Does a person’s physical attractiveness influence their selection of romantic partners? Yes, of course. There is anecdotal and research-based evidence to support that. But there are several related questions that arise and require urgent answers. A group of researchers set out to find some answers using data from the website HOTorNOT.com and some common analytical techniques. Admittedly, this is not the most representative sample in the world, but for this purpose is quite acceptable. Let’s take a look at the questions and the answers.
Here are the questions and answers:
Are terms like Hotness and Sexiness the same as Attractiveness?
To get to this answer the researchers conducted a pretest where they asked people to rate 100 pictures on five attributes – hotness, physical attractiveness, intelligence, confidence and sexiness. Then they ran a good old factor analysis on the data and found two factors. Hotness, physical attractiveness and sexiness loaded highly on one factor indicating their inseparability, while intelligence and confidence loaded on the second factor.
What is the influence of gender in dating/meeting requests?
A (logistic) regression model was run with members’ decision on whether or not to accept another member’s meeting request as dependent variable and a bunch of predictor variables. Results showed that males were much more likely to accept a dating request implying men are less selective than women. Further in probability terms, males were 240% more likely to say “yes” to potential female dates, than females were to say “yes” to male dates. Shocking, I know.
What is the influence of attractiveness on dating/meeting requests?
Attractive people are less likely to accept requests from not so attractive people. Specifically, a 1 point increase in attractiveness (on a 10 point scale for a given person) leads to a 25% lower likelihood to say “yes” to a potential date. Further (using what are known as interaction terms in the model) the researchers were able to show that less attractive people were more likely to accept less attractive people and conversely, more attractive people were more likely to accept more attractive people. In other words, less attractive people were less selective when it comes to choosing based on attractiveness. (See the follow-up study at the end for a potential explanation).
What is the influence of self-other attractiveness difference?
It turns out that men are much more influenced by how attractive their potential dates are compared to women, but are a lot less influenced by how attractive they themselves are. So the popular male stereotype does get confirmed in this analysis. The researchers were also interested in seeing if the loss aversion phenomenon so well established in psychology and seen as asymmetric effects in satisfaction research will show up here. In testing for it they found that it did indeed exist. That is, when there was a large gap between one’s own attractiveness and another’s attractiveness the tendency to accept dates started decreasing. But it did so more rapidly on the negative side (other is less attractive) than on the positive side (self is less attractive). Apparently people don’t blindly shoot for the most attractive person they see.
Does own attractiveness affect perceptions of other attractiveness?
That is, do people judge others based on how attractive they themselves are? This was tested in a separate regression model, where other attractiveness was the dependent variable and own attractiveness was one of the predictors. Turns out there is no relationship at all between the two.
People’s judgment of the attractiveness of others is not colored in any way by how they look.
The researchers conducted a small follow-up study at a speed dating event asking participants to rate their own attractiveness as well as the importance they gave to six criteria for potential dates – physical attractiveness, intelligence, sense of humor, kindness, confidence and extraversion. A correlation analysis was then conducted on these data. Physical attractiveness had the highest (0.60) correlation with own attractiveness implying that the more attractive a person the more weight they gave to another’s attractiveness. Sense of humor also stood out, albeit with a negative correlation (-0.44) indicating that the less attractive a person considers themselves to be, the more weight they give to other characteristics. This may also explain the previous results we saw which indicated that less attractive people were also less selective. The researchers conclude that people are very adaptable and realistic and therefore choose to see the good in what they have rather than just focusing on something unattainable and being bitter about it. In fact, other research has shown that while physical attractiveness can affect a lot of things (such as getting a job, a raise or a promotion), the one thing it doesn’t affect is happiness. People have roughly the same level of happiness across a wide range of attractiveness levels.
This research was conducted by Leonard Lee, Assistant Professor of Marketing at Columbia University, George Loewenstein, Herbert Simon Professor of Economics and Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University and Dan Ariely, James Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University with James Hong and Jim Young from HOTorNOT.com. It was published in the journal Psychological Science.