Physical Attractiveness as a
Factor in Employment and First Impressions
Deborah Hobden
Brendan Ring
Rachel Zimmerman
Rowland Hall-St. Mark's School
Advanced Placement Psychology
October 21, 2002









Physical Attractiveness as a Factor in Employment
and First Impressions

People tend to judge others based on their physical attributes.  Previous studies have shown that attractiveness is an important factor for hiring employees in certain types of jobs.  According to Byrne, Ervin, and Lamberth (1970, cited in Hill and Lando, 1976, p.12), “Empirical research has demonstrated both that the physically attractive individual has advantages over his or her physically unattractive counterpart.”  The sad truth of the matter is that first impressions of physical attractiveness do count for a lot in our society.  We categorize people by their appearance. 
We judge people’s attractiveness in many different ways (different cultures find different features attractive) but there are a few features that are found physically attractive across cultures.  For example, people are attracted to neither unusually small nor unusually large features, but rather to symmetrical and mundane features.  Zajonc (1998) found that first impressions are so important that we “can judge someone’s looks after but a 0.15-second glimpse" (cited in Myers, 2001. p. 182).
Many experimenters have tested this theory.  In Dion, Berscheid and Walster’s famous study, they discovered that people who are more attractive are considered to have more positive traits than those who are less attractive (1972, cited in Bardack and McAndrew, 1985).  This may account for why attractive people seem to have an easier time in social situations and in finding a job, even though they may not be as qualified as a less attractive peer.  According to Hill and Lando (1976, p. 13), an attractive female photograph, “was assigned higher ratings of both happiness and intelligence” than an unattractive female photograph.  But the results for males were significantly different.
When it comes to judging people, the “beauty is good” phenomenon seems to hold primarily for females rather than males (Hill and Lando, 1976, p.14).  This shows that women's personalities and qualifications seem to be judged more based on appearance than men's.  Gillen (cited in Cash and Janda, 1984, p. 25) speculated that “attractive people posses two types of ‘goodness,’ one related to and the other unrelated to their sex”.  Less attractive women, for example, were rated as less feminine than their attractive counterparts (Gillen cited in Cash and Janda, 1984).  With this in mind, Cash and Janda (1984, p. 25) decided to test whether good looks are a disadvantage for women in work situations; situations in which “stereotypically masculine traits - such as being strong, independent and decisive – are thought to be required for success.”  They found that this was true. Less attractive women were hired more for managerial (masculine) positions and more attractive women were hired for clerical (feminine) work.
There are several factors that play into our hypothesis about attractiveness as related to employment.  One is when presented with equally qualified male and female candidates for a teaching position, people will tend to hire the male candidate instead of the female.  When faced with the decision to hire a more attractive man or a less attractive man, despite the fact that the two are equally qualified, people will choose the more attractive man.  Because the candidates are competing for a teaching position rather than a managerial one, people will also be likely to hire a more attractive woman than a less attractive woman.





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