Can you judge a book by its cover?


I’d like to think that we live in a world where we judge a person based on their inner qualities rather than on physical appearance. According to research that is not the case, we make snap judgments of others based soley on their physical appearance. For example, the more attractive we find someone the more likely we are to like them and think that they possess positive qualities (Feingold, 1992, p. 333).

A good illustration of this phenomenon would be my friend; she is gorgeous and looks like she could be the missing Kardashian sister. It has become a running joke among my friends that no matter what she says to people (whether it’s offensive or just plain awkward) they always respond well to her. It would be impossible to say that all that positive feedback is due to attractiveness (she also has a very bubbly personality, but I definitely think it’s a contributing factor.

But what does this mean for people that are considered unattractive? According to Halprin, Regina Turner states “[an ugly black woman] has only her ugly self in whom few people believe. This means that beyond the strength she can muster from her family and loved ones—usually other Black women—no institution, no media will endorse her existence.” As much as we would all like to believe that we live in a perfect world that is not so concerned with outward appearance, I found there is some truth in that statement. It has been found that from a young age our physical attractiveness has an effect on how we are treated by others. Attractive school children are more likely to receive personal attention from their instructors and are also given more understanding when it comes to behavioral issues in the classroom than unattractive children (Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L., 2011, p. 24).  In job settings levels of perceived attractiveness influence who gets hired for jobs and also the level of success attained in the workplace. (Hosoda, Stone-Romero, and Coats, 2003, p. 459). These factors offer truth to Turner’s statement that whether we like it or not physical appearance has a significant effect on the ease in which we are able to navigate the world.

According to Richmond, much of what we consider to be attractive is culturally influenced and changes over periods of time. For example, today the ideal of physical body type for women is well-toned and athletic, whereas a more curvaceous full-figure was favored in the past. There are also cultural differences in what we define as attractive, there are some African cultures in which people scar their bodies and bind their heads to flatten them to make themselves more attractive (Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L., 2011, p. 19). Attractiveness is not something that is conceptualized in isolation but is determined by the time and culture in which we live. I definitely feel that there is a lot of pressure in our society to strive to fit the standards of physical attractiveness. (This is a link to a video about “America the Beautiful” which is a documentary based on the American standard of beauty)

 Our physical characteristics allow others to make interpretations about us without ever saying a word. We automatically make judgments about others based on their sex, race, and level of physical attractiveness. It has been found that when people solely focus on the physical attractiveness of women they are generally perceived as being less warm, moral, and competent. This does not have the same effect when focusing on the physical attractiveness of men (Heflick, N. A., Goldenberg, J. L., Cooper, D. P., & Puvia, E., 2011). From this it can be drawn that women are treated differently than men based completely on their outward appearance alone. It has also been found that race has an effect on how trustworthy we perceive others to be and that we are more likely to evaluate someone of our own race as trustworthy (Stanley, D. A., Sokol-Hessner, P., Banaji, M. R., & Phelps, E. A, 2011).

Sheldon’s method of somatyping asserts that people are classified as having certain characteristics based on their body type (Richmond, et al., 2001, p. 31). According to this method, people with oval-shaped heavier bodies (endomorphs) are seen as being more emotional, forgiving and relaxed. People with more muscular triangular body shapes (mesomorphs) have a psychological type that is more confident, energetic and dominant. While individuals with a more fragile thin physique are categorized as tense, awkward, and meticulous. I think that this method contains some truth on the assessments we make on people when we are only taking into account their body type and appearance. However, I feel that these assumptions vary in truthfulness once we get to know someone on a deeper level. I know plenty of overweight people that are less than jolly and really thin people that are very relaxed. I think that it’s important to be mindful that no one fits into their stereotype as much as you would think.

I think that it’s important to be mindful of the significant effect that physical appearance has on our judgments of others. We naturally categorize people and stereotype them based on how they look, but I think as a society we put too much emphasis on physical appearance.  By looking at others from a deeper perspective I think we can combat this overemphasis on outward appearance.

Works cited

Feingold, A. (1992). Good-looking people are not what we think. Psychological Bulletin, 111, 304-341.

Halprin, S. (1995). Ugliness and cultural stereotypes. In Look at my ugly face: Myths and musings on  beauty and other perilous obsessions with women’s appearance (pp. 186-207). New York: Penguin Group.

Heflick, N. A., Goldenberg, J. L., Cooper, D. P., & Puvia, E. (2011). From women to objects: Appearance focus, target gender, and perceptions of warmth, morality and competence. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 47(3), 572-581. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2010.12.020

Hosoda, M., Stone-Romero, E.F., & Coats, G. (2003). The effects of physical attractiveness on job-related outcomes: A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Personnel Psychology. 56(2), 431-462

Richmond, V.P., McCroskey, J.C., & Hickson III, M.L. (2011). Nonverbal behavior in interpersonal relations (7. ed.). Boston:Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Stanley, D. A., Sokol-Hessner, P., Banaji, M. R., & Phelps, E. A. (2011). Implicit race attitudes predict trustworthiness judgments and economic trust decisions. PNAS Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 108(19), 7710-7775. doi:10.1073/pnas.1014345108


3 responses »

  1. I thought it was so interesting the emphasis that you made on body type and the nonverbal cues that certain types can give off. There is such a trend in our culture to obsess over physical attributes and make judgments off those qualities. Your blog was very interesting and super fun to read!

  2. Great blog! As you explained, it is hard to believe that we live in a society so focused on physical appearence, and less focused on inner qualities such as intellect, kindess, and humor. However, on second thought it isn’t so hard to believe, because our culture encourages glamour, poise, attractivenss, and high-fashion. I like how you included somatyping in the blog.

  3. Great post Eden! I really liked how you discussed the idea that body type is connected to people having certain personality characteristics. I’ve never really thought about that before but I definitely do think we jump to judge people based on their body type and that’s not okay. That documentary also looks very interesting and I would like to get to watch it some day.

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