A new study shows that a woman’s view of a man is influenced by how handsome and law-abiding he is. In other words, women will tolerate an unattractive man up to a point, but will have no problem shunning him if he misbehaves.
The study, conducted by researchers Jeremy Gibson and Dr. Jonathan Gore of Eastern Kentucky University, has significance for those using dating sites or doing jury duty.
Learning how a person can make a positive first impression is an important field of study because of its role in forming relationships. First impressions are typically based on physical appearance and whether someone sticks to social norms or not.
These impressions are made in a flash, but may not be correct. In what is called the “halo effect,” people warm up to others with positive characteristics, such as handsomeness. The “devil effect” or “negative halo effect” plays a role when people assume that others possess so-called “bad” traits, such as unattractiveness.
For the study, researchers tested if and how levels of attractiveness and conforming to social norms combine to influence 170 college women’s perceptions of men. Two male faces, one attractive and the other unattractive but with similar features, were paired in two written scenarios. In the one, the man took part in socially unacceptable behavior, while the other did not.
The findings showed that it was a much greater put-off when a man transgressed a social norm than when he was unattractive.
Normally, women do not feel differently towards a homely man who toes the line. If that same man, however, crosses the boundaries of right or wrong, a magnified or “double” devil effect comes into play. He is then looked at in an extremely negative light, much more so than would have been the case if he were handsome.
“The unattractive male is tolerated up to a point; his unattractiveness is OK until he misbehaves,” says Gibson.
The halo and devil effect often occurs when people view others’ profiles on online dating sites. For example, unattractive men who provide unusual or alarming information in their dating profiles may not receive a second glance from women.
This will not be the case for a handsome man posting the same information, or an unattractive man who stays within social norms. In the judicial system, unattractive defendants are also known to receive harsher punishments than more attractive ones, even if they committed the same crime.
“A man who stands trial has already shown himself to have violated social norms in one way or another. If he is also unattractive, the magnified devil effect may result in a larger fine or sentence, as it could influence how negatively jurors view him and, as a result, the degree to which they believe him guilty of the crime,” said Gore.
The findings are published in the journal Gender Issues.