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Pretty and Personable Students Have Classroom Advantage

June 05, 2011 07:00 AM
by Shannon Firth
Around report card time many parents hear a familiar complaint: “My teacher just doesn’t like me.” Researchers at the University of Miami acknowledge there may be truth to these grumblings, and that “non-cognitive traits” influence students’ grades.

When Studying Isn't Enough

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The idea that teachers are biased against plain-looking students with less-than-scintillating personalities won’t surprise most scientists. Numerous studies with adults have found that being physically attractive impacts one’s hiring potential, salary and chances of being elected to office, ScienceDaily reported.

Some call it the “attractiveness effect,” others the “halo effect.” Cathrine Hatcher of CBS11 writes, “Your halo is something that is created by one or more of your positive attributes and the effect is that it shines a positive light on you and everything else you do.” For example, Hatcher says, people might assume that because Celine Dion is attractive and has a “beautiful voice,” she must be nice, and they therefore want to get know her.

A University of Miami study explored the relationship between being physically attractive and getting good grades among high school students. Results proved “statistically significant” for females. Good looks also influenced male students’ grades to some extent, though these results were less definitive, Newsweek reported.

Researchers at the University of Miami mined data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a project that began with “a representative sample” of junior high and high school students in 1994, and included in-home interviews with former students, the most recent in 2008. Using the interview responses, they explored the impact of grooming and personality on their subjects’ GPAs.

Lead researcher, professor Michael T. French, and his colleagues found, “For male and female students, being very well groomed is associated with a statistically significant GPA premium.” But a “very attractive personality” was considered the most critical of the three variables—personality, grooming and physical attractiveness—for female students.

Related Topic: Is our response to beauty innate?

In another study on physical attractiveness, University of Pennsylvania psychologist Ingrid Olson presented pictures of attractive and plain people to subjects. Immediately following each picture, subjects were asked to determine whether a random word was good or bad. Olson found “when a pretty face precedes a good word, you’re much faster to categorize it.”

The effect is known as “priming,” and according to Science NetLinks, such an instinctive response indicates that a beauty prejudice is “hard-wired into our brains.”

Reference Material: The halo effect

Perhaps the halo effect isn’t so clear-cut. Newsweek writer Sharon Begley wonders, “[Maybe] years of extra attention and rewards from teachers made attractive people more confident, smarter … and thus genuinely more capable?”

In a 2006 study by economists Markus M. Mobius of Harvard and Tanya S. Rosenblat of Wesleyan University, student subjects were randomly selected to play a role as either a job candidate or an employer.

The employers were then tasked with predicting how well an interview subject would perform on a maze-solving test given a 15-minute window. Different employers were given different levels of access to the subjects: resumes; resumes with photos; resumes and phone interviews; resumes, photos and phone interviews; or all of the preceding and in-person interviews.

One curious finding was that employers granted a higher productivity rate to beautiful people even in groups that only spoke to candidates over the telephone. Apparently, New York Times writer Hal R. Varian explains, “Being good looking seems to be strongly associated with self-confidence [and] … the confidence that beautiful people have in themselves comes across over the phone as well as in person.”

After acknowledging and then controlling for “the confidence factor,” which was found to comprise only 15 to 20 percent of the “beauty premium,” noted Varian, the “employer group” still expected more productivity from the physically attractive candidates. Researchers determined “oral and visual communication” equally impacted the “employer” group, with each variable exerting a 40 percent influence.

In essence, attractive people are also better communicators, which is as important in employer appraisals as their looks.
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