Johns Hopkins Profs Analyze “Hotness”

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Physical attractiveness: You know it when you see it, right? Well, not really, according to recent research from Johns Hopkins.

Haiyang Yang, a professor at the Carey School of Business, teamed up with Leonard Lee of the National University of Singapore to see just how socially constructed and variable our ideas of “hotness” are. To do so, they examined data from an attractiveness rating website– you know, one of those “am I hot or not” sites. On the site, users ranked each person on a scale of 1 (not hot!) to 10 (hot!!!), and were then shown the average score for that photo. As users ranked more photos over time, their rankings came to be more in line with the averages — in other words, it appears that they were being socially conditioned to develop attractiveness standards that aligned with the larger group.

Yang and Lee further tested this hypothesis in lab studies. Sometimes participants were shown the average score before they saw the picture; sometimes after; and sometimes never at all. In the first two cases, the same thing happened — the scores would converge on the average. But if viewers never saw average scores, their rankings didn’t change. In other words: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder… unless the beholder knows what everyone else thinks.

“Later, when we asked participants in the experiment about their evaluations,” Yang told the Hopkins Hub, “most claimed that their judgments were not affected by seeing the average ratings after they provided their own ratings.”

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  1. Not news. Margaret Mead surely realized this decades ago, when researching various world cultures. The elongated necks of Siam, tiny feet of Japan and painted faces of India all serve as examples of different , sometimes cruel, standards of beauty.

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