New research found that men who were offered financial proposals from women had a harder time determining the fairness of those offers if the women were attractive. The study, published March 2015 in Frontiers in Neuroscience, suggests that for young adult males, female facial attractiveness – termed the “beauty premium” – may undermine their brain’s ability to respond to unfairness from attractive women.
Prior research had shown that many factors influence people’s perception of fairness in social situations such as social distance between people and social comparison. Attractiveness has been found to play a role as well. For example, labor market studies have shown that those with a “beauty premium” are have better chances for hiring, promotions, and higher wages than those with a “plain penalty.”
There have also been findings showing that men are more sensitive to the impact of facial beauty than are women. Following these findings, the researchers in this study expected that their study participants would be affected by attractive female faces when trying to determine fairness.
The researchers examined 21 college male subjects from Zhejiang University. They had them view facial images of 300 Chinese female faces, half of which were rated as attractive and the other half rated as unattractive by separate male subjects prior to the experiment. The male students then played a two-person computerized version of a game known as the Ultimatum Game (UG) with the females. This involved viewing their faces on a computer screen and deciding whether or not to accept their proposals for splitting a small amount of money. During the game, researchers measured the students’ brain waves, timing of responses, and acceptance rates of the offers.
Their results showed that the male participants tended to have significantly different reaction times to attractive female faces. Specifically, when unfair offers were presented they took longer to consider and respond to attractive women than to unattractive women, and when fair offers were presented they tended to respond more quickly. They were also more likely accept unfair offers from attractive females than from unattractive females. Furthermore, the brain waves of the male participants varied in response to attractive females, showing that they responded more favorably to women in the attractive group.
A drawback of this study is the fact that it used only college-aged participants, making it difficult to know if this same effect would exist within other age groups if the study was replicated. The study also used only male participants as the recipients of the monetary proposals, thus conclusions about this effect could not be drawn for female participants. However, this study does provide valuable data and builds on prior research, further demonstrating the social advantage of facial attractiveness.