Physical Attractiveness Bias in Hiring:
What Is Beautiful Is Good
Department of Psychology
he bias in favor of physically attractive people is robust, with attractive people being perceived as more sociable,
happier and more successful than unattractive people (Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972; Eagly, Ashmore,
Makhijani & Longo, 1991; Hatfield &
Sprecher, 1986; Watkins & Johnston,
2000). Attractiveness biases have been
demonstrated in such different areas as
teacher judgments of students (Clifford
& Walster, 1973), voter preferences for
political candidates (Efran & Patterson,
1974) and jury judgments in simulated
trials (Efran, 1974). Recently, Smith,
McIntosh and Bazzini (1999) investigated the “beauty is goodness” stereotype in U.S. films and found that attractive
characters were portrayed more favorably than unattractive characters on multiple dimensions across a random
sample drawn from five decades of topgrossing films. The authors also found that participants watching a biased film
(level of beauty and gender stereotyping) subsequently showed greater favoritism toward an attractive graduate
school candidate than participants
watching a less biased film. In the area
of employment decision making, attractiveness also influences interviewers’ judgments of job applicants (Watkins &
What Is Beautiful Is Good
In our daily lives, we often see that
positions with a high degree of public
exposure (e.g., television news anchors)
are filled by attractive people. It has commonly been assumed that for some positions, such as salespeople, being attractive may affect the bottom line (McElroy & DeCarol, 1999). However, a survey of
the research examining physical attractiveness (PA) bias suggests that applicant physical attractiveness may influence the
employment process even for positions
that are not considered high-exposure
positions (Dipboye, Arvey & Terpstra,
1977; Dipboye, Fromkin & Wiback,
1975; Cash, Gillen & Burns, 1977;
Watkins & Johnston, 2000). There is
considerable empirical evidence that
physical attractiveness impacts employment decision making, with the result that the more attractive an individual, the
greater the likelihood that that person
will be hired (Watkins & Johnston,
2000). This generalization is known as
the “what is beautiful is good” stereotype
(Dion, Berscheid & Walster, 1972).
Research examining attractiveness bias in
hiring decisions is important because of
the extensive use of subjective appraisals
in employment decision making. Given
the legislation prohibiting employment
discrimination based on non-job-related
factors such as race, gender, ethnicity,
disability and age, it is interesting that
there is no legislation regarding physical
attractiveness (Watkins & Johnston,
2000). Making hiring decisions based on
non-job-related factors is detrimental to
the overall organizational performance.
When Beauty Is Beastly
While the most common finding in
the selection literature is that unattractive applicants are rated less favorably than attractive applicants, some studies
have results counter to the “beautiful is
good” hypothesis. Some evidence suggests that when the position being applied for is traditionally filled by a
male, the reverse of the typical bias is
found for female applicants: Attractive
females are evaluated less favorably than
unattractive females. Heilman and
Saruwatari (1979) labeled this the
“beauty is beastly” effect. Cash, Gillen
and Burns (1977) also demonstrated the
“beauty is beastly” effect when they had
professional personnel consultants evaluate resumes for traditionally masculine, feminine and neutral jobs. For neutral jobs, attractive applicants were
preferred over unattractive applicants.
Attractive applicants were also rated as
more qualified than unattractive applicants when applying for sex-role-congruent employment (i.e.,...
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