study, good grooming of applicants in a simulated employment interview accounted for more favourable hiring decisions than did job qualifications – this, even though the interviewers claimed that appearance played a small role in their choices. Equally unsettling research indicates that our judicial process is similarly susceptible to the influences of body dimensions and bone structure. Good-looking people are likely to receive highly favourable treatment in the legal system. For example, in a Pennsylvania study, researchers rated the physical attractiveness of 74 separate male defendants at the start of their criminal trials. When, much later, the researchers checked court records for the results of these cases, they found that the handsome men had received significantly lighter sentences. In fact, the attractive defendants were twice as likely to avoid jail as the unattractive ones. In another study – this one on the damages awarded in a staged negligence trial- a defendant who was better-looking than his victim was assessed an average amount of $5,623; but when the victim was the more attractive of the two, the average compensation was $10,051. What’s more, both male and female jurors exhibited the attractiveness-based favouritism. Other experiments have demonstrated that attractive people are more likely to obtain help when in need and are more likely to obtain help when in need and are more persuasive in changing the opinion of an audience. Here, too, both sexes respond in the same way. In the helping study, for instance, the better-looking men and women received aid more often, even from members of their own sex. A major exception to this rule might be expected to occur, of course, if the attractive person is viewed as a direct competitor, especially a romantic rival. Short of this qualification, though, it is apparent that good-looking people enjoy an enormous social advantage in our culture. They are better liked, more persuasive, more frequently helped, and seen as possessing better personality traits and intellectual capacities. And it appears that the social benefits of good looks begin to accumulate quite early. Research on elementary-school children shows that adults view aggressive acts as less naughty when performed by an attractive child and that teachers presume good-looking children to be more intelligent than their less-attractive classmates. It is hardly any wonder, then, that the halo of physical attractiveness is regularly exploited by compliance professionals. Because we like attractive people and because we tend to comply with those we like, it makes sense that sales training programs include grooming hints, that fashionable clothiers select their floor staff from among the good-looking candidates, and that con men are handsome and con women pretty.“ The rest of the book is actually a very good read and provides useful insights into how salespeople, conmen, advertisers, lawyers, etc… try to influence you into doing what serves their interests. It does set some good foundations for anyone who wants to understand the power of influence and turn it around to their advantage, whatever side of the fence they are on.

For more information about Robert Cialdini, click here.

To buy “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”, click here.


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