"Long before it's in the papers"
May 27, 2015


For homely men, a pass—but less room for error

May 27, 2015
Courtesy of Springer Journals
and World Science staff

Wom­en don’t mind a homely ma­n, but woe to that man if he does some­thing wrong—he has less room for er­ror than a hand­some fel­low, a new study sug­gests.

The findings by Jer­e­my Gib­son and Jon­a­than Go­re of the East­ern Ken­tucky Uni­vers­ity are pub­lished in the re­search jour­nal Gen­der Is­sues. The re­sults al­so ech­o ear­li­er find­ings in­di­cat­ing less at­trac­tive men re­ceive harsher sen­tences in court, they added.

Learn­ing how some­one can make a pos­i­tive first im­pres­sion is an im­por­tant field of stu­dy, be­cause of its role in form­ing rela­t­ion­ships, Gib­son and Go­re said. It’s of­ten based on phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance and wheth­er some­one sticks to so­cial norms or not. Such im­pres­sions are made in a flash, but are not al­ways cor­rect.

In what is called the “ha­lo ef­fec­t,” peo­ple warm up to oth­ers with pos­i­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as hand­someness, Gib­son and Go­re said. The “dev­il ef­fect” or “nega­tive ha­lo ef­fect” comes in­to play when peo­ple as­sume that oth­ers pos­sess so-called “bad” char­ac­ter­is­tics, such as un­at­trac­tiveness.

Gib­son and Go­re pre­sented 170 col­lege wom­en with pho­tos of men. Two male faces—one at­trac­tive, the oth­er not—bear­ing si­m­i­lar fea­tures were paired in two writ­ten sce­nar­i­os. In the one, the man com­mit­ted a ma­jor so­cial no-no, in the oth­er not.

The re­search­ers found that wheth­er a man trans­gressed a so­cial norm was a much great­er put-off than wheth­er he was un­at­trac­tive. Nor­mally wom­en don’t feel dif­fer­ently to­wards a homely man who toes the line, they ar­gued. But if that same ugly duck­ling trans­gresses the bound­aries of right or wrong, a mag­ni­fied or “dou­ble” dev­il ef­fect comes in­to play. He is then viewed in an ex­tremely neg­a­tive light, much more so than would have been the case if he were hand­some.

‘His un­at­trac­tiveness is OK un­til he mis­be­haves,” said Gib­son.

The ha­lo and dev­il ef­fect of­ten comes in­to play when peo­ple view oth­ers’ pro­files on on­line dat­ing sites, the re­search­ers added. Based on their re­sults, Gib­son and Go­re be­lieve that un­at­trac­tive men who pro­vide un­usu­al or alarm­ing in­forma­t­ion in their pro­files may not re­ceive a sec­ond glance from wom­en. This will not be the case for an Ado­nis post­ing the same in­forma­t­ion, or un­at­trac­tive ones who do not vi­o­late these norms.

In the ju­di­cial sys­tem, Go­re not­ed, un­at­trac­tive de­fen­dants are al­so known to re­ceive more se­vere penal­ties than more at­trac­tive ones, even if they com­mit­ted the same crime.

“A man who stands tri­al has al­ready shown him­self to have vi­o­lated so­cial norms in one way or anoth­er. If he is al­so un­at­trac­tive, the mag­ni­fied dev­il ef­fect may re­sult in a larg­er fi­ne or sen­tence, as it could in­flu­ence how neg­a­tively ju­rors view him and, as a re­sult, the de­gree to which they be­lieve him guilty of the crime,” he said.

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Women don’t mind a homely man, but woe to that man if he crosses a line—he has less room for error than a handsome fellow, a new study suggests. The research by Jeremy Gibson and Jonathan Gore of the Eastern Kentucky University is published in the research journal Gender Issues. The results also echo earlier findings indicating less attractive men receive harsher sentences in court, they added. Learning how someone can make a positive first impression is an important field of study, because of its role in forming relationships, Gibson and Gore said. It’s often based on physical appearance and whether someone sticks to social norms or not. Such impressions are made in a flash, but are not always correct. In what is called the “halo effect,” people warm up to others with positive characteristics, such as handsomeness, Gibson and Gore said. The “devil effect” or “negative halo effect” comes into play when people assume that others possess so-called “bad” characteristics, such as unattractiveness. Gibson and Gore presented 170 college women with photos of men along with some written information. Two male faces—one attractive, the other not—bearing similar features were paired in two written scenarios. In the one, the man committed a major social no-no, in the other not. The researchers found that whether a man transgressed a social norm was a much greater put-off than whether he was unattractive. Normally women don’t feel differently towards a homely man who toes the line, they argued. But if that same ugly duckling transgresses the boundaries of right or wrong, a magnified or “double” devil effect comes into play. He is then viewed in an extremely negative light, much more so than would have been the case if he were handsome. ‘His unattractiveness is OK until he misbehaves,” said Gibson. The halo and devil effect often comes into play when people view others’ profiles on online dating sites, the researchers added. Based on their results, Gibson and Gore believe that unattractive men who provide unusual or alarming information in their profiles may not receive a second glance from women. This will not be the case for an Adonis posting the same information, or unattractive ones who do not violate these norms. In the judicial system, Gore noted, unattractive defendants are also known to receive more severe penalties than more attractive ones, even if they committed the same crime. “A man who stands trial has already shown himself to have violated social norms in one way or another. If he is also unattractive, the magnified devil effect may result in a larger fine or sentence, as it could influence how negatively jurors view him and, as a result, the degree to which they believe him guilty of the crime,” he said.