Survival of the Prettiest: Looks Really Can Kill

Forget the debates. Why do people often prefer one candidate over another? It all depends on how they look.

Research shows that without even realizing it, voters are unwittingly drawn to the attractive contender. Good-looking candidates are seen as more trustworthy, likable, intelligent and able. It’s not that people are superficial; it is in our nature to be susceptible to beauty.

In Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, Nancy Etcoff highlights how beauty creates a “halo effect”–the assumption of other positive qualities about that person. It is the belief that if they are pretty, well then they must be good:

Good-looking adults are more likely to get away with anything from shoplifting to cheating on exams to committing serious crimes. They are less likely to get reported (they aren’t being eyed suspiciously), and if they are reported, they are less likely to get accused or penalized.

Smiling faces are deemed more appealing too. Even beautiful women (think Kristen Stewart, January Jones, and model Tyra Banks) who are photographed frowning or looking a little too serious are judged negatively. The ubiquitous internet meme, RBF, which stands for Resting Bitch Face, speaks volumes about how women are evaluated based on their appearance and the expectation to be sparkly and cheerful.

Judgment based on appearance can have serious consequences, even life and death ones. A recent study revealed that inmates whose faces were rated as untrustworthy were more likely to receive a death sentence than those whose faces were rated as trustworthy. The lead researchers underscore how facial bias can shape decision-making:

The American justice system is built on the idea that it is blind to all but the objective facts, as exemplified by the great lengths we go to make sure that jurors enter the courts unbiased and are protected from outside influences during their service. Of course, this ideal does not always match reality.

It turns out looks really can kill.

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