There are lots of benefits to having people think you are beautiful, research suggests. According to some studies, good-looking people get hired faster, are paid more, are more likely to get loans and are given milder prison sentences. Beauty may be correlated with higher self-esteem and more satisfying interpersonal relationships. A 2009 study found that beautiful people make more positive first impressions, and a 2001 roundup of beauty studies showed that attractive people are viewed as more sociable, healthier, more emotionally stable, more romantically and sexually experienced, and more thoughtful.
But there are also possible downsides to being pretty. The latest? One recent study suggested that beautiful women are more likely to conform.
The new research, out of the Open University of Israel and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggests that women who were labelled by their peers as beautiful were more likely to conform to social norms and put their own interests before the interests of others.
Researchers asked 118 college-aged women to complete questionnaires that measured values such as self-direction, security, and conformity, and personality traits such as neuroticism, agreeableness, and openness. They then recorded a short video of each participant walking into a room and reading a weather forecast aloud.
The researchers asked a different group of 118 students, 40 percent of whom were male, to watch a random female participant's video and rate their attractiveness, values, and traits.
The results of the study, published in the November 2012 issue of the journal Psychological Science, confirm what older research has concluded: "We found that people perceive attractive women as having socially desirable traits, such as extraversion, openness to experience, and conscientiousness," researcher Lihi Segal-Caspi wrote.
However, the new study also found that "Attractiveness correlated with values that express the motivation to conform and submit to social expectations, and with values that express a focus on self-promotion rather than on concern for others."
This finding seems to contribute to the negative rap that beautiful women sometimes get. As Tony Dokoupil noted in Newsweek, attractive women in the workplace can be viewed as unintelligent or undeserving of promotions and accolades, judged as less competent, less talented, and less motherly than their average-looking peers.
But the social, cultural, and financial benefits that "attractive" women accrue remain meaningful -- to the point that sociologist Catherine Hakim, author of "Erotic Capital: The Power of Attraction in the Boardroom and the Bedroom," suggested that women harness their sexuality and good looks to get ahead in the workplace. Hakim told the Evening Standard that deploying "erotic capital" (which Hakim described to Jessica Grose at "Slate" as a mixture of good looks, dress, sex appeal, liveliness, social grace, and sexual competence) is a valuable strategy for getting ahead in an appearance-obsessed society.
The new study lends support to Hakim's position that women can use beauty to make others view them more positively -- participants judged attractive subjects as having more desirable traits.
However, the research team, led by Segal-Caspi, interpreted the findings as evidence that we should never assume "what is beautiful is good." The results, they wrote, indicate that "the beautiful strive for conformity rather than independence and for self-promotion rather than tolerance." Bottom line? Keep looking past those beautiful faces.