A series of 5 studies on American MTurk workers and Chinese undergraduate students found that people who see themselves as more attractive also see themselves as more deserving of special treatment (entitlement) and are more prone to act in their own interest, even at the expense of others (self-interested behavior). Self-perceived attractiveness was demonstrated to increase both entitlement and self-interested behavior. The study was published in Evolution and Human Behavior.
Beauty has long drawn interests of both artists and scholars. A study from the mid-20th century showed that physical attractiveness was the only reliable predictor for romantic interest when a partner is met in a blind date. This inspired much psychological research on beauty in the coming years. These studies showed that people attribute various positive traits to good-looking individuals.
“In psychology, a consensus has largely been reached on a phenomenon known as ‘what is beautiful is good’ (i.e., attractiveness stereotype), which refers to perceivers attributing various positive traits to good-looking individuals,” said study author Xijing Wang of the City University of Hong Kong. “In addition, attractive individuals are treated favorably in various domains (e.g., as romantic partners, offspring, students, employees, and allies).”
In contrast, little research was devoted to examining how attractive people behave and how attractiveness in general changes people’s behavior, if it changes it at all. It might be possible that attractive people really do accept the positive stereotypes towards attractive people and change their behavior to match them – act in a nice and selfless manner, just like the society expects attractive people to act.
It is, however, also possible that attractive people would be prone to acting selfishly. Knowing their attraction and the bargaining power it gives them, attractive people might feel entitled to better treatment than other people and act to receive it, selfishly and not showing reciprocity to others. Which one is the case?
To answer this question, Wang and her co-authors devised a series of 5 studies that they conducted on samples of American MTurk workers and Chinese undergraduate students. A total of 1,303 participants (of which 129 Chinese undergrads) took part. Across the 5 studies, participants were asked to rate their own attractiveness (3 items asking for ratings of one’s own attractiveness) and completed assessments of psychological entitlement (belief that one deserves special treatment compared to other people, assessed through the Psychological Entitlement Scale) and self-interest behavioral intention (Self and Other-Interest Inventory, assessing motivation to act in one’s own interest).
In study 2, authors used a resource allocation task as a behavioral measure of self-interest behavior. This task required the participant to divide a number of raffle tickets between him/her and another colleague. Participants who gave more to themselves (and less to the colleague) were considered to have more pronounced self-interest/selfish behavior.
In study 3, researchers manipulated psychological entitlement by asking the group assigned to the high entitlement condition to write justifications for why they deserve the best in life, should get the career they want and be treated with respect by others. Control condition participants just wrote about themselves.
Study 4 manipulated self-perceived attractiveness by asking one group to write about a situation where they were particularly attractive (increased attractiveness group) and the other group to write about a visit to a grocery store (control condition).
In study 5, researchers manipulated self-perceived attractiveness by showing participants in the increased attractiveness group pictures of unattractive faces and telling them that those are people of average attractiveness.
Results across all 5 studies showed that people who saw themselves as more attractive tended to behave in a more selfish manner. Self-perceived attractiveness affected self-interest (selfish) behavior both directly and by increasing psychological entitlement. Higher psychological entitlement was associated with higher self-interest behavior.
Furthermore, experimental manipulations showed that increasing self-perceived attractiveness led to both an increase in psychological entitlement and in self-interest behavior. Low attractiveness individuals substantially increased their tendencies to act in a self-interested way after their entitlement was increased experimentally. Experimental manipulation that made participants see themselves as more attractive increased their entitlement values.
“We found that self-perceived attractiveness, either chronically experienced or experimentally heightened, predicted and promoted self-interested behavior,” Wang told PsyPost. “This is because attractive individuals (compared to average others) experience a higher level of psychological entitlement, which subsequently leads to a higher level of self-interested behavior. So, it seems that despite the favourable treatment received, attractive individuals fail to show reciprocity (i.e., not treating others nicely in return).”
The studies clearly showed that physical attractiveness can positively predict self-interested behavioral intentions in an economic game, thus supporting the expectation that attractive people will act in a more selfish way. However, authors note that in real world situations it is still possible for attractive people to internalize the expectations of others and thus display the positive traits people attribute to attractive people in their daily lives.
The study “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, I Deserve More Than All: Perceived Attractiveness and Self-Interested Behavior” was authored by Fei Teng, Xijing Wang, Yue Zhang, Qiao Lei, Fan Xiang, and Shiyu Yuan.