Society has taught us two crucial — and contradictory — codes to live by: “Never judge a book by its cover” and “first impressions last a lifetime”. Yet new research shows first impressions may be misleading, especially when it’s guided by sexual attraction towards the person in question.
A study conducted by Sean N. Talamas and his team investigated the connection between physical attractiveness and intelligence. He took photos of 100 students at the University of St. Andrews, ensuring that they were standardised by only picking those who wore no jewellery, wore neutral expressions and were Caucasian (to control racial bias).
Academic data of the students was collected and used to form the basis of comparison between perceptions of intelligence and the reality. He then showed the photographs to Amazon Mechanical Turk, who rated the faces based on perceived intelligence, conscientiousness and academic performance. The findings showed that those people who were perceived attractive were also rated as having higher intelligence. We automatically assume that attractive people are more intelligent, and when compared against actual grades, the findings demonstrated that there is no correlation between attractiveness and intelligence.
The authors of the study said: “Facial impressions have consistently been shown to influence opinions as well as bias decisions in politics, leadership, law, parental expectations and punishments on children, and teacher evaluations. Clearly, the power of first impressions is critical and has repeatedly been shown to influence opinions about a person.”
The implications of this study are severe when real world situations are taken into account: not only do we look favourably upon those deemed attractive, but we make a number of positive assumptions that can affect outcomes in professional and legal contexts.