Academic studies can be fascinating... and totally confusing. So we decided to strip away all of the scientific jargon and break them down for you.
It's been found that people determine whether or not they're attracted to someone within 100 milliseconds of an initial sighting. First impressions can be critical, especially now that we can swipe away potential dates on online dating apps as quickly as our brains reject them. Physical attractiveness is certainly a factor -- previous research has identified a "halo effect," whereby we assign additional positive traits to attractive people, as well as a "devil effect" that might prompt us to assume that unattractive people have other "bad" characteristics. These effects are also seen when someone violates social norms, either in a harmless or creepy way. But to what degree do these halo and devil biases affect our open-mindedness to strangers? Could there be implications to our dating lives -- which rely more and more on digital first impressions, with only a photo and a few discernible characteristics to go by?
In a recent study, researchers from Eastern Kentucky University brought in 170 female college students to see how physical attractiveness affected how they reacted to men in normal vs. lab-designed creepy situations. They presented the female students with two different hypothetical scenarios: The first scenario involved a male stranger who asks to borrow a pen in class, and the second involved a male stranger who approaches the female to ask to take her photograph for a modeling project. (Can you guess which scenario was supposed to be the creepy one?)
The women were divided into two groups and shown photos of two men, one deemed attractive and one deemed unattractive by the researchers. One group received a scenario sheet that paired the attractive male with the first scenario (pencil borrowing) and the unattractive male paired with the second scenario (modeling request), while the other group of women received the same scenarios paired with opposite men. Researchers noted their reactions to the men and asked whether or not they'd agree to their respective requests.
Predictably, most of the female students (96 percent) had no problem lending pencils to either man and most (93 percent) said they weren't likely to let any stranger -- attractive or not -- take their photo for a modeling project. Though the women overwhelmingly declined the cute and homely dudes' creepy photoshoot offers, their initial reactions to each scenario -- and their impressions of the man proposing it -- were very different.
The unattractive man who asked about modeling photos was judged much more harshly than the attractive man who did the exact same norm-breaking thing. Meaning: Though his odd request was denied, the hot dude was essentially let off the hook after giving a creepy first impression simply because he was hot.
The attractive man came off as an okay guy who did a creepy thing, while the unattractive man just came off as a creepy guy. As the researchers put it, women in the study displayed a "double" devil effect, since they were much less forgiving of the unattractive man who did an unappealing thing.
The researchers noted that snap judgements like these are perhaps most apparent in the world of online dating, where one can swipe through a couple dozen potential mates in the amount of time it takes to microwave leftovers. But if you consider the biases you bring into these decisions, you might just be able to swipe more mindfully and avoid painful first dates. Remind yourself that you might unconsciously be looking past less savory behaviors -- which are depressingly easy to find on Tinder -- from men you think are attractive. Like, if this guy had the eyes of Ryan Gosling and the jawline of Michael Fassbender, you still might not want to give him the benefit of the doubt:
Vague advice? Yes, but the contemporary dating game is the most confusing thing ever, so this might just be the closest thing to guidance you're going to get.
This study was published in the journal Gender Issues.