Very attractive job seekers may face discrimination from prospective employers of the same sex, according to a new study just published online in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
Previous research has shown that attractive people are often rated more highly in areas not related to their physical appearance, such as intelligence or job performance, but may be thought of more poorly in social situations by same-sex peers.
Psychologist Maria Agthe wondered how these two effects combine and ran two experiments to see how people asked to sort through applications for scholarship would be influenced by the attractiveness of the ‘applicants’ photos.
In the first experiment Agthe found that attractive applicants were more likely to be rated as highly suitable by people from the opposite sex. The best looking men gained no advantage if they were rated by a man but the most attractive women were significantly under-rated by female evaluators.
But it was the second experiment that gives the finding an interesting twist. Agthe factored in the attractiveness of the assessors and made the situation more work like – the applicants were to be considered for a job.
It turned out that the attractiveness of the applicant had no impact on the best looking assessors – they were simply unmoved by physical appearance – while the averagely attractive assessors were those most likely to mark down very attractive applicants. This held for both men and women.
Agthe suggests that this may be due to social competition and the fact we’re all implicitly aware of the idea that attractive people tend to get the breaks – so we try and minimise the advantage of people who we’re close enough to, in attractiveness terms, to be a threat.