Class of 1975
Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010 with funding from
Lyrasis Members and Sloan Foundation
Physical Appearance and
M. - Somers Knight
h™ /I. / 97<r
/ Outside Readerf
Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree with Honors
Sweet Briar College
Sweet Briar, Virginia
Table of Contents
I A HISTORY OF PHYSICAL CHARACTEROLOGY 1
Personality and Appearance in Literature 2
Aristotle' s ' Physiognomica' 5
Phrenology and Physiognomy: Gall and Lavater 6
Constitutional Psychology: Sheldon and Kretschmer 11
II PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS aND INTERPERSONAL ATTRACTION 22
Inter oersonal Attraction 27
Person Percpetion 28
Experimental Research 51
Impression Formation 40
III P1YSICAL DEFORVITY AND PIRSONALITY hj
Deformity and the Social Context 50
The Self Image 52
Personality Problems Associated with Deformity 55
The Family and the Deformed Child 55
The Benefits of Plastic Surgery 57
Body Image and Self Image 60
IV SELF IMAGE AND BODY IMAGE IN THE SOCIAL C0NT2XT 65
Body Image 64
Cultural Norms 66
The Self Image 70
Self Image and Body Image 72
Cone lusion • Ik
V SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION 77
VII STUDY OF AGREEMENT IN CHILDREN'S JUDGEMENTS OF ATTRACTIVENESS
OF PHOTOGRAPHED FACES
VIII APPENDIX: photographs used in study
The object of osychology is to give us a totally-
different idea of the things we know best.
Paul Valery, Tel Quel, 194j
America is unique in being the culture which is the most
thoroughly pervaded by visual media. We are exposed to a
steady stream of faces and bodies which meet us each time
we open a magazine, watch television or go to the movies.
Women are incessently reminded that "the wrinkles that spell
character in a man's face, spell disaster in a woman's".
The clothes make the man; so do his teeth, his tan and the
width of his shoulders. It is no wonder that American social
psychologists have pounced upon physical attractiveness as a
variable to play around with in their studies of human interaction;
no wonder that plastic surgeons do a booming business.
But this fascination with the way we look, although it may
sometimes seem like another product of Madison Avenue, is not
an American invention. If advertising that advises us "be
beautiful and you will be loved" is successful it is because
it strikes upon a very human tendency to be concerned about
physical appearance. The concern has often manifested itself
not only in the desire to present oneself well to others but
in attempts to find out what other people's appearance tell
about their characters.
Human beings have always sought links between physical
appearance and character. The purpose of this paper is to
put all of the studies, ancient and recent, plausible and
ridiculous, which have tried to show the relationship be-
tweensome aspect of physical appearance and personality,
into some sort of a framework. What I am building up to
is support for a 'social response' explanation of the re-
lationship. The relevance of physical appearance comes of
course within the social sphere. And it is the social
response to physical appearance (and to the total person)
that is a significant factor in personality development.
Whatever connection there is, it originates in this social
The word that for brevity's sake I will use to describe
"any personality theory that attempts to show a connection
between physical appearance and character" is "physical
characterology". And the different systems of physical
characterology that have been brought together here are
classified as one of the three types of approach: intuitive-
observational; scientific-biological; and social-develop-
mental. An example of the first type is physiognomy and of
the second, Sheldon's constitutional psychology. The third
is not easily narrowed down to one example but discussion
of the studies that come under it fills most of this paper.
The social -developmental approach governs the research behind
the social origin theory. The first two types of explanation
are both essentially nativistic; I have introduced the
separation as an acknowledgement of differences in method,
The social -developmental is an environmentalist^ view.
My material has come from related but varied fields.
The assumptions of an experimental social psychologist
and of a counseling psychiatrist are not always the same,
although in this context they shouldn't seem wholly
exclusive. However I hope I will be forgiven for a
modicum of eclecticism.
I. A History of Physical Characterology
- but that the size and jollity of every individual nose,
and by which one nose ranks above another, and bears a
higher price, is owing to the cartilaginous and muscular
parts of it, into whose ducts and sinuses the blood and
animal spirits being impelled, and driven by the warmth
and force of the imagination, which is but a step from
it - it so happens, and ever must, says Prignitz,
that the excellency of the nose is in a direct arithmetical
proportion to the excellency of the wearer's fancy.
(Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy
1767, Chapter XXXVIII)
Form is power, because being a promise of good, it re-
commendeth men to the favor of women and strangers.
(Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan
1651, Chapter 10)
There has always been the tendency for people to make judgements of
character which are at least in part based upon the appearance of the
person being judged. There are numerous adages in our society that warn
about "judging a book by its cover" or being "deceived by appearances".
They are designed to curb the habit of forming preconceived notions about
the inner qualities of someone based upon their external qualities.
Ethologists would explain the phenomenon of judging by appearance
as the product of innate propensities; Social Psychologists would look
for reasons somewhere in the socialization process. Whatever the
explanation, there is a part of human tradition which allows for the
possible connections between physical appearance and personality. People
with small eyes are shrewd; fat people are jolly; thin lips denote severity;
blondes have more fun. Good people are beautiful people; bad people are
Personality and Appearance in Literature
Conventional wisdoms about appearance are dotted throughout literature
and folklore. An example comes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar :
"Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek -headed men and such as sleep o' nights;
Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous."
(Julius Caesar, Act 1, Sc.2)
Heros and heroines, outstandingly in Victorian and pre-Victorian literature,
are usually striking in appearance because of the association of what is
good with what is beautiful. Their beauty is in contrast to the un-
attractiveness of literary villains who are portrayed as ugly through
and through. In fairy tales it is the swans who are the honoured ones;
frogs must be satisfied with anti-hero status at best. The description
of Juanito, the protagonist in Fortunata and Jacinta , is typical of 19th
century conceptions of heros:
"Don Baldomiero's son was very good looking and moreover very pleasant.
He was one of those men who attract by their appearance before captivating
with their manner, one of those who gain more friends in an hour of conversa-
tion than others who confer positive favours."
(Perez Galdos, Fortunata and Jacinta,
1887, trans. Lester Clark, pt.l, chap.l)
Charles Dickens is known, among other things, for his caricature-like des-
criptions of characters. For this reason he is a good author to pick on
to show the contrast between the way a 'good' character is described as
opposed to the way a 'bad' one is . The passages below are portrayals of
two characters from Bleak House . The first is Ada Claire who is the em-
bodiment of goodness and purity; the second, Krook, is certainly among
Dickens' more villanous creations.
" I saw in the young lady with the fire shining upon her, such a
beautiful girl.' With such rich golden hair, such soft blue eyes,
and such a bright, innocent, trusting face.'"
(Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1853,
"[He was] an old man in spectacles and a hairy cap... He was short,
cadaverous and withered, with his head sunk sideways between his
shoulders and the breath issuring in visible smoke from his mouth,
as if he were on fire within. His throat, chin and eyebrows were
so frosted with white hairs and so gnarled with veins and puckered
skin, that he looked from his breast upward like some old root
in a fall of snow."
(Ibid, p. 48)
These three passages are only a suggestion of the stereotypes of appearance
which writing has both reflected and perpetuated. In terms of the three
main approaches to physical characterology, the assumptions about physical
appearance and personality contained in literature are the result of in-
tuituion and observation; on the part of the author and on the part of the
The other means by which writers have set down observations on the
connections between character and personality has been in developing
actual theories of the relationship and devoting formal writings to
the topic. Some of the earliest forms of personality theory included
attempts to show the relationship between personality and the shape of
the nose, the size of the eyes, the width of the forehead or the basic
body type. Sometimes the writers described people who looked like
various animals and concluded that they must therefore have temperaments
similar to those of the animals. They also drew out the association between
a particular physical feature and a specific group (for example, Jews,
philosophers, thieves) with the implication that possessing the features
that members of the group possess is a sure sign of the possessor's having
the type of personality generally ascribed to the group. The different
explanations were legion and not usually too highly correlelated especially
since they were based strictly on intuitive-observational evidence.
Probably the first formal piece of writing on the relationship between
physical appearance and character has been attributed to Aristotle under
the title "Physiognomica". Aristotle believed that:
" instances of the fundamental connexion of body and soul and their
very extensive interaction may be found in the normal products of nature.
There never was an animal with the form of one kind and the mental character
of another; the soul and body appropriate to the same kind always go
together, and this shows that a specific body involves a specific mental
character." (W.D. Ross Ed, 1913, 805a)
Many of Aristotle's conclusions about the meaning of physiognomy
were drawn from observations of animals. For example:
"Soft hair indicates cowardice and coarse hair courage. This in-
ference is based on observations of the whole animal kingdom. The
most timid of animals are deer, hares, and sheep, and they have the
softest coats; whilst the lion, and wild boar are bravest and have
coarsest of coats." (Ibid., 806b)
He also makes generalizations based upon racial characteristics and stereo-
types, as in this sentence: The Small-Minded have small limbs and small
delicate lean bodies, small eyes and small faces, just like a Corinthian
or Leucadian." (ibid., 808a) The reasoning behind some of the observations
in "Physiognomica" is slightly more obscure. "Gluttony is indicated when
the distance from navel to chest is greater than that from chest to neck."
The writer concludes the work by stating that:
It will be found, moreover, in every selection of signs
that some signs are better adapted than others to indicate
the mental character behind them. The clearest indications
are given by signs in certain particularly suitable parts
of the body. The most suitable part of all is the region
of the eyes and forehead, head and face..."
It would be interesting to know how this particular writing was
received by Aristotle's contemporaries. Certainly theories of physical
characterology have always had great popular appeal. There is something
enticing about being able to read character from a face or body type.
But the history of the 'sciences' of physical characterology is fraught
with hostilities, to some extent due to the fact that they are so appealing
to the layman. The field has swarmed with quacks and charlatans. In fact,
the pervading charlatanism was enough to drive George II to threaten, by
act of Parliament/ all self-acclaimed physiognomists with public whipping
and terms in houses of correction.
Phrenology and Physiognomy - Gall and Lavate
There is a gap between Aristotle's writings and the inception of further
major written theories of physical characterology. Folk wisdoms prevailed,
Ballads and fairy tales continued to favor blond, blue-eyed and above all
beautiful heroines but very little was published that included any direct
examination of physique and character. Then in 1598 an Italian, Baptista
Porta published "De Humana Physiognomica" which made him the first of the
modern physiognomists. However it was in the 18th and 19th centuries that
the strongest revival of formal physical characterology began. Franz Josef
Gall, who did most of his writing in French, began to lecture on his science
of phrenology during the late 18th century. And in Germany in 1789, J.C.
Lavater published Essays on Physiognomy . These two were followed by a host
of lesser nasologists, phsiognomists and phrenologists (for example, the
Fowler brothers who plugged phrenology in the United States) and this celebration
of physical characterology lasted a little over a century.
Phrenology (sometimes referred to by its antagonists as 'bumpology')
was not concerned with interpreting overall physical appearance or the face.
It dealt specifically with the configuration of the skull and how scrutiny
of it could reveal the talents and dispositions. I think phrenology should
be included in any discussion of systems which tried to take specific aspects
of physical appearance as signs for reading character. It differs from other
systems of physical characterology mainly in its specificity of method.
Gall believed the brain to be compartmentalized into separate and distinct
faculties. According to him, the crebral cortex could be schematically divided
up into sections, each of which was in charge of one personality function.
Examples of the traits in Gall's system are: Philoprogenitiveness, Cautiousness,
Tune, Veneration and Causality. One of Gall's major premises was that form reveals
function. Therefore he examined skull shape to discover the size of the different
faculties which would then tell which areas a person was most and least well
endowed in. He said that by carefully measuring the skull it was possible to
determine anyone's personality, talents and disabilities, strengths and weaknesses.
Phrenology differs from other forms of physical characterology in that it
does not build upon skills that a layman would be expected to possess. Its pre-
tensions to being a science were stronger if still based on quite erroneous con-
ceptions. Gall at least tried to incorporate measurement in his system. It is
also true that he made an effort to obtain the bodies of men that he had studied
while still alive in order to examine the brain and see how well its shape conformed
to expectations. If considered in a somewhat more abstract sense. Phrenology
foreshadows the social psychological view of impression formation which postulates
that physical appearance may suggest a series of related traits to the perceiver.
But Gall's system, while verging on a nativistic approach employing scientific
methods, was really more of the intuitional -observational variety.
Lavater 's physiognomy took overall physical appearance as the basis for
analysis with attention focused on the face. "...there are foreheads, noses,
lips, eyes, which singly betoken strength, weakness, ardour, phlegm, acuteness,
dullness, wrath, revenge, as far as they express certain other determinate parts."
(J.C. Lavater, 1789, p. 56)
The 'science' of physiognomy, and related 'sciences' like nasology flourished in
the 19th century. Sporting ornate titles like "Nasology; hints towards a class-
ification of noses" or "New physiognomy: Signs of Character as manifested through
Temperament and External Forms and especially in The Human Face Divine", scores of
books were published on the topic and scores of lectures given. Tangled in his
century's benevolent religious views, Lavater writes, "Oh physiognomy! What a
pledge art thou of the everlasting clemency of God toward man." (Ibid, p. 12)
And similar is this passage from Warwick (1848 p. 4) "We may feel assured that He
who gave the os sublime to man, did not place, as its foremost and most prominent
feature, a ridiculous appendage." (Warwick, 1848, p. 4)
With metaphysical overtones like these, and fraught with contradictions and false
assumptions, physiognomy became a murky field indeed.
In the view of physiognomists, faces revealed things deeper than the mere
play of emotions. Given the right guidance, anyone could read a face like a
book. Lavater writes, "...what Goethe has somewhere said [is] true, and in
my opinion nothing can be more true, ...the best text for a commentary on man
is his presence, his countenance, his form..." (J.C. Lavater, 1789, p. 74) Books
on physiognomy often contained a feature by feature run down of the meaning of
different facial features. Examples from Lavater are: "Blue eyes are generally
more significant of weakness, effeminacy and yielding, than brown and black."
(Ibid, p. 171)
"Eyebrows regularly arched are characteristic of feminine youth." (Ibid, p. 181)
"The hair of man is strong and short - of woman more long and pliant. (Ibid, p. 210)
Physiognomists used both of the Aristotelian methods of associating facial con-
figuration with animal characters and racial types.
Some of the physiognomists were specialists. Eden Warwick (1848) was
one who believed that the nose was the most important index to character. Many
of the characters which he assigns to one of his five nasal types are obviously
built upon racial or cultural sterotypes. This passage from Warwick's Nasology
describing the personality that goes along with the 'Jewish Nose' is an example
of this kind of reasoning: "Considerable Shrewdness in wordly matters; a deep
insight into character, and facility of turning that insight to profitable account."
(Warwick, 1848, p. 8)
The assumption underlying most of these physiognomal systems of
character analysis was that appearance of the face completely and
accurately reflects character, and, implicitly, that both physiognomy
and character are provided by gentic heritage and are interdependent
for that reason. However some writers were so sure that there was a
direct and necessary association between face and personality that they
went so far as to state that character can shape appearance. A change
in character would have to produce the accompanying physical change so
that face and personality would continue to correspond in expected
fashion. This belief is shown in a classification of Milton's nose in
"Milton in youth possessed a "Greek Nose... his portrait, taken at
23, shows that his nose was not then developed in to the cogitative
form which it assumed in later years, when troublous times and anxious
care caused him to reflect profoundly on events around him. Then it
expanded at the base and became, like the Noses of all the great men
of these stirring times, largely and compounded with the cogitative..."
Ibid, p. 83)
Later in the book, the author gives instructions on "How to Get a Cogitative
The conclusion of the physiognomists were based upon knowledge of
acquaintances and of any other people within their field of experience,
and often upon observation of men well-known for an ability of abilities.
The following description by Lavater of Haller should clarify the latter
method of physiognomists:
"For example, Haller, certainly, in many respects, was an extraordinary
man. Among other remarkable features which he had in common with other
men of understanding, I observed a trait, a line, a muscle, below the
eye, which I never saw, after this form, in any other man. I do not
yet know what it denotes, but I pay attention to all countenances, and
the first which I shall meet with this trait, I shall carefully examine,
shall turn discourse on those subjects in which Haller excelled, or
on such as will easily make it visible whether a person with such a
trait possesses any portion of the spirit of Haller." (J.C. Lavater,
1789, p. 27)
Although phrenology had some beneficial influence on the development of
psychophysiology (probably not directly but through Gall's interest in the
accompanying physiology) neither phrenology nor physiognomy proved to be
of any long range help in understanding human character. The flaws in the
systems are obvious and these so-called sciences were never fully accepted
even in their century-long hey-day. The men who compiled Casaubonistic
piles of data and wrote vague pompous tomes were accused of quackery or
just plain uselessness . But the flowering of physical characterology
does provide an interesting historical perspective to the discussion of
physical appearance as a variable in 20th century psychological theory,
and some insight into human tendency.
Constitutional Psychology: Sheldon and Kretschmer
The early (pre-20th century) men who developed systems of physical
characterology relied upon a sort of inductive reasoning built upon the
association of physical types with character types. The gentic component
(if any) was assumed to be implicit. In the early 20th century,
notably with Kretschmer's and Sheldon's constitutional psychologies,
someone again was trying to pinpoint a relationship between physical
appearance and personality. But these two, who were both doctors, were building
their theories on the results of more precise scientific methods. They were, (and
Kretschmer emphasized this more than Sheldon) indicating that if over a period
of human history certain body types have been consistently paired with specific
temperaments, there must be a common biological or physiological cause. Their
method of attacking the problem was through thorough study of multiple cases
to determine first, how to classify physical appearances into several basic
types and second, to determine the sort of personality which accompanied each
case. By contrast with earlier writers, they were interested in somatotypes
and not as much concerned with the arrangement of facial features or the
shape of the nose.
E. Kretschmer, a German psychiatrist, devised a theory of constitution
and temperament from the medical-psychiatric point of view. Although he
does not exclude his system ' s being applicable to so called 'normal' types
(and to geniuses) his main work lay in elucidating the relation between physique
and character in two main psychiatric groups: schizoid and cycloid (manic
The three types of physical constitution around which Kretschmer built
his theory are the asthenic, the athletic and the pyknic. The way Kretschmer
arrived at these three types was by tracing morphological similarities through
large numbers of individuals (patients) and taking their average value. The
characteristics of each type are as follows:
Asthenic: "the male asthenic type [has] ...a deficiency in thickness
combined with an average unlessened length. This deficiency in the thickness
development is present in all parts of the body - face, neck, trunk, extre-
mities and in all the tissues - skin, fat, muscle, bone and vascular system
throughout. On this account we find the average weight, as well as the total
circumference and breadth measurements, below the general value for males.
We have therefore, in the clearest cases the following general impression...;
a lean, narrowly-built man who looks taller than he is, with a skin poor in
secretion and blood, with narrow shoulders from which hang lean arms with thin
muscles, and delicately boned hands; a long narrow, flat chest, on which we
can count the ribs, with a sharp rib-angle. A thin stomach devoid of fat, and
lower limbs which are just like the upper ones in character." (E. Kretschmer,
1926, trans. W.J.H. Sprott, p. 21)
Athletic: "A middle sized to tall man with particularly wide projecting
shoulders, a superb chest, a firm stomach and a trunk which tapers in its
lower region so that the pelvis, and the magnificent legs, sometimes seem
almost graceful compared with the size of the upper limbs and particularly
the hypertrophied shoulders .
"The solid long head is carried upright on a free neck so that the sloping
linear contour of the firm trapezius looked at from in front, gives that part
of the shoulder which is nearest the neck, its peculiar shape. The outlines
and shadings of the body are determined by the swelling of the muscles of the
good or hypertrophied musculature which stands out plastically as muscle-relief.
The bone relief is specially (sic) prominent in the shape of the face. The
coarse boning throughout is to be seen particularly in the collar bones, the
hand and foot-joints and the hands... The length of the extremities is rather
long and short... the fat is relatively only moderately developed, and, speaking
absolutely, is more or less normal." (Ibid., p. 24)
Pyknic: "The pyknic type, in the height of its perfection in middle-age,
is characterized by the pronounced peripheral development of the body cavities
(head, breast and stomach), and a tendency to a distribution of fat about the
trunk, with a more graceful construction of the motor apparatus (shoulders
"The rough impression in well-developed cases is very distinctive: middle
height, rounded figure, a soft broad face, a short massive neck, sitting between
the shoulders; the magnificent fat paunch protrudes from the deep vaulted chest
which broadens out towards the lower part of the body. (Ibid, p. 29)
Kretschmer concentrates on male types, but amends these descriptions to
include female types, as in, the following passage on the female asthenic:
"The asthenic women, as far as the type shows itself clearly among them,
are, in their general appearance, like asthenic men, up to an important point:
they are not only thin, but also of very small growth. This group of women
is thus not merely asthenic, but asthenic-hypoplastic; and in this work by
asthenic, we mean merely underdevelopment of the body and the parts of the
body, especially with reference to the height." (Ibid, p. 23)
And although Kretschmer' s interest was in physiques he did not exclude
general physiognomy from his system. In fact, he placed some importance on the
face since it is one physical aspect with the least susceptibility to change
(as a result of lack of exercise, weight gain etc.).
Through the thorough examination of the psychiatric cases that confronted
him, Kretschmer drew the following conclusions:
"1) There is a clear biological affinity between the psychic
disposition of the manic-depressives and the pyknic body
2) There is clear biological affinity between the psychic disposition
of the schizophrenes and the bodily disposition characteristic
of the asthenics, athletics and certain dysplastics.
3) And vice versa, there is only a weak affinity between schizophrene
and pyknic on the one hand, and between circulars and asthenics,
athletics and hysplastics on the other." (Ibid, p. 36)
Kretschmer is very clear about where he thinks the relationship between
constitution and temperament originates.
"It is an empicical fact that the endocrine system has a fundmental influence
on the mentality and especially on the temperamental qualities ... [In] the great
schizothymic and cyclothymic temperamental groups [we see] the correlation
between physique and temperament, that is to say, that very biological relation
which also forces itself so much on one's attention in gross glandular disturbances,
when we observe the parallelism between psychic malformation and hypoplastic
physique among cretins and between abnormal length of the extremity bones, and
displacement of the psychic temperament among people who have been castrated young
and eunuchoids, phenomina indeed, which can be seen ocurring under fixed biological
laws even among higher animals ....
"It is not a great step to the suggestion that the chief normmal types of
tempermant, cyclothymes , and schizothymes, are determined, with regard to their
physical correlates, by similar parallel activity on the part of the secretions..."
(Ibid, p. 254)
Kretschmer, seeing that there were body types and character types that
kept recurring with each other realized that he would have to come up with
some sort of explanation for this recurrence. The cause he names in his
writing is the endocrine gland system which, through the chemistry of
the blood, affects body growth and temperaments simultaneously. As a
result of this parallel effect, it is possible to read with more or
less accuracy (Kretschmer never claims his system is infallible) one of
the three body types as predictive of one of the psychiatric or normal
Casting aside the intuitive sort of system propagated by the phreno-
logists and physiognomists, Kretschmer did an about face to put a system
of parallel body type and temperament on a more scientific basis, to explain
the common cause in physiological terms and to finally, as he put it, "...
instead of the one-sided parallel: Brain and mind, put one and for all the
other: soma and mind." (Ibid, p. 255)
W. H. Sheldon is an American physician who also devised a system
incorporating three body types and related temperaments. (The magic number
for physical types seems to be three). He presented his theory in two books,
T he Varieties of Human Physique (1940) and The Varieties of Temperament (1942).
His research team photographed some 4,000 male college students and found that
there were "obvious dimensions of variation" in their physiques. They narrowed
the variation to three primary morphological axes around which all physiques
varied. The three types that appeared were endomorphic, mesomorphic and
ectomorphic. The physical characteristics of these types are:
" When endomorphy predominates, the digestive viscera are massive and
highly developed, while the somatic structures are relatively weak, and
undeveloped. .. [Endomorphs] are usually fat but they are sometimes seen
"When mesomorphy predominates the somatic structures (bone, muscle,
and connective tissue) are in the ascendency ... [The body is] hard, firm,
upright and relatively strong and tough. Blood vessels are large, especially
the arteries. The skin is relatively thick with large pores and it is heavily
reinforced with underlying connective tissue. The hallmark of mesomorphy
is uprightness and sturdiness of structure, as the hallmark of endomorphy
is softness and sphericity.
"Ectomorphy means fragility, linearity, flatness of the chest, and
delicacy throughout the body. There is relatively slight development
of both visceral and somatic structures. The ectomorph has long, slender,
poorly muscled extremities with delicate, pipestem bones, and he has
relative to his mass, the greatest surface area and hence the greatest
sensory exposure to the outside world. He is in this one sense overly
exposed and naked to the world." (W.H. Sheldon, 1942, pp. 389-390)
Using these three types as a base Sheldon could classify any physique on
a seven point scale for each type. The scale was arranged in the order
endomorph, mesomorph, ectomorph so that, for example, an extreme endomorph
would have the rating 7-1-1, an extreme ectomorph would be rated 1-1-7
and a more 'average' type might be 3-4-4.
Then, by working out the correlations between personality traits in a list of
50 traits Sheldon and his workers found three groups of traits highly
correlated among themselves but with low intercorrelations. The result
was three 20-trait clusters. Below are the short and picturesque summations
that Sheldon gives of the basic temperaments:
"Viscerotonia, the first component, in its extreme manifestation
is characterized by general relaxation, love of comfort, sociability,
conviviality, gluttony for food, for people, for affection. The viscero-
tonic extremes are people who 'suck hard at the breast of mother earth' and
love physical proximity with others. The motivated organization is dominated
by the gut and by the function of anabolism. The personality seems to center
around the viscera. The digestive tract is kind, and its welfare appears to
define the primary purpose of life.
"Somatotonia, the second component, is roughly a predomince of muscular
activity and of vigorous bodily assertativeness . The motivational organization
seems dominated by the soma. The people have vigor and push. The executive
department of their internal economy is strongly vested in their somatic
muscular systems. Action and power define lifes primary purpose.
"Cerebrotonia, the third component, is roughly a predominance of the
element of restraint, inhibition and of the desire of concealment. These
people shrink away from sociability as from too strong a light. They
'repress' somatic and visceral expression, are hyperattentional, and
sedulously avoid attracting attention to themselves. Their behavior seems
dominated by the inhibitory and attentional functions of the cerebrum and
their motivational hierarchy appears to define an antithesis to both of
the other extremes." (Ibid, pp. 10-11)
After these gargantuan classification and sorting tasks, to establish
the connection between physique and temperament Sheldon conducted extensive
evaluation of 200 cases in terms of morphology and temperament. The correlations
that he found are summarized in the following table:
(Sheldon, 1942, p. 400)
Morphology, or somatotype, Sheldon called the static element, and
temperament, the dynamic one. He thought they were both part of the same
unit and said, "we are not surprised if we are led to expect that the
dynamics of an individual should be related to the static picture he
presents. It is the old notion that structure must somehow determine
function." (Ibid, p. 4)
It is never stated in his book how the relation comes about but the
unspoken assumption is that both components are inherited. The clearest
allusion to this belief is where Sheldon writes:
"From the immediate, materialistic or purely somatotomic point of view,
it may be true that the constitutional outlook is fatalistic and pessimistic,
the way of escape would seem to be the extension of a general understanding
of the elements, both static and dynamic, whose patterning constitutes the
individual. .. If constitutional studies can lead to the establishment of a
rational foundation for a science of heredity and eugenics, we may then
hope, for example, to eliminate the principal constitutional and degenera-
tive physical scourges of the race... But of greater importance than that,
it might then also be possible by discriminate breeding to strengthen the
mental and spiritual fiber of the race. This is optimistic enough."
Sheldon's system was not saved by its optimism and his constitutional
psychology saw its end not long after its inception. The system, like many
other attempts to fit human beings into a neat taxonomy, because of the
predominance of exceptions, the questionable nature of the trait constructs
and the subjectivity of the judgements just faded out of importance.
Gordon Allport includes a chapter on characterology in his 1937 book
Personality : a psychological interpretation . Basically, he holds up earlier
theories as effigies to batter against preparatory to stating his views on the
relation between physique and personality. For he does allow that a
relationship does exist and can exert an influence on the developing
personality. I include the following paragraph because it is the first
of any of the theories listed to hint at social-developmental influences
on the personality.
"Within the normal range, physical build is associated only indirectly
with personality. Strong bodies, well-formed, and socially approved,
predispose people (especially in youth) to develop extroverted, real-
istic, sociable traits; conversely, frail, malformed or markedly
atypical physiques tend (in response to social and environmental stan-
dards) to produce introverted, intellectual, or autistic personalities.
This finding takes care of much of Kretschmer's evidence, but offers
a totally different theory (one that is environmentalistic rather
than nativistic) to account for the association of physique and per-
sonality within the normal range." (G. Allport, 1937, p.78)
Allport did not develop this idea further. Obviously he was more
concerned with developing a complete personality theory. Sheldon and
Kretschmer, as carefully thought out as their systems were, foundered
in technicalities. Earlier types of physical characterology went the
route of snake oils and guaranteed aphrodesiacs . Their reliability was
easily disputed, their falsity easily discovered. Their value is purely
historical. I have included this chapter to show how history reveals
examples of man's preoccupation with finding a concrete correlation
between the external appearance and the internal character and how
two types of explanation - the intuitive and the nativistic (scientific-
biological) - have for various reasons failed. The body of the paper
will now be devoted to elaborating on the environmentalistic or social-
developmental approach which is the approach I believe has been best
able to suggest valid explanations for any correspondence between physical
appearance and personality.
Allport, G.W. , Personality - a psychological inter-
pretation. N.Y.: Henry Holt & Co., Inc., 1937.
Combe, G., Lectures on Phrenology , 1847.
Dickens, C. , Bleak House , N.Y. : Books, Inc.
(orig. pub., 1853)
Galdos, P., Fortunata & Jacinta , Middlesex,
England: Penguin Books Ltd., 1973, trans. Lester
Clark, (orig. pub., 1887)
Kretschmer, E. , Physique and Character , London: Harcourt
Brace & Co., Inc., 1926, trans. W.J.H. Sprott.
Lavater, J.C., Essays on Physiognomy for the promotion
of the Knowledge and the love of mankind Vol. II,
London, G.N.J. & J. Robinson, 1789.
Loveday, T., & Forster E.S. trans, "Physiognomonica"
in W.D. Rossied, The Works of Aristotle , London:
Oxford University Press, 1913.
Sheldon, H. , The Varieties of Temperament , New York:
Harper & Brothers Pub., 1942.
Warwick, E., Nasology - or hints towards a classification
of noses , London: Richard Bentley, 1848.
Watson, R.I., The Great Psychologists , N.Y. : J. B.
Lippincott Co., 1963.
II. Physical Attractiveness and Inter-
Beauty is nothing other than the promise
of happiness .
Stendhal, "On Love" (1822)
beauty gets the best of it/in this world
Don Marquis, "unjust" (1927)
The remainder of this paper will be devoted to the social-
developmental approach to physical appearance and character.
In this chapter I will go into the social psychological research
on physical attractiveness and interpersonal attraction with a
discussion of the role of impression formation.
The following two chapters will cover findings on the
influence of physical deformity on the personality and theories
of the interdependence of body image and self image.
A person is socially defined as a physical as well as a
behaving entity. After all, those behaviors have to emanate
from somewhere. Thus a person is a combination of both static
and dynamic elements Jand showing the relevance of the static
element - appearance - to the more dynamic component - personality
is the main thrust of this paper.
People meeting other people are initially confronted with each
other's physical appearances. Consciously or unconsciously, we base
our first judgment of another person on the way he or she looks to
us. Our concern over making a good appearance shows in the vast
amount of effort we put into preparing ourselves for presentation.
We constantly attempt to improve our physical appearance - adding
what is desired, deleting what is undesired. We want to be attrac-
tive, to be presentable at least. Everything from turtlebased night
creams to tinted contact lenses to radical plastic surgery is aimed
toward this end. Businesses capitalize on this desire to be beautiful
and some wealthy Americans attend health spas to lose five pounds at ,
$400 a pound. In some parts of California even the dead must be made
beautiful. Ugliness is an undefined stigma; a subtle curse. People
feel sorry for the ugly members of society in the same cringing way
they pity the blind or the crippled.
Yet, in the face of abundant intuitive evidence that where
human relationships are concerned physical attractiveness is by no
means irrelevant, social psychologists have until recently been
rather coy about examining this intuition. Aronson neatly describes
the dilemma involved:
It is difficult to be certain why the effects of
physical beauty have not been studied more system-
atically. It may be that, at some levels, we would
hate to find evidence indicating that beautiful women
are better liked than homely women — somehow this seems
undemocratic. In a democracy we like to feel that with
hard work and a good deal of motivation, a person can
accomplish almost anything. But, alas (most of us be-
lieve), hard work cannot make an ugly woman beautiful.
Because of this suspicion perhaps most social psycholo-
gists implicitly prefer to believe that beauty is in-
deed only skin deep — and avoid the investigation of its
social impact for fear they might learn otherwise,
(cited in Dion et al, 1972, p. 285)
Whatever unadmitted fears and hedging may have been involved,
there is now a growing body of experimental literature examining
the role of physical attractiveness in interpersonal attraction.
Moreover, the findings confirm the belief that physical attractive-
ness influences the course of social interaction and interpersonal
attraction. Attractive people are better liked (Walster et al,
1966; Byrne et al, 1968; Stroebe et al, 1971), more desirable to
work with (Byrne et al, 1968; Stroebe et al, 1971) and have more
control over their own actions (A.G. Miller, 1970b). More
people would like to date someone who is attractive than someone
who is not (Walster et al, 1966; Byrne et al, 1968; Byrne, 1970;
Walster, 1970; Stroebe et al, 1971). Attractiveness seems to cast
a halo over the individuals involved. They are not only attractive
but are believed to possess a host of other virtues as well (A.G.
Miller, 1970 a).
According to a study by Dion et al (1972) , attractive people are ex-
pected to lead better lives, to have more opportunities in business
and the choice of a career, to be more likely to get married.
In short, there is quite a lot which seems to indicate that
attractive people will have an easier time socially than unattractive
people. Certainly, being attractive is not the only means of achieving
social success, but perhaps it is more important than we have previously
been willing to admit.
People vary in their potential rewardingness to others. Rewarding-
ness will from now on be referred to as "social desirability" which, as
defined by Berscheid and Walster, "...includes such attributes as physical
attractiveness, personableness , intelligence, fame, material resources, etc."
(Berscheid and Walster, 1969, p. 108)
The aspect of social desirability which this chapter is most concerned with
is, of course, physical attractiveness. I believe that the influence of
physical attractiveness or interpersonal attraction comes in terms of
potential reward value. Physical beauty (and probably some personality
correlates, to be discussed later) increases the social desirability
of attractive individuals. Whether this comes from the mere status
involved in being seen with an attractive person (which would not seem
unrelated to Elder's (1969) finding that attractive women are more socially
mobile) or a belief that attractive people are better conversationalists or
better workers will depend on the people and the situation involved. If
attractive people have greater social desirability, their social life will
not be the same as that of unattractive people with less social value. During
interaction the person with more rewards on his side has more control over
the situation. He is more likely to be able to determine the outcome, to
"call the shots". As in any bargaining situation, the person with the greater
amount of assets has the advantage. And, most important, when it comes to
interpersonal attraction, this person will be more likely to be sought out on
the basis of these social assets. To apply this to the question of physical
beauty, take the example of two girls of dating age — one highly attractive
and the other not much to look at at all . Boys are more likely to want to
date the attractive girl as, they believe, she has much more to offer. She
will be more popular, better liked. Taking out the other girl means running
the risk of being exposed to comments like "Is that all he could get?" Dating
her would be less rewarding; hence she would be less popular. Of course to
some extent a boy's approach will be limited by what he thinks he has to offer.
There is a greater risk that the pretty girl will turn him down — she has more
options available and can afford to be choosy or playful. But, as far as
sheer potential reward value goes, the attractive girl should be better liked.
The assumption throughout the remainder of the paper will be that
attractive people are inherently more rewarding people and therefore they
are liked more. And there is no dearth of evidence to show that physical
attractiveness can cause liking, as will be evident in the section reviewing
Before proceeding to discuss the experimental work, it is necessary
to say something about the process of person perception. When two people
meet, carry on a conversation, or just pass each other walking down the hall,
each is perceiving the other in some way. That sounds simple enough. However,
it is extremely important to realize that a study of person perception must
consider not only the qualities of the person being perceived but also the
attributes of the one doing the perceiving. How another person is perceived
depends on the perceiver's past experiences, his categorizations of people,
his goals, his view of his own role in relation to the other person and the
situation they are in. Jones and Thibaut write that:
Inter-personal perception can most fruitfully be treated
as both instrumental to social interaction and conditioned
by it. Thus the strategic focus in social perception will
vary as a function of the type of social interaction it
supports . If we can successfully identify the goals for
which an actor is striving in the interaction situation
we can begin to say something about the cues to which
he will attend and the meaning he is most likely to
assign them. (Jones and Thibaut, 1958, p. 152)
People provide cues to others as to how to act and the first
cues come of course from their physical appearance. What a perceiver
infers from another person's appearance will help to guide him in any
subsequent interaction. But while we hope to find general laws governing
patterns of inference, allowance must be made for individual differences.
Originally researchers in the field of person perception
concerned themselves with seeing how effective people were at judging
personality or with finding out who could judge emotions accurately.
But it soon became evident that there were rather serious difficulties
with the results they were obtaining. There was little consistency
among different subjects trying to assess the emotion being expressed
in a photograph — where one saw surprise another saw fear, and meanwhile
the experimentor had instructed the subject in the photograph to look
joyful. In order for there to be a criterion against which subject responses
could be measured for accuracy in judging personality , psychologists
had to agree on foolproof unbiased methods for assessing actual per-
sonality traits. They found that such foolproof methods were rather
hard to come by. And some researchers began to realize that what
they were actually measuring was how well subjects were able to see
what they thought they should see. Hastorf et al said about this
problem, "In other words, the experimenter has set the categories
the subject must employ with little concern for the relevance of
these to the subject's cognitive map of other people." (Hastorf et
al, 1958, p. 56)
The trend in person perception now is to pay closer attention to the
perceiver. In their book on person perception, Hastorf states the
main argument as follows: "The research in person perception has
shifted in interest from the stimuli and the accuracy with which
they are recorded to the ways that perceivers actively process those
stimuli to create interpersonal meaning." (Hastorf et al, 1970, p. 91)
There are two reasons for mentioning the above. One is that
it presents some cautions to be kept in mind in the examination of the
role of physical attractiveness in interpersonal attraction. The con-
cern of this chapter is not to point out why people idiosyncratically
consider certain individuals to be attractive but to show whether they
more or less uniformly respond differently to attractive individuals as
opposed to unattractive ones; whether they are more attracted to them
and like them better. Earlier it was mentioned that a boy of low social
desirability might be reluctant to approach a highly attractive girl.
In the studies by Walster, Berscheid and others (1966; 1970; 1971) one
of the main hypotheses was that individuals would like others near their
own level of social desirability best. Although I hope to show that
attractiveness does produce more liking and generally positive reactions
from others, the nature of the reaction must depend to some extent on
who these "others" are and what attractiveness in another person implies
to them. Differences may be individual or even tied to various socio-
economic levels but they will exist and must be taken into account.
The other reason for this discussion on person perception is
to say a bit more about inference processes. Each individual has an
"implicit personality theory" against which he judges others — what
people have what sorts of personalities, and what traits go with what.
Since first-.encounter situations are so common and the first aspect of
another person which is encountered is his physical appearance, what
someone perceives in another person is actually what he first infers
from the cues at hand. This will depend on which cues he chooses to
pay attention to and what his experiences — some unique, some part of
living in a particular society — tell him that these cues mean. Some
inferences may be very straightforward and simple (all redheaded people
like carrots) to more complex distinctions (intelligent people are more
socially aware than non-intelligent) . The proposal I want to make here
is that part of the social desirability of attractive people is linked
to an implicit personality theory, in general use, that attractive
people possess many desirable qualities in addition to mere attractive-
ness — a sort of attractiveness halo effect. Some preliminary evidence
supporting this will be mentioned in later sections.
To begin by answering the inevitable challenge to defend the
investigation of something as amorphous as "physical attractiveness",
there is evidence that certain standards of beauty do exist across
populations. Staf fieri (1967) showed that elementary school age
boys (6-10 years) preferred mesomorph body types over endomorphs and
ectomorphs. Jourard and Secord (1940) found that groups both of men
and women had highly correlated conceptions of the ideal body type
for their sex. In an experiment by Cavior and Lombardi (1973) children
as young as six years old agreed highly on the attractiveness of 11-
and 17-year olds in photographs; there was almost no difference between
the ratings of eight-year olds and older groups. If a definition of
attractiveness is needed it is based on agreement among observers. This
agreement will be reviewed in more detail in Chapter IV.
In 1966 Elaine Walster and three colleagues staged a computer
dance during Freshman "Welcome Week" at the University of Minnesota.
Students were enticed with the idea of being scientifically matched
to "someone who has the same expressed interests as yourself". The
dance was designed to test the proposal that an individual would expect
to date and would therefore like better someone at his own level of
social desirability. The proposal was an application of Level of
Aspiration theory (Lewin et al, 1944) to the dating situation. Level
of Aspiration theory states that an individual establishes two goals:
an ideal goal which depends on the desirability of the goal itself and
a realistic goal which is limited by the chances of achieving that goal.
An ideal goal for a meagre man about 5 ' 1" would be to be the strong man
in a circus. A slightly more realistic goal would be to aspire to be a
seal -trainer , assuming he had some affinity with seals. Students who
attended the dance were scaled according to their level of physical
attractiveness by four "beaureaucrats" (also students) when they bought
their tickets. Personality and intelligence measures were also taken
and the subjects were asked to give their expectations as to the sort of
date they would like to be paired with. Couples were assigned to each
other on a random basis. During an intermission at the dance, subjects
were rounded up (including any who had wandered away to fire escapes
or nearby buildings) and asked to fill out a brief questionnaire assessing
their dates. Although attractive students had had higher expectations
for their dates (whom they assumed would be more attractive, personable
and considerate) , there was no other support of Level of Aspiration
theory in this study. The attractive people were better liked regardless
of the attractiveness of the partner. Subjects were also more inclined
to want to date attractive people again. In a follow-up study, it was
the attractive girls who had been most often asked out after the dance.
Liking was not always equally reciprocated — in many cases partners' feelings
for each other were quite anthithetical. Intelligence and personality didn't
seem to be highly related to liking. Quite simply, the students liked a
good-looking date better than one who was not. These results are interesting
not only because they did not support the hypothesis but also because the
authors found something that they had not been looking for.
In a later study, ElaincWalster (19 70) again attempted to test
Level of Aspiration theory in a romantic situation. It was a bit
puzzling that something which appealed so much to common sense had
not been demonstrated at the computer dance. So subjects were presented
with a booklet containing five photographs of people of the opposite
sex at five levels of attractiveness. Each subject was asked to say
how he felt romantically toward the people in the photograph. Then
during a coffee break the experimentor handed subjects the ostensible
results of earlier personality tests. These results were designed to
either assure the subject that he had a fine personality and so
raise his self esteem or convince him that his personality was in
pretty sorry shape and so lower his self esteem. A third group
served as a control. After the coffee and esteem manipulation
subjects were given a second booklet similar to the first and again
asked how each person impressed them romantically. Berscheid had
predicted that subjects whose self esteem had been lowered would
lower any romantic aspirations as well. But again there was "striking"
non-support of the hypothesis and the author bemusedly concludes that
"the matching hypothesis, which seemed so plausible, is not an important
determinant of romantic perference." (E. Walster, 1970, p. 253)
Physical attractiveness, on the other hand, apparently was an important
Undaunted, Berscheid and some collaborators went ahead and
produced still another test of the matching hypothesis in 1971. They
introduced a new element by varying the possibility of rejection by
a chosen date. The study was divided into two parts. In Part I the
computer dance idea was repeated but the couples were to meet before
the dance. Some subjects were assured that they stood a good chance
of being rejected by their date; others were told that the risk of
rejection was slight. The estimate of individual social desirability
was based on Rosenf eld's fear of rejection scale and on how socially
desirable a subject saw himself as being. Then subjects were asked to
specify the sort of date they would prefer. For the first time the
matching principle seemed to be guiding the subjects and it was in
full play under both conditions. In the second experiment, subjects
first answered questions about their dating experiences, self per-
ceptions, body cathexis and self cathexis . They themselves were
classed as being physically attractive or unattractive. Each one
had the opportunity to choose one of six potential dates represented
by photographs. In the "realistic" condition there was a catch —
subjects would receive the date of their choice only if the choice
were reciprocated. In the "idealistic" condition, the subject would
receive whichever date he chose. And for both conditions, there
was still more support for the matching hypothesis. Maybe people
do aim no higher than their own level of desirability. Some of
the other findings were interesting. Attractive girls reported
themselves as being more popular in the dating field. Men tended
to set higher expectations as to the good qualities they wanted
in their dates.
Once the experimenters had obtained the results they of
course had to ask themselves why no one had been acting according
to the matching principle in the earlier experiments. They con-
cluded that, "Perhaps timing is extremely important in detecting
operation of the matching principle. . .dating choice in these (past)
studies was one of maintaining a social contact rather than attempting
to achieve contact. It may be that the matching principle is a more
potent determinant of how desirable a person one will be willing
to approach..." (E. Berscheid et at, 1971, p. 188)
Another major difference between studies, is that in this one the
individual's level of social desirability was self-determined. It
isn't unreasonable to suppose that someone acts according to his
own self-concept rather than someone else's estimation of it.
These three studies show not only that physical attractiveness
can generate liking for someone but also that being attracted to a
person in an ideal sense does not mean that you will be willing to
approach them. Some of the major effects of physical appearance will
be the ones which precede actual interaction. Once two people have
gotten into conversation, other factors will be present - attitude
similarity, need complementarity, whatever. But if a man enters a
room where a woman is already seated and he is attracted to her, the
way he evaluates himself and his appearance in his mind will affect
the way he approaches the woman, what he anticipates from the interaction,
or whether he may decide to go back out the door again.
Don Byrne, satisfied that, "The effect of attitude similarity/
dissimilarity is sufficiently well established to constitute an empirical
law" (D. Byrne, 1965, p. 254) went on to examine the effect of attitude
similarity and physical attractiveness in interaction (as positive rein-
forcements) . His subjects were given photographs coupled with
attitude statements of varying levels of attractiveness and similarity.
The subjects rated these stimulus people on an Interpersonal Judgment
Scale (liking, desirability as a date or spouse, desirability as a
work partner). Similarity and attractiveness in combination constitute
high reward value and as predicted, high similarity and attractiveness
pushed up ratings on the IPJ scale; unattractiveness had a slight negative
effect. Stroebe et al in a similar study supported these findings and added
some new material. They found, for one, that if a female were attractive,
men did not concern themselves so much with whether or not they had similar
attitudes. However, similarity became much more important in the case of
evaluating homely girls. Physical attractiveness was also judged more
important for dating than for liking or marrying. The authors believe
that probably "the decision to date someone is not only affected by
liking but also by considerations of possible status gains or losses
through being seen with them". (Stroebe et al, 1970, p. 90)
What is important in marriage is also determined by the goals of the
individuals involved; compatability is probably emphasized more but
there is status to be gained through marriage to someone attractive
as well. For instance, there is evidence that attractive women are
more upwardly mobile (1969, Elder). (And what better social accoutre-
ment could a rising young business executive have, in addition to the
right sort of house and the right sort of car, than the right of sort of
attractive personable wife?)
Since there were murmurs of discontent with previous dating
studies (how far can we generalize from the relationships between
subjects and photographs or mimeographed lists of attitudes to
real life?), Byrne in 1970 set up an experiment designed to demonstrate
continuity between a lab study of attraction variables and how these
variables work in the field. Twenty-four of the couples studied were
put together on the basis of high attitude similarity and twenty because
they were relatively dissimilar. Some of the couples in each condition
were told to imagine they were similar or dissimilar, and some were told
they actually were similar or dissimilar. Then they were sent to get
to know each other on a 30-minute "coke" date. Subsequent measures
(for example, how far apart the couple stood when they returned to
talk to the experimentor) showed that, as in paper and pencil studies,
liking was based on similarity and attractiveness. Byrne's claim that
the coke date was a "real life" situation is open to some question.
But it is a study worth mentioning. Although Miller (1972) suggests
that attitude similarity may act as an "open gate" for people to be
more receptive to other cues about a person, it is another person's
physical appearance which we become acquainted with initially and it
is just as likely that attractiveness is an open gate.
Many conclusions about the significant role of physical beauty
in interpersonal relations are based on studies conducted in a dating
situation. This makes it possible for someone to claim that nothing
has been shown except a little about the dating habits of American
college students. Probably physical attractiveness is more important
for people when they are dating. It is during adolescence that
children first become really aware of their own, and others' physical
appearance. Attracting the opposite sex becomes a pervading raison d'etre
for many. But there is evidence which suggests that attractive people
have got the edge over unattractive people in other situations and
In 1970 Miller found attractive people to be perceived as more
internally controlled than unattractive people. Miller defines internal
control as "the extent to which an individual feels that he has control
over the reinforcements that occur relative to his behavior" (A.G. Miller,
1970, p. 103)
Considered in terms of reward value, attractiveness, as has been pointed
out, gives the attractive person more social power. An attractive woman
accepts a date with an ugly man for whatever peculiar reasons of her
own. An unattractive girl accepts the date because she doesn't have any
Subjects in an experiment by M.J. Lerner (1965) watched two people
doing anagrams. One of the people, a robust young man with a deep voice,
was much more attractive than the other, who was thin and wore glasses.
Although the subjects knew the winner of the task was decided entirely
by chance, when the attractive young man was the one who went unrewarded,
they tended to knock the performance of both of them. Physical attractiveness
was also found to influence opinion change (Mills and Aronson, 1965).
An attractive man or woman who admitted to a desire to change a group's
attitude was much better received than an unattractive person who tried
to do the same thing. (Certainly on any given day of commercial television,
products are more likely to be endorsed by good-looking people) .
Sigall and Aronson (1969) had subjects given positive or negative
ratings of their personality by a young woman who was either attractively
or unattractively dressed. Subjects liked the woman who told them were
"well adjusted, mature and insightful" much better when she was attractive
than unattractive. But to be labeled "immature, shallow, lacking in insight"
by a dingy woman sporting a frizzy blond wig was not as bad as being told
the same by a highly attractive young woman apparently, as the latter was
liked least in this situation. This is another example of attractiveness
working in terms of potential reward value. "...with a physically attractive
person, a greater drive is aroused to be well received..." (Sigall and
Aronson, 1969, p. 9 3)
The subjects had much more to gain from a positive evaluation by an attractive
woman; and therefore, more to lose when she didn't think as much of them.
The title of an article by Dion et al (1972) that "What is Beautiful
is Good" seems to sum up the sense of the accumulating experimental findings.
According to the subjects in this experiment, attractive people have better
personalities and lead better lives. Good-looking men and women will have
more prestigious occupations, more prospects and likelihood of marrying,
better marriages, better prospects for happy social and professional lives
and more total happiness in their lives.
Not only do attractive people stand to be better liked by others,
but they seem to have increased chances to attain life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness. In this section I will outline one explanation
for the high degree of social desirability of attractive people, and
hence their social success .
Walster (1966) wondered if the results of the computer dating
study were due to some of the correlates of attractiveness since "we know
from developmental studies of intelligent individuals (Terman, 1925, 1947,
1959) that intelligence, physical attractiveness, 'creativity, and certain
personality traits are often positively correlated'" (E. Walster, 1966,
In 1970 Miller showed that subjects rating photographs at three
levels of attractiveness on an adjective checklist, associated
the attractive people with more positive traits. In other words
(Miller's, to be exact) "...in a first impression situation, a
person s level of attractiveness may evoke in a perceiver a
consistent set of expectancies by a process of trait inference."
(A.G. Miller, 1970, p. 241)
According to earlier work done by W.E. Asch (1946), impression
formation is an organized process. In his experiments, subjects were
presented with lists of personality traits and asked to form an impression
of a person possessing those traits. Changing one word in the list (from
'warm' to 'cold' for example), depending on whether it was a 'central' or
'peripheral' trait, changed the nature of the entire impression. For
example, consider ugly and beautiful as traits. Following Asch's idea
the same traits in an ugly and a beautiful person would not produce the
same impression. Wishner (1960) extended Asch's research by pointing out
that the centrality of a trait depended on how strongly it was related
to each of the other traits in the list. And you might expect that
attractiveness would in most people's minds be more strongly related
to attributes like 'friendliness' or 'sociability' and less obviously
connected to 'piety' or 'perserverance' . In some work I did earlier
with impression formation, subjects in four different groups were
presented with printed lists of physical traits describing a man who
was made out to be progressively less attractive in the four conditions.
Subjects were asked to form an impression of his personality and to rate
him on 30 adjective traits which were on a six-point scale. Not all
differences between the groups on mean adjective ratings were significant
but those that were tended to be with adjectives relating to ease in
social interest (eig, humorous, warm, popular).
It has been suggested that people carry with them an "implicit
personality theory" for attractiveness. Based on what has been discussed
in the paragraph above, I am proposing that physical beauty generates
positive impressions and trait inferences. People on the verge of
interaction search for cues as to how to behave, what they can expect
the other person to be like. The first impression we form of someone
will be based on the other person's physical appearance since that is
the first thing we see. We would expect quite a different encounter
with someone in a major-general's uniform than with someone in a tutu.
If an attractive individual, as well as being desirable as a potential
date because of the status conferred by being seen with someone attractive,
promises to be witty, light-spirited and able to converse intelligently
on current topics, they could be very rewarding. On the other hand, a
person who is homely, and will most certainly be dull, generally un-
interesting and perhaps not inclined to talk, does not promise
as rewarding an interaction. What should be emphasized is the traits
a perceiver believes someone to possess. He will act according to
the impression he has.
Much of this is speculative but there is evidence for the
existence of an attractiveness cum personality syndrome supported
by its own implicit personality theory. This will affect first
impressions and again it should be said that the immediate social
value of physical attractiveness lies in anticipated rewards.
Physical attractiveness is one of the important determinants
of liking and probably of personality development. It is not the only
reason people like each other. Attractiveness should be stressed as
a pre-interaction variable. There are the other previously mentioned
factors which go into making up someone's social worth. An individual
of low attractiveness but radiant personality may be as likeable as
a highly attractive person who is somewhat less charming: it will
depend on who is doing the juding. An attractive man interested in
his public image as opposed to a plain man in search of sympathy and
good cooking are looking for different things in the women they meet.
If research into the social implications of physical attractive-
ness is to continue, we must pay more attention to age factors, same-
sex attraction, individual idiosyncracies . Meanwhile the evidence is
strong in support of the claim that in the course of social events it
helps significantly to be physically attractive.
Argyle, M. , The Psychology of Interpersonal Behavior , Middlesex,
England : Penguin Books Ltd., 1967.
Argyle, M. , Social Interaction , London: Methuen & Co., 1969.
Asch, S. E. , "Forming impressions of personality", J. Abnormal and
Soc. Psych. , 19^6, Ul, 258-290.
Berscheid, E. and Walster, E., Interpersonal Attraction , Reading,
Mass.: Addison Wesley Pub. Co., 1969.
Berscheid, E. , Dion, K. , Walster, E. and Walster G. W.,
"Physical attractiveness and dating choice: A test of the
matching hypothesis", J. Exper. Soc. Psych. , 1971, 17,
Bruner, J. S. and Tagiuri, R., "The perception of people" in
G. Lindzey ed. , Handbook of Social Psychology , Vol. II,
Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley Pub. Co., 195 1 *, 277-288.
Bruner, J. S. , Shapiro, D. and Tagiuri, R. , "The meaning of traits
in isolation and in combination" in R. Tagiuri & L. Petrullo
eds., Person Perception and Interpersonal Behaviour , Calif.:
Stanford University Press, 1958, 277-288.
Byrne, D. , "interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity",
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Byrne, D., London, 0. and Reeves, K. , "The effects of physical
attractiveness, sex and attitude similarity on interpersonal
attraction", J. Personality , 1968, 36, 259-269.
Byrne, D., "Continuity between the experimental study of
attraction and real life computer dating", J. Pers.
and Soc. Psych. , 1970, 16, 157-165.
Byrne, D. and Nelson, D., "attraction as a linear function of
proportion of positive reinforcements", J. Pers. and Soc.
Psych. , 1965, 1, 659-663.
Cavior, N. and Lombardi, D. A., "Developmental aspects of
physical attractiveness in children", Developmental Psych. ,
1973, 8, 167-171.
Dion, K. , Berscheid, E. and Walster, E., "What is beautiful is
", J. Pers. and Soc. Psych. , 1972, 2k, 285-290.
Elder, G. H. , Jr., "Appearance and education in marriage
mobility", Am. Soc. Rev. , 1969, 3h , 519-533.
Goldstein, J. W. and Rosenfeld, H. M. , "Insecurity and prefer-
ence for persons similar to oneself" , J. Personality ,
1969, 37, 253-268.
Guthrie, E. R., The Psychology of Human Conflict, New York:
Harper, 1938, cited in Argyle, op. cit. , 1969» 36U.
Hastorf, A. H. , Richardson, S. A. and Dornbusch, S. M. ,
"The problem of relevance in the study of person
perception", in R. Tagiuri and L. Petrullo eds . ,
Person Perception and Interpersonal Behaviour , Calif.:
Stanford University Press, 1958, 5^-62 .
Hastorf, A. H. , Schneider, D. J. and Polefka, J., Person
Perception , Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley Pub. Co.,
Hays, W. L. , "An approach to the study of trait implication
and trait similarity" in R. Tagiuri and L. Petrullo
eds., op. cit. , 1958, 287-299.
Heider, F. , "Perceiving the other person", in R. Tagiuri and
L. Petrullo eds., op. cit. , 1958, 22-26.
Jones, E. E. and Thibaut , J. W. , "Interaction goals as bases
of inference in interpersonal perception" in R. Tagiuri
and L. Petrullo eds., ibid . , 151-178.
Jones, E. E. and Gerard, H. B. , Foundations of Social
Psychology , New York: J. Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1967 .
Lerner, M. J. , "Evaluation of performance as a function
of performer's reward and attractiveness", J. Pers .
and Soc. Psych. , 1965, 1, 355-360.
Lewin, K. , Dembo, T., Festinger, L. and Sears, P., "Level
of aspiration" in J. McV. Hunt ed. Personality and the
Behaviour Disorders , Vol. I, New York: Ronald Press
Co., 19^ •
Miller, A. G. , "Role of physical attractiveness in impression
formation", Psychon. Science , 1970a, 19, 2l*l-2U3.
Miller, A. G. , "Social perception of internal-external
control", Percep. and Motor Skills , 1970b, 30,
Miller, A. G. , "Effect of attitude similarity-dissimilarity
on the utilization of additional stimulus inputs in
judgments of interpersonal attraction", Psychon. Science ,
1972, 26, 199-203.
Mills, J. and Aronson, E. , "Opinion changes as a function
of the communicator's attractiveness and desire to
influence", J. Pers . and Soc . Psych. , 1965, 1, 173-177.
Secord, P. F. , "Facial features and inference processes in
interpersonal perception" in Tagiuri and L. Petrullo
eds., op. cit. , 1958, 300-315.
Sigall, H. and Aronson, E. , "Liking for an evaluator as a
function of her physical attractiveness and the nature
of the evaluation" , J. Exp. Soc. Psych. , 1971 , 5 ,
Staffieri, J. R., "A study of social stereotype of body
image in children", J. Pers. and Soc. Psych. , 1967,
Stroebe, W. , Insko, C. A., Thompson, V. D. and Layton, B. D.,
"Effects of physical attractiveness, attitude similar-
ity and sex on various aspects of interpersonal attraction",
J. Pers. and Soc. Psych. , 1971, 18, 79-91.
Tagiuri, R. and Petrullo, L. eds., Person Perception and
Interpersonal Behaviour. , Calif. : Stanford University
Walster, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D. and Rottman, L. ,
"The importance of physical attractiveness in
dating behavior", J. Pers. and Soc. Psych. , 1966,
Walster, E. , "The effect of self-esteem on liking for dates
of various social desirabilities", J. Exper. Soc. Psych. ,
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Psych. Reports , i960, 67, 96-112.
III. Physical Deformity and Personality
Philip saw a boy running past and tried to catch him,
but his limp gave him no chance; and the runners, taking
their opportunity, made straight for the ground he covered.
Then one of them had the brilliant idea of imitating Philip's
clumsy run. Other boys saw it and began to laugh; then they
all copied the first; and they ran round Philip, limping
grotesquely, screaming in their treble voices with shrill
W. Somerset Maugham Of Human
Bondage , 1915, Chapter, XI
What sort of a creature are you?" they inquired, as the
duckling turned from side to side and greeted them as well
as he could. "You are frightfully ugly," said the wild ducks,
"but that does not matter to us so long as you do not marry into
Hans Christian Anderson, The
"When and if by virtue of accident or disease, something occurs
that destroys any of our body, we need to completely reorganize our
body image and self -concept ." (Schecter, in Knorr et al, 1968, p. 248)
It has already been established in the previous chapter that the
person in society is identified as a physical entity as well as a
behaving entity. The dichotomy of appearances which has been the
focus of study with social psychologists over the last ten years is
that of at tractive /unattractive. And the general finding has been
that people perceive beauty as being somewhat more than just skin
deep. I have said that there is a state of positive trait association
with attractive people and negative trait association with unattractive
people. People tend to react more positively to someone who is attractive
and negatively to someone who is unattractive. Further evidence of this
proposition can be drawn from the medical profession, surprisingly enough.
Physical appearance has become an important part of medical practice in
recent years not because of the rebirth of any constitutional or humoral
psychologies, but because of advances in plastic surgery and increasing
demands for these surgical procedures.
The demand itself is indicative of how important people feel it is
to have a satisfactory physical appearance. And the work that plastic
surgeons and psychiatrists, have done with plastic surgery patients has
provided some striking insights into the relations between body image
and self image. What many of their studies have shown is that there
most assuredly are negative prejudices brought out by any physical
deformity and that having to contend with these prejudices affects
the experience and personality of deformed and disfigured people with
some very serious consequences. Social psychologists have been looking
more at interpersonal attraction and particularly at the advantages of
being attractive. Plastic Surgeons and counseling psychiatrists are
concerned with social facility and particularly with the disadvantages
of being unattractive. The psychiatrist who works with the patients,
has had the opportunity to see first hand the effect of deformity on
the personality. I want to concentrate on the dynamics of this effect
within the social context.
There are varied reasons why people seek out a Plastic Surgeon.
They may have experienced long term dissatisfaction with a too large
nose or a receding chin. There may have been a drastic alteration
in physical appearance due to accident or disease. Someone may be
in the throes of an emotional crisis and decide that a breast augmenta-
tion or a nose bob would improve the situation. Women worried about
growing old may try to stave the years off by having a face lift. Many
people want their noses changed in accordance with the preferences of
the dominant culture; and to prevent their being identified with a
stereotyped sub-group and exposed to the accompanying prejudices (MacGregor,
1967). Whatever the reason, these people have the idea that a change in
appearance will somehow improve their lives and themselves. They are
often not far wrong.
Most plastic surgery is done upon the face for as MacGregor has said,
"Perhaps nothing is so eloquent and significant as the human face."
(MacGregor, 1951, p. 630). And to add another opinion, "Family and society
react to any body part of the child but the reaction tends to be greater
to the facial and genital appearance." (W.M. Easson, 1967, p. 453-459).
The face is usually the first part of physical appearance that is noticed.
And since the face is of prime importance, facial deformity would be the
most significant. A severe burn scar on the shoulder is not as distressing
as one on the face — if nothing else, the shoulder can at least be covered
up, the face cannot. Throughout the rest of the chapter, unless otherwise
specified, any mention of disfigurement should be taken to mean facial
Deformity And The Social Context
For a long time medical practitioners looked askance at requests for
cosmetic surgery. Since there was usually no real physical trauma involved
in a disfiguring facial injury or a congenital deformity, such requests
seemed superfluous and self-serving. This attitude is changing. Knorr
and Edgerton write that "the patient who inquires about cosmetic surgery
may have been more hesitant than most. He's apt to feel guilty about
his "vanity" and thus needs to be reassured that the desire to be found
attractive is characteristic of any healthy, normal person." (Knorr and
Edgerton, 1971, p. 141). And beyond this, Brown points out that "
there is an increasingly widespread realization among general practitioners
that defects can do their patients tremendous psychological damage."
(W.E. Brown, 1970, pp. 12-13). The problem for the disfigured child or
adult is not impairment of his body but impairment of his social life.
The deformity becomes associated with negative affect in the face of
adverse social reactions. What is the nature of these reactions? Mac-
Gregor describes some of the prejudices that dog people with deformities.
"Myths and misconceptions regarding the man whose face is scarred
or misshapen by disease whose expression is distorted or who was
born with a harelip or without an ear are legion. He has been
stereotyped in folklore, literature and the movies. He is the
"evil one" or the gangster; he is diseased or has led an "immoral"
life; he is a "freak" paying for the sins of his father or for the
things his mother saw while she was pregnant. He is to be shunned,
regarded with curiosity, or ridiculed and made a social outcast".
(F.C. MacGregor, 1951, p. 631)
This is quite an imposing list. Again and again writers discussing
the problems of the disfigured indicate that it is other people who
cause the real damage. Often the hope that a patient places in plastic
surgery is not to acquire striking good looks but to be less noticeable.
He wants to attract less attention in the streets and subways, to be
able to sit on a bus without feeling the necessity of burying his head
in a newspaper that he doesn't even feel particularly like reading.
In an article on the social psychological problems associated with
disability, Meyerson says,
1) "The problem of adjustment to physical disability is in large
fact, a problem is creating favorable social situations.
2) The problem of adjustment to physical disability is as much or
more a problem of the non-handicapped majority as it is of the disabled
minority.: (L. Meyerson, 1948, p. 6)
In an extensive psychosocial study of facial disfigurement and plastic
surgery, MacGregor and her associates emphasized this role of others in
creating an uncomfortable social atmosphere for deformed people. One
of their concluding statements is that " it is the non -handicapped
who, by their negative attitudes and prejudices, help to create and per-
petuate many of the difficulties of the facially deformed." (MacGregor
et al, 1951, p. 216).
The Self Image
If at all possible, an effort is made to correct physical defects
while a child is still young. This prevents his incorporating the defect
and all of its negative consequences into his developing body and self
images. In a statement referring directly to ear anomaly but applicable
to most deformities, Knorr writes:
"The full effect of the deformity may not be felt until the child
comes under the influence of peers who may reject ridicule and
alienate the child as someone diff erent . . . . the impaired self
image proves substantially more disabling than the physical
defect." (N. J. Knorr et al , 1968, p. 250).
Apparently between the ages of 7 and 10, children are less aware of
deformity; subsequently adolescence is an especially traumatic time for
a child with any appearance deficiency. The self-image is still developing
and the need to be accepted by the peer group is stronger than ever. According
to Brown, " more operations [are] performed while the patient is still in
his early teens, before there is a chance of the deformity's causing serious
psychological damage." (W.E. Brown, 1970, p. 69) Knorr says that "The
adolescent body image is in a constant state of change. These changes must
gain internal acceptance and also must be sanctioned by the external environ-
ment." (N.J. Knorr et al, 1968, p. 251) What is involved in these situations
is essentially a realization of Mead's mirrored-self hypothesis. People
see themselves through the reactions of others and these reactions, in the
case of someone who is noticeably unattractive, are not usually good ones.
As MacGregor aptly puts it, "Not only [are] they daily dismayed by the
reflection of their own mirrors but, more damaging to their ego esteem,
they [see] their handicaps reflected in the reaction of others towards
them." (F.C. MacGregor, 1951, p. 633). Under these circumstances, the
self image takes quite a battering.
Personality Problems Associated With Deformity
Although I have been emphasizing the fact that society's reaction
to physical deformity is psychologically damaging I have not yet been
explicit as to what that damage is . Many of the character traits of
the deformed person represent adaptation to undifficult situations. Some
handicapped people are able to handle their strained interactions by
returning stares directed at their deformity or through flippant remarks,
like the young man with a severe facial disfigurement who when questioned
about it, would reply, "Oh I stepped on my face going up the stairs" or
"I got it for sticking my nose in other people's business." (MacGregor et
al, 1953, p. 84).
But generally the strain results in a loss of social adeptness. The
researchers who have done the most with examining and evaluating the psychological
damage that accompanies damaged appearance are MacGregor on the one hand and
Knorr and Edgerton on the other. All have been involved in extensive hospital
studies of plastic surgery patients and their work has revealed basic personality
syndromes which occurs as a result of physical deformity and the adverse reactions
to it. In one of her earlier papers, MacGregor describes the personality of
patients who over a period of time came into the hospital for plastic surgery:
"The majority of patients suffered from behaviour difficulties which
ranged from feelings of inferiority, self -consciousness, frustration,
preoccupation with the deformity, hypersensitivity, anxiety, hostili-
ty, paranoid complaints and withdrawal from social activities that
varied from partial to complete, to anti-social behavior and psychotic
states." (F.C. MacGregor, 1951, pp. 628-629.)
Later, in publication of the extensive psychosocial study which she
carried out with a large team of collaboraters, MacGregor lists more outline form
these common ways facially disfigured people have of adjusting: Withdrawal, agressive-
ness; putting blame for their faults on external factors such as parents, en-
vironment and society; using the deformity as inner defense against emotional
disturbance; and denying the reality of appearance. Knorr and his
associates made a study of adolescents who for varying reasons were
about to undergo plastic surgery. Among the group about to undergo
rhinoplasty, they found that "most prominent are depressive themes
related to interpersonal relationships." (N.J. Knorr et al, 1968, p. 248)
The patients with cogenital deformities either tended to overcompensate
for the deformity through intellectual achievement, or else, lacking
the ability or situation for that sort of outlet, to show extreme social
and intellectual retardation. Those who had acquired facial deformities
(facial scars) showed acute depression with "intense feelings that the
body has been violated." (N. J. Knorr, et al, 1968, p. 250)
The Family and the Deformed Child
The strongest influences that anyone exercises over the child while
he is still young come initially from the family and after that from
his peers. I have already cited how the peer group's intolerance of abnormality
is a reason for having the child undergo surgery as early as possible.
I have not elaborated on the role the family can play in generating
symptoms like those listed above. The mother of a deformed child may
treat the child in one of several ways. She may totally reject him.
There is one case record (and probably many more which were not recorded)
where the grandmother of a severely deformed little boy requested that
the doctor just do away with him shortly after birth. When the request
was denied the mother took the child home where he was systematically
starved to death. This of course is an extreme example and most mothers
do not react in this fashion. However evidence is that there are tensions
within the family which contribute to the maladjustment of facially deformed
or disfigured children.
The 1953 MacGregor Psychosocial study included observation of the
patients at home and in school. The home studies were fruitful in laying
bare some of the intra-familial conflicts. MacGregor states that "The
records of the investigation suggest that not one mother of a congenitally
deformed child is without feelings of guilt or resentment, or both." It's
true that the mother as well as her child is open to social criticism for
having a child "like that". She may wonder if she is being punished or
what she did to cause her child to be disfigured. She often feels
ashamed of the child or else sees it as an affront to her. The same
sorts of feelings will affect other members of the family. The child
is often either rejected and abused or protected to the point of being
smothered. W. M. Easson writing about the psychopathological reactions
to congenital defects points out that "Parents need to have their child
near the culturally established physical norm; variation, disease and
deformity tend to be viewed with repugnance and rejection." (W.M.
Easson, 1967, p. 453) Knorr says that "Parental guilt and anxiety
over their child's deformity and their need to overprotect their
child will often lead to pathologic interactions between the child
and parent." (N.J. Knorr , reprint , p. 185)". .. the emotional investment in the
physical self, the body image, is to a large part due to the pleasure
or displeasure emotionally significant people find in the child's
appearance" (W.M. Easson, 1967, p. 453) Children younger than four
years old have been observed to cover a deformed ear with their hands
or to pull and tear at it. It is probable that this action is in
imitation of the parents who have been able by words and gestures to
communicate to the child that he has something to hide. (N. J. Knorr
et al, reprint, p. 184; G. Aufricht, 1957, p. 398) If the parents find
displeasure in their child's appearance inevitably the child will too.
Couple this with an attitude of rejection and it is a foregone conclusion
that the deformed child will have a difficult time at home. As Watser
and Johnson express it, " the child perceives and imitates parental
attitudes towards his body and its parts and perceives and imitates
the defenses against anxiety utilized by the parents." (p. 96) Both Knorr (1968)
and MacGregor (1953) have found patterns of conflict in the families of
their patients. Mothers were often openly hostile to their deformed
child and made a point of comparing him or her to another non-deformed
Of course these statements are generalizations. Obviously some
families could better handle the problem of bringingup a disfigured or
deformed child. But it is safe to say that in any case there will be
at least some strain, whether minimal or extreme, within the family.
And even with the best family situation the deformed child still has
his peers and the rest of the world to contend with. It is no surprise
that behavioral maladjustments do appear.
The Benefits of Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgeons are aware of the problems of those who come under
their care. The question is whether or not the surgery helps to alleviate
these problems. The answer seems to be that to a very great extent it
does. For several reasons, improved physical appearance does improve
the lives of those who have undergone plastic surgery. In questioning
female rhinoplasty patients, following surgery, Knorr found the following
statements true of the majority:
"1) they would seek surgery again; 2) they felt less psychologically
inhibited ('freer') after surgery; 3) they gained social confidence;
4) they became less dependent on the family." (Knorr, 1968, p. 248)
Patients in the same study, but being treated for congenital deformities,
generally had modest expectations for surgery. All were pleased with the
results and experienced increased "self confidence".
In a John's Hopkins study (cited by Brown, 1970), 55% of the post-
surgery patients experienced one or more of the following shortly after
surgery: a new job, marriage, a promotion or raise in salary, a merit
award, a new close relationship, termination of an old detrimental
relationship. In addition, 85% developed more personal comfort, less
personal criticism, better satisfaction with their lives, less self-
consciousness, more social ease, more self-esteem and greater happiness.
An interesting statistic mentioned by Brown concerns convicts. Apparently
"disfigured offenders who do not undergo surgery return to prison at a
10% higher rate than those who have had cosmetic surgery." (Brown, 1970,
p. 161). The MacGregor psychosocial study of facial disfigurement revealed
the following about the post-surgery patients:
"In some cases there was immediate and marked overt improvement
from previous social and emotional maladjustment. In many
instances individual behavior became more spontaneous and this
resulted in more satisfactory social interaction. . .patients
claimed that the reactions of other people changed. . .As for
the patients themselves, feelings of shame, self -consciousness,
inferiority, and social inadequacy were mitigated, and there
was a marked rise in self-esteem and self-confidence." (F.C.
MacGregor et al, 1953, p. 89) (Patients also saw in retrospect that
their inhibited and constrained behavior had brought on some of the social
discomfort.) One case study, a woman about 50 years old who had been
disfigured when the distal portion of her nose was amputated, felt that
after reconstructive surgery "her status as a 'human being' [was] restored'
Not all patients in any study were satisfied with the results of
surgery or felt that their lives had improved sufficiently to warrant
having had it. However these people usually tended to have some sort
of personality disorder, to entertain unrealistic expectations or to be
able to relate to society only through a disability. One type of patient
that has appeared in enough plastic surgeons' offices to have stimulated
the writing of several papers is the ambulatory male schizophrenic who
has had a faulty body image which he keeps trying to change. It is
interesting, in fact, that the majority of male patients seeking plastic
surgery (and they are far outnumbered by female patients) are party to
this syndrome. This is mainly in the case of those asking for cosmetic
surgery and not reconstructive surgery. Edgerton explains the phenomenon
this way: "Beauty and handsomeness are recognized as interpersonal
attributes. These attributes are less important for men than women.
This contributes to the smaller number of male patients. The male
patient who seeks cosmetic surgery moves against strong social pred-
judice." (M.T. Edgerton et al, 1960, pp. 366-367).
Body Image and Self Image
In this chapter the definition of body-image that I am employing
is Cath's: "By body-image we mean that composite picture which the
individual has of his own body." The proposition is that body image
is an extremely significant part of the total self-image and that
deficiencies in it lead to low self-esteem, feelings of social in-
adequacy and similar deficiencies in the self -concept . Fischer states
that "the close correlation of specific body image attributes to
specific classes of social experience is the child's earliest method of
adjusting to his environment." (M.T. Edgerton et al, 1960, p. 369) If
the social experience is negative, as is the case with a person who has
some sort of physical deformity, this will lead to maladjustment in an
effort to adapt to the negative social environment. It is with his
body that a child begins to realize the reality of his environment, both
physical and social. The social milieu remains important throughout life
with peaks of importance at the time of a child's first extensive peer
contact and during adolescence. The affective nature of the body image
comes through social interaction. The reactions of other people to
physical appearance influences body image and concordantly the self
I think that the psychosocial studies of plastic surgery patients,
people with pronounced facial deformity whether congenital or traumatic,
are a convincing demonstration of the very powerful effect that physical
appearance in the active social context can have upon personality and
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IV. Self Image and Body Image in
the Social Context
What is more important in life than our bodies or in the
world than what we look like?
George Santayana, "My Sister
Six quiet years.... I had passed at Greenleaf, seeing in those
around me, as it might be in a looking glass, every stage of my own
growth and change there.
Charles Dickens, Bleak House ,
In the last chapter I briefly sketched the relationship between
body image and self image. In this chapter, the concepts will be
expanded upon in more detail. Cath's definition of body image has
already been cited. To this I want to add another definition from
Kaufman and Heims (1958), "It is the ego which perceives the body
and determines the conscious awareness of its form and function along
with the associated affects. The totality of this perception and the
affective association is what we mean by body image." It should be
indicated here, before continuing, that much of the material on body
image is based on psychoanalytic theory. (This was evident in chapter
III with so much of the data coming from psychiatrists notebooks) .
Because of the Freudian emphasis on body and states of bodily pleasure
and frustration, it follows that the body image concept would come
out of and largely draw from that tradition. However I want to employ
the concept with as few Freudian overtones as possble. For example,
in the above definition the word "ego" is superfluous.
Without a doubt, some of the best descriptions of personality can
be found in novels. The following passage about the child's developing
awareness of himself comes from Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage :
"The new-born child does not realize that his body is more a part
of himself than surrounding objects, and will play with his toes without
any feeling that they belong to him more than the rattle by his side;
and it is only by degrees, through pain, that he understands the fact
of the body. And experiences of the same kind are necessary for the
individual to become conscious of himself..."
Gordon Allport writes that "Probably the first aspect of selfhood
to evolve is the sense of a bodily me." (G. W. Allport, 1961, p. 113).
The body is obviously a very important part of self. The body image can
be divided roughly into two parts: awareness of physical self in relation
to the environment and affective awareness of physical self (appearance)
in relation to the social environment. Chronologically, awareness of
the body in relation to the environment comes first - the child comes
to realize that his body is distinct and separate from the environment
and that it is an active force in the environment. (Allport gives the
example of a child biting a block and then its finger) . But it is the
second kind of awareness that I want to deal with. The way that society
(peers, parents) reacts to physical appearance will consciously or
unconsciously be incorporated into body image and hence into self-image
as well. Much social approval or disapproval of the body will not be
overt - the positive reaction generated by an attractive child may simply
produce more positive behavior toward the child. But the reaction may also
take the form of a comment like "My what a pretty little girl" or, in the
case of a less than attractive child, "I really don't see how Mrs. McAubrey
could have had such a homely child." Through remarks like this, there will
be an association of one's appearance with positive or negative affect. The
most striking examples of this association come with children who have
deformities. As children grow older, they will also, through expanded
social experience, become aware of cultural norms for appearance and
develop an idea of what an ideal body type is. Not measuring up to this
ideal can be another cause for dissatisfaction with the body. Where the
attitude toward someone's physical appearance is implied in behavior the
effect on the self image will be direct and on the body image, indirect;
where it directly reflects an evaluation of the appearance the initial
effect is on the body image and correspondingly on the self image. Body
image and self image are combined in the global awareness of self. The
combined force of these two ways that physical appearance can influence
the behavior of people who perceive it is the prime factor shaping the
body image .
In order for cultural norms the social reaction to bodily appearance
to have any salience for a growing child it must be part of a general
cultural pattern, shared by parents and peers alike. The following pages
will cover some of the studies that give evidence of such a cultural pattern.
Then the discussion will turn to the development of self and the connections
between body image and self image. If the evidence leans more towards
examples of the implications of physical deviance (deformity, obesity) that
is because the majority of research with children's judgments of physical
appearance has leaned in that direction. In fact it seems that unattractive-
ness is much more tangible for subjects in studies than is attractiveness.
In my own research with children's perceptions of attractiveness in photo-
graphed faces the greatest amount of interrater agreement within the two
groups (4-6 year olds and 10-11 year olds) came with the pictures of
children who were rated unattractive. There was some disagreement as
to which of six pictures of boys and six of girls were the most attractive
but the subjects were almost unanimous in their agreement as to which
child in each set was the most unattractive.
Children acquire social standards of attractiveness at a fairly
early age. Sheldon's tripartite classification of body types (endomorphic,
mesomorphic and ectomorphic) has been pulled out as a variable in several
studies that have demonstrated this fact. Lerner and Gallut (1969) showed
photographs of chubby, average and thin peers to a group of kindergarten
children (5-6 years old) . Two of the questions they were asked were which
one they would most like to look like and which one they would least like
to look like. Although there was no general preference for one particular
body type there was a general aversion to looking like the chubby child ;
86% of the children said that that child was the one that they would
least like to look like. In another study employing the three body types,
Staffieri (1967) had boys from 6-10 years of age assign 39 personality
traits in an adjective list to silhouettes representing the three body
types. He found that the children applied favorable adjectives to the
mesomorph type and unfavorable adjectives to the endomorph. Also,
unlike the subjects in the Lerner and Gallut study, most of these
children said they would prefer to look like the mesomorph type. In a
major study of the perception of facial beauty in photographs Cross and
Cross, 0.971) showed that with subjects in four age groups from age 7 through
adult there were no major differences in judgment due to age.
So it is around the age of five that children are assuming the standards
of their culture. The developmental aspects of judgment of physical
attractiveness in children were studied by Cavior and Lombardi (1973) .
They took children at four age levels (5 -8-year s-old) and had them rank
full-length photographs of 11 -and 17-year-olds on their physical attractive-
ness. Interrater reliability was statistically significant among the 6-year
olds and by the age of 8 the reliability was at the same level as that shown
by older comparison groups. Agreement came initially with the photographs
of children to their own age and increased until they were using the same
internal standards for older children as well. The authors conclude that
"What should be emphasised is that the culteral criteria used by older
persons begin to be acquired at age 6." (Cavior and Lombardi, 1973, p. 69)
There are a number of examples in the experimental literature of
agreement among children when rating or otherwise reacting to physically
disabled children. Centers and Centers (1963) demonstrated that children
expressed more rejecting attitudes toward an amputee than a non-amputee
child. Part of the reaction was that an amputee child in a classroom was
often considered to be the "saddest" child. Richardson et al (1961) asked
children to rank pictures of children with various disabilities. The order
the authors hypothesized that they would produce was: 1. no handicap;
2. crutches and brace; 3. wheelchair; and blanket; 4. left hand missing;
5. facial disfigurement; 6. obesity. The hypothesis was supported and there
were no different rankings due to the characteristics of the raters (i.e., race,
sex, etc.) In a later (and related) study, Goodman et al., cited explicitly
two factors that they believed important in the acquisition of a pervading
cultural value. These are the child's exposure to the value and the ability
of the child to learn the value. Using the same procedure they showed that
children from subcultures (Jewish and Italian) who had not been exposed to
the values of the dominant culture and retarded and emotionally disturbed
children who were not able to assimilate the values produced different
rank orderings .
The implications that such values hold for influencing behavior
and social interaction have not been as thoroughly examined experimentally.
However there are two studies that can be mentioned. In 1974, Kleck et al
conducted a camp study to find out the relationship between attractiveness
and sociometric status (how well a child was known, liked etc.) among the
children. The subjects were 9-14 year-old boys whose attractiveness had
been earlier determined by having an independent group of peers rate
photographs. After two weeks at the camp two groups of high and low
socially accepted boys were selected by questioning all of the boys as
to their friendship choices. The results showed that the photographs of
the five children with the highest social acceptance also occupied the
first five ranks in the hierarchy of social preference. This is an
especially important finding in light of the consideration that attractive-
ness seems to be an important factor in liking even after two weeks of inter-
action. The authors suggest that the next step is to look for positive
behaviors that might be associated with physical attractiveness.
To step away from peer judgments for a moment and turn to adult-child
judgments, an experiment by Karen Dion (1972) shows how adults may expect
different behavior from children who are more or less attractive, in other
words, there are cultural stereotypes which can influence adults so that
they will perceive attractive and unattractive children differently. The
adult subjects in the study were given identical case studies of delinquent
children each of which had a photograph of a child^ previously rated either
attractive or unattractive in the upper corner. In their judgements of the
children for the same piece of misbehavior the adults tended to be much more
harsh in estimating the seriousness of the act when the case referred to an
unattractive child than when it concerned a more attractive child. They were
also more likely to see the misdeed as predictive of a life of crime in the
case of the unattractive child.
The Self Image
For present purposes the definition of self image that I am adopting
is that of a collection of affectively coloured cognitions about non-physical
(including behavioral) aspects of oneself, incorporating elements like self
esteem. There has always been controversy over the development of self
or even what self is. In an attempt to sidestep this labyrinth of theory
I am employing the above more limited definition.
The theories of the development of self image that are pertinent here
are the social origin theories as presented by Cooley and Head. They
believed that the children develop self awareness through the reactions
of others; society acts as a form of mirror. In 1902 Cooley wrote:
"In a very large and interesting class of cases the social reference
takes the form of a somewhat definite imagination of how one's self -
that is any idea he appropriates - appears in a particular
mind and, the kind of self -feeling one has is determined by
the attitude toward this attributed to that other mind. A
social self of this sort might be called the reflected or
looking glass self."
(C.H. Cooley, Human Nature and the
Social Order , N.Y.: Schocken Books
Applying this to the concept of self image, it follows that attitudes anyone
holds toward himself are derivative of the attitudes of others toward him.
A child develops his self image in the presence of his parents first, and
after that, largely from his peers. Allport (1937) suggests that the strength
of the influence is partially due to the fact that the child is bound to
the language of those who are surrounding him. Initially, most prominently
in the early stages of language development, the child has no concepts to
apply to himself other than those provided by the parents. This overwhelming
influence of the parents is part of why the original stages of the developing
self image remain so important throughout life that adults may often be trying
to compensate for deficiencies in themselves that no longer exist. There is
some experimental evidence that supports the fact that parental evaluations
of their children are correlated with their children's self -evaluations . An
example is a study by Helper (1958) in which he found small but still positive
correlations between parents' rating of Favorability and Acceptance and
their children's rating of Self-Favorability and Self -Acceptance.
Self Image and Body Image
It has been stated that body image and self image, as they have been
defined, both develop out of social experience. The next step is to support
the earlier claim that body image influences self image. It is possible to
speak of body image and self image as overlapping, of being incorporated one
within the other or being simply connected in neighborly fashion. However
the connection is explained, the two are inter-dependent and intereffective.
What affects one must necessarily affect the other. Fisher and Cleveland
(cited in Wylie, 1968) talk about a body image which overlaps the self-concept.
(Their definition of body image is "the body as a psychological experience,
focusing on the individual's attitude's toward his own body.") They believe
these attitudes are largely unconscious.
Another view is offered by Watser et al (1958) writing about the emotional
impact of acquired disfigurement on children:
In the course of growth, development and interpersonal experience, each
child forms a concept of self. The concept of self, the emotionally invested
body image, is unique to its possessor since it derives from his own individual
sensorimotor and affective experiences. Impending or actual traumatic or
surgical disruption of the body surface represents such a loss and strangeness
as to constitute a serious threat to basic body ego. The threat temporarily
disrupts personality integration and evokes hostility with associated anxiety. f
(Watser et al, 1958, p. 96)
In this definition, the body image seems to be part and parcel of self image
and no dividing line is possible. And indeed it is hard to conceive of the
two as being separate. Rejection of someone because of their physical appearance
is easily interpreted as rejection of the global self.
Perhaps the best demonstration of a relationship between body and self
images comes from work by Jourard and Secord. The terms they employ for
satisfaction with the body and with the self are body cathexis and self
cathexis . They found a more or less one-to-one relationship between the
two. The method they used was to give male and female subjects a body
cathexis and a self cathexis scale, a homonym test of anxiety-related body-
cathexis , and the Maslow Test of Psychological Security-Insecurity. The
authors write that "one of the most significant results is the demonstration
that the body and the self tend to be cathected to the same degree. This
supports the hypothesis that valuation of the body and the self tend to
be commensurate." (Secord and Jourard, 1953, p. 346) In a later publication
the same two researchers (Jourard and Secord, 1955) found the same correlation
of self cathexis with body cathexis. They also found that the cathexis measures
correlated with perceived parental attitudes to the self and the body. This
is an interesting finding (it would be more convincing if a correlation were
to be attempted using actual parental attitudes.) There was also evidence that
each sex had a clear image of ideal body type. Men wished to be bigger than
the average (taller, more muscular) , women wanted to be smaller than the
average in all body parts except the bust size. This is more evidence for
the existence of cultural stereotypes for what is to be considered attractive.
(And these are stereotypes that clothing designers play along with, producing
everything from padded bras to padded shoulders.)
The evidence in this chapter supports the hypothesis that body image
as composed from the experience gained in social interaction has a clear
and direct relationship to self image. The implication of this hypothesis goes
beyond the scope of this chapter but to allude to it I will go back to
the Kleck (1974) study in which he suggested that what was needed is some
studies of the behavior associated with attractiveness. This is probably
the of the more important directions an argument such as the one being
developed in this paper can take. Whatever a character is that is
associated with attractiveness or unattractiveness , it will probably be
a product of self image and of motivations and tendencies developed in
it as a result of social approval or disapproval of the physical appearance.
Allport, G. W. , Personality: A Psychological Interpretation ,
N. Y.: Henry Holt & Co., Inc., 1937.
, Pattern and Growth in Personality , N. Y.: Holt,
Rinehart & Winston Inc., 1961.
Cavior, N. and Lombardi , D. A., "Developmental aspects of
judgment of physical attractiveness in children",
Developmental Psych. , 1973, 5(l), 67-71.
Centers, L. and Centers, R., "Peer group attitudes toward the
amputee child", J. Social Psych . , 1963, 6l, 127-132.
Cooley, C. H. , Human Nature and the Social Order , N. Y.:
Schocken Books, Inc., I96U. (orig. pub. 1902).
Cross, J. F. and Cross, J., "Age, sex, race and the perception
facial beauty", Devel. Psych. , 1971, 5(3), ^33-^39-
Dion, K. , "Physical attractiveness and evaluation of children's
transgressions", J. Pers. and Soc . Psych. , 1972, 2U(2),
Goodman, N. , Richardson, S. A., Dornbusch, S. M. and Hastorf, A. H.,
"Variant reactions to physical disability", Am. Soc. Rev. ,
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Helper, M. M. , "Parental evaluations of children and children's
self-evaluations", J. Abnormal and Soc. Psych. , 1958,
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British J. Psych. , 1955, U6 t 130-138.
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delinquent", Am. J. Orthopsychiatry , 1958, 28, 1U6-159.
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appearance cues and interpersonal attraction in
children", Child Devel ., 191^, *+5, 305-310.
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in children", J. Pers. and Soc. Psych. , 1967 , 7(1), 101-lOU.
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Body-cathexis and the self", J. Consult. Psych. , 1953,
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acquired physical disfigurement in children" , Am. J. Ortho-
psychiatry , 1958, 28, 85-97.
Wylie, R. C, "The present status of self theory", in Borgatta
and Lamhert , eds . Handbook of Personality Theory and
Research, Chicago : Rand McNally & Co., 1968.
V. Summary and Conclusion
I built this paper on the premise that there has always been a
human fascination with showing the ways that character is reflected
in physical appearance, and that there must be some truth underlying
such a universal and popular belief. The attitude has often been that
personality sculpts the face in accordance with its own attributes, good
or bad. A certain narrowness and closeness of the eyes is the metaphorical
result of a certain narrowness and closeness of character. To some extent
we are the victims of our own tendencies because although we tell ourselves
that appearances may be deceiving, we are still easily deceived. One of
the stock themes in the history of male/female relations concerns the man
who is taken in by a woman's beauty only to find himself with a shrew on
his hands .
What I have been trying to show, however, is that appearances are not
always deceiving. I put the mass of writing on the subject of physical
appearance and personality into three categories. The first two - the
intuitive-observational view common with novelists and physiognomists,
and the scientific-biological (nativistic) view put forward by Sheldon
and Kretschmer in their constitutional psychologies - is presented as a
history. Literature has reflected and encouraged belief. Lavater,
Gall, Sheldon and the rest tried to analyze the belief and failed. I
reserve the third approach, the social -developmental (environmental) for
the remainder of the paper. Since it is the one I consider the most
reasonable view. It states that any relationship between appearance
and character is the product of the development of self and body images
in the social context.
Social Psychological research on physical attractiveness is the core
of chapter II and serves as example of the positive effect that physical
attractiveness has in interpersonal relations. It is suggested that this
effect is due to positive impressions generated in a perceiver.
On the other side of the coin is physical unattractiveness, physical
deformity, which is the subject of chapter III. Material from plastic
surgeons shows how physical deformity can produce negative reactions in
other people and how in turn the negative reactions affect self-esteem
and personality development.
The final chapter is an elaboration of social origin theories of the
development of body and self images. The two are closely related and in
fact inseparable, and so it is that the way significant people (and people
in general) are influenced by physical appearance (whether they like
someone's looks, whether they are repelled) can shape personality, the
realization of the combined body/self image. In the face of staunch
cultural support of what is attractive and what is not, children may
walk into a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy which revolves around
their appearance. I have purposely emphasized the extremes of appearance
since these are the most easily (and frequently) studied and the most
salient in social interaction.
If, as I suggest at the end of the last chapter, attractive and
unattractive people can be shown to exhibit different behavior, and I
believe that this is the case, then we have come around full circle
to an explanation of the connection between physical appearance and
character, since character is merely the name we give to a set of
behaviors and potential behaviors. Briefly, character is related to
physical appearance through the differential effect that social response
has on a person who is physically attractive or unattractive and the
behavior he or she displays as a result of this response.
This statement cannot of course go unqualified. There is a
thundering herd of variables in the social situation and any attempt
at producing a simple explanation of a social process is bound to leave
something out. For example, I have been emphasizing the negative effect
that physical appearance has on personality. However, since social
desirability is composed of a number of factors, many unattractive
people make up for what they lack physically in other areas. Another
factor that is left out in any assumption of "all other things being
equal" is the difference in families. There is no reason in the
world why an attractive child can't develop a faulty personality and
an unattractive child a healthy one, solely because of the nature of
interaction within the family.
There is also a significant difference in the relevance of attrac-
tiveness for the different sexes. Traditionally, men have been considered
the shapers of a society while women have merely adorned it. Attractiveness
for men is more tied up with physique and promise of physical ability while
for women it is a matter of being decorative; and hence the frantic attention
to, for example, the facial appearance. (Please note the booming cosmetics
industry) . This difference has cropped up in a number of studies - dating
studies where males are more concerned with the appearance of their dates
than are females; medical documents which show that most plastic surgery
patients are female and the ones that are male are psychotic and trying
to cut off their noses to spite their faces; in ratings of physical
attractiveness where, as in the Cross and Cross (1971) study the most
positive responses were to female faces.
But I want to shove this heap of complications and qualifications
aside. For what it may offer in understanding some part of human
interactions and personality development, we do respond to physical
appearance, in greater or lesser degrees, and it is this composite
social response that leads to any correlations between physical appearance
Agreement Between Children's Judgements of
Attractiveness in Photographed Faces
M. -Somers Knight
Sweet Briar College
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Agreement Between Children's Judgements of
Attractiveness in Photographed Faces
M. -Somers Knight
Sweet Briar College
Subjects in two age groups - 4-6-years old and 10-11-years old - were
individually shown six photographs of 11-year old boys and six photographs
of 11-year-old girls by the method of paired comparisons. In a prior
rating by college age subjects, three attractive photographs of each
sex had been chosen, and three unattractive photographs had been chosen
as well. The young subjects were asked to make judgements of the physical
attractiveness of the stimulus children by stating which child in each
paired presentation was better looking. Concordance of opinion within
age groups was highly significant for judgements of both sets of photographs.
Overall rank orders constructed for the two sets of judgements within each
age group revealed differences in the ranking of the same photographs
between the younger and the older subjects, although the rank orders of
boys' photographs were most highly correlated. Results were interpreted
as evidence for the existence of cultural standards for assessing attractive-
ness and tied into a "social response" theory of the connection between
physical appearance and personality.
Review of the Literature
In the history of personality theory there is one large segment encom-
passing those theories which claimed to have found the true connection be-
tween personality and body type. The men who made this claim were the phy-
siognomists , the phrenologists , the constitutional psychologists who said
that by measuring the nose, the skull or the length of the torso, it was pos-
sible to come up with an accurate character analysis. T-iese theorists,
guilty of faulty reasoning, over-generalization or just out-and-out quackery,
fell by the wayside, remembered only as conspicuous and sometimes monumental
f ai lures.
However that does not mean that psychologists have totally discarded the
possibility that a body- type/personality relation deos exist. Currently the
most favored explanation is that they are related through the medium of social
response to physical appearance which in turn influences personality develop-
ment. Social psychologists like Walster (l c >66), Berscheid (1971)> and Byrne
1 >) and a host of others have shown that physically attractive people
are generally liked better than unattractive people. Psychiatrists working
with plastic surgery patients have found that many of them have problems in
social adjustment due to adverse social reaction to their deformities.
In order to make use of the concept of the "social self" to explain how
social response to physical anpearance can affect the personality, researchers
must first have some basis for apsuming that there is some sort of consistent
social response to physical appearance. If there are overriding cultural
standards for iud :ing attractiveness, they should be increasingly apparent
in children as their socialization into the culture becomes more complete.
And this is what the present study set out to demonstrate.
There have been previous studies within the last 15 years which have dis-
covered some uniformity in children's judgements of other children in terms of
physical appearance. The first of these looked at reaction to physical de-
formity. It was found that young children ranked photographs of peers with
various physical disabilities in a predictable and consistent (between raters)
manner. (Richardson et al , 196l). And subjects who had less exposure to the
cultural value because they belonged to a subgroup or were unable to learn the
value because of mental disturbance or retardation, produced different rankings
of the same pictures. (Goodman et al, 1^65) • In a study by Centers and Centers
(1965) children held more rejecting attitudes toward amputee children than
to non-amputees. And two researchers (Staffieri, 1967; and Lerner, 1969),
using three body types (endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph) found that chil-
dren 6-10-years old preferred the mesomorphic type and showed general anti-
pathy to the endomorpiic .
The fascination of social psychologists with physical attractiveness as
a variable has not left out children's perceptions either, although the body
of research is not large. An example is the 197^- paper by Xleck in which he
demonstrates that boys in a summer camp who had been rated attractive in a
preliminary rating of their photographs were generally better liked by their
campmates . Boys who had been iudged unattractive were less well lilced.
Two studies which have revealed the most about standard cultural values
nave used different age groups in their samples. Cross and Cross (1971) in
an extensive study of 'udgement of attractiveness of faces in photographs,
found no major differences in judgement attributable to age. Their subjects,
placed in fiur groups, ranged in age from 7 through adult. The study closest
to the Dresent one in format is one by Cavior and Lombard! ( 1975 ^ which fomises
on the develoomental aspects of judgement of physical attractiveness. They
had judges at f-ur age levels (5~3) who ranked full-length photographs of 11-
and 17-year olds. Agreement was significant among the 6-year olds and increased
until the 8-year olds showed as ~uch consistency as older comparison groups
and also produced the same rank order. The changes were interpreted according
to Piaget's theory of the stage of concrete operations.
T lis paper is a somewhat altered version of the Cavior and Lombardi study.
task, the experimenter took the pictures with the highest degrees of
agreement (from 83 - 100%) and for each sex chose 3 attractive and 3
unattractive children of the same age, which was 11.
The result of the sorting was 2 sets (one of each sex) of 6 pictures
each, labeled at A,B,C,D,E, and F. In each set, pictures of A,B, and C
had been consistently chosen as being attractive and pictures D,E, and F
had most often been placed into the category of 'unattractive'. Pictures
C and F were black children. And the A and D pictures of both sexes
were blond-haired children while the B and E pictures were dark haired
children, with the exception of the subject of picture B in the girls'
set, who was a redhead.
Each subject went with the experimenter to an area separate from the
classroom and set apart for the experiment. In the nursery school this was
a small room next to the play area and in the elementary school it was a large
open space with a counter on the side which formed the 'hub' for several
classrooms which opened out into it. The experimenter brought the younger
subjects to the area; the older subjects reported to the area themselves.
The method of paired comparison was selected as the one requiring the least
taxing decision on the part of the subject. With 6 pictures, this meant
15 pairs of pictures of each sex to be presented. A different random order
of the pairs was constructed for each subject; for half of the subjects
the pictures of boys were presented first and for the other half, the pic-
tures of girls were first. The experimenter and the subject sat next to
each other at a table or counter and before instructing the subject how
to go about doing the experiment, the experimenter asked the subject his
or her name and age. The instructions given to the younger subjects were:
Okay ( name) , now I'm going to show you some pictures of children just
a little bit older than you. I'm going to show them to you two at a
time here on the table and I want you to tell me which one you think
is prettier (or handsomer). Do you think you can do that? We'll
begin with pictures of girls (boys) .
and when about to begin on the second series of pairs, the experimenter
said: Now we will do pictures of boys (girls) and this time I want you
to tell me which one you think is handsomer (prettier).
The instructions given to the older subjects were:
Okay ( name) , what I'm going to be doing is showing you pictures
of some people about your age and I want to find out what you
think about the way they look. I'll show you the pictures two
at a time right here on the counter and you just point to the
one you think is the best looking. Okay? Do you have any questions
before we start? We'll be doing pictures of boys (girls) first
and then some girls (boys).
The experimenter laid out each pair of pictures facing the subject and
waited for the subject to point to the one he or she chose. After
every 5 pictures, the experimenter repeated, while presenting the
6th pair, "Now which one of these two do you think is better looking."
This was done to make sure that the subject kept the purpose of the
task in mind. The entire procedure took, on average, 12 minutes per
Two subjects had to be eliminated in the final data analysis.
One 1 — year old girl claimed to know one of the girls in the photographs
(well enough to name her) and when one 5-year old boy was judging the
girls' photographs, in all but three presentations he chose the picture
on the right side. This left N=20 for 4-6-year olds judging boys'
photographs (group la); N=19 for 4-6-year olds judging girls (group
lb); N=24 for 10-11-year olds judging boys (group Ila) ; and N=23 for
10-11-year olds judging girls (group lib) .
coeff iciencts is somewhat more difficult to interpret. The younger
subjects show the most agreement in their judgements of girls' photo-
graphs and the older subjects are more consistent when it comes to
evaluating the attractiveness of boys. A possible explanation is that
since the physical appearances of women are emphasized more than those
of men in our culture, children would begin to learn the standards of
judging women first. The depressed coefficient in group lib may be
the result of other factors, for example, the predominance of females
in group II and the fact that 11-year old girls are more responsive
to boys than the reverse.
The hypothesis that receives very little support in the findings is the
second part of H^. Particularly in judgements of the girls' photographs
the two age groups scarcely agree at all. The correlation between rank
orders of the boys' photographs approaches significance even if it doesn't
quite attain it. The other correlation is quite small. This seems to go
contrary to what has been suggested above, for if standards for judging
female beauty are the first learned then it should be the case that the
highest agreement would be in these judgements. But there is another
possible explanation. It may be that there are more complex standards
for judging women than men. It may be that the difference is attributable
to the fact that younger children have assimilated some but not all of their
culture's standards. Thus they would show high agreement among themselves
because these standards are important and highly emphasized but their
judgements would not be the same as those of older children because of
less complete assimilation of cultural standards. The greatest amount
of disagreement over the girls' pictures is in the rank assigned to
picture D, a blond, blue-eyed girl designated unattractive by 91% of
the subjects in the preliminary sorting. In the rank order for the 4-6
year olds, this picture was ranked first; the fifth graders gave the
picture fifth place. The difference may make more sense if it is noted
that the first ranks for both boys' and girls' pictures in the judgements
of fifth graders belong to blonde blue-eyed children. Western culture
has always valued the nordic type of beauty. It is probable that young
children react to conspicuous features like hair color and eye color and
only as they grow older begin to notice more detailed aspects of physical
appearance, such as shape of face, size of mouth etc.
One of the most striking findings here is the total agreement across
all four sets of judgements as to which of the photographed children (the
'F' pictures) were the most unattractive. The girl was obese and it is in
keeping with the findings of earlier studies that she was not favored.
The boy's picture prompted laughter in a number of subjects, and his
appearance led to comments like "He looks like a monkey" or "He sure in
funny looking." In fact, subjects were much more likely to show their
negative feelings toward the unattractive children (making faces or
stating their dislike) than they were to acclaim positive ones for an
unattractive child. Their outspoken judgements are interesting in con-
trast to the comments of the college age subjects involved in the pre-
liminary sorting who often stated that they felt sorry or guilty about
designating a picture as unattractive. There is apparently one cultural
value that younger children have not picked up yet and that is that it is
wrong (unfair, undemocratic) to judge people by appearances.
It would be desirable in the future to have several older comparison
groups in a study of this sort. And although it is unlikely that demographic
variables like socio-economic status caused differences in judgements, it
might be safer to use either all public school or all private school students
as subjects. It is also possible that although there was no difference between
the rank ordering by black and by white fifth-graders, the older white children
may actually have been more favorable toward photographs of black children
simply because the younger subjects have had less contact with black children.
Finally, further studies of the perception of physical attractiveness should
consider the merits of cross cultural comparison.
The results give clear support to the hypothesis that there are cultural
standards for judging attractiveness and that these standards are increasingly
internalized by children as they grow older and are more immersed in their
culture. These findings give strength to the theory that physical appearance
and character are related through the social response to physical appearance
which can influence personality development.
Coefficients of Concordance
Sex of .
Rank Orders of Photographs
4-6 yrs . 10-11 yrs .
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surgical approach to adolescent disturbance in self- image",
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preference and aversion in children" , Devel. Psych. ,
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"Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior",
J. Pers. and Soc. Psych. , 1966, 5, 508-516.
.j 28-94 45190
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