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“I feel pretty, oh so pretty!” but I’m not shallow about it.

Friday, April 6, 2012
posted by Douglas Keene

Natalie Wood cooed these words in the musical West Side Story years ago–well, at least the first clause of our title. And now, fifty years later, science is reminding me of that old song.

It’s a long-standing tenet of social psychology that we tend to see physically attractive people more positively. Yet, at the same time, we often see the beautiful as shallow and vain. Thankfully, science has come to our rescue by examining whether the beautiful really are shallow.

Researchers had ‘judges’ [3 male, 3 female, and all professional model recruiters in London, England] rate the attractiveness [based on photographs] of more than 100 research participants. They also had the participants complete a personality measure [the Personal Orientation Inventory] assessing “self-actualization”. You may recognize self-actualization as the peak level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Turns out beautiful people are more self-actualized than the not-so-beautiful. Wow.  And I thought beauty was skin deep.

The beautiful research subjects scored significantly higher on 7 out of 12 scales [and generally higher on all 12 scales] on the measure of self-actualization. They were significantly more inner-directed, more emotionally responsive, more spontaneous, higher in self-regard and self-acceptance, had more capacity for intimate contact and were more likely to see themselves as autonomous,  independent, and self-sufficient. It just isn’t fair.

The researchers chalk this result up to the positive feedback and reactions experienced throughout life by the beautiful. These reactions are internalized so that the beautiful person is more confident, assertive and in general, more “self-actualized” or psychologically accepting of themselves. So it likely isn’t that the more attractive are “born” more self-actualized but that their experiences throughout life make them more self-accepting and confident.

What does that say about jury selection? More confident and self-assured jurors tend to speak up more, and assert their views more authoritatively. If it can be assumed that physically attractive people have more of these tendencies, a juror who would otherwise be expected (by age or socio-economic status) to be low-impact might be a surprisingly compelling voice.

It’s also an interesting finding to ponder when considering witness preparation strategies. We need to help witnesses be seen as more likable, credible, truthful and confident (all contribute to a sense of attractiveness) and so perhaps we are working from the opposite end of the spectrum from these researchers. That is, are we perhaps helping the not-necessarily-attractive to seem more attractive by helping them to exhibit characteristics of self-actualization? Now that is sort of cool.

Ivtzan, I., & Moon, HS (2008). The beauty of self-actualisation: Linking physical attractiveness and self-fulfillment. European Journal of Psychology, 4 (4)

See complete article here.

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