By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
A few days ago, I was reading through documents for a medical malpractice defense. The case involved a woman who died under OB/GYN care. As sometimes happens, I found myself wanting a mental picture as I read the story. After I typed in her name, my browser quickly returned the memorial website complete with the photo: smiling, young, blond, and very pretty. Of course, it is not fair that beauty should seem to magnify the tragedy, yet it does. The social science research confirms that intuition. Attractiveness matters in all human evaluations: victims, parties, witnesses, and attorneys as well.
If it was a simple relationship between attractiveness and positive evaluation, we might just stop there. But as with most things social-scientific, the effect is not always what you would expect. For example, a new large-scale study (Gordon et al., 2014) showed that more attractive students indeed get better grades. But looking at 9,000 students over a span of more than 30 years, the study showed that what matters most is just being above average. That is, the smoking-hot – or, more technically, those rated at the extreme high-end of subjective attractiveness scales -- did not enjoy any statistically significant advantage over those who were simply better looking than most. Similarly, those who were simply average enjoyed no advantage over those who were below average. This study is just one of a number focused on the difference looks can make, and “lookism” does not confer a consistent advantage to the better looking. I share this on a litigation blog not so you can pretty-up your witnesses,but so we can understand the fuller picture of how we evaluate other people and the degree to which looks matter in that evaluation.