A recent series of investigations by Teng et al. has examined whether physical attractiveness predicts selfless behavior or self-interested behavior.
The findings of these studies, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, are summarized below.
But first, some background information.
Selfish or selfless beautiful people?
Previous research shows physical beauty is associated with physical and mental health, positive relationships, and social outcomes.
For instance, besides reporting better mental health than others, beautiful people are commonly seen as more psychologically healthy, well-adjusted, and intelligent.
According to the what is beautiful is good theory, good-looking people also tend to behave better (e.g., in a more altruistic and selfless way) than the average.
To understand what would motivate selfless behavior by beautiful people, we need to remember that they are often perceived very positively (e.g., as friendly, prosocial, smart). When these positive stereotypes become internalized, they can facilitate the development of more benevolent, competent, and selfless behavior.
Hence, good-looking individuals become who others expect them to be.
The evolutionary theory of attractiveness, in contrast, makes very different predictions.
Namely, it proposes that attractiveness is associated with selfish behavior, possibly due to a sense of entitlement and feeling that one deserves special treatment.
Why might attractive individuals feel entitled? Because they have greater bargaining power in relationships.
Specifically, attractive people tend to be more evolutionarily advantaged (e.g., be stronger, healthier, and more fertile) and capable of providing present and future benefits to their romantic partner.
Therefore, beautiful people, being aware of their high social value, learn from an early age that they deserve special treatment and privileges.
And should not expect or accept anything less.
Investigating attractiveness and selfless versus selfish behavior
So, which of the two theories is more plausible in your opinion?
Remember your answer as we review the findings of Teng et al. These researchers conducted five studies that explored whether self-perceived attractiveness is associated with greater self-interested or selfless behavior.
Sample: N total = 1,303. Four of the five samples were American Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) workers; one sample comprised Chinese undergraduate students.
Methods: The authors assessed “self-interested behavioral intention (Studies 1, 3, and 4),” and “self-interested behavior (Studies 2 and 5).” In addition, psychological entitlement was either “measured (Studies 1, 2, 4, and 5) or manipulated (Study 3).” Last, they “examined participants’ self-interested behavior either in a private or a public (non-anonymous) setting (Study 5).”
Beautiful people behave more selfishly because they feel entitled
The findings are as follows:
Study 1: “Attractiveness was positively associated with self-interested behavioral tendencies and psychological entitlement. Moreover, psychological entitlement could account for the relationship between self-perceived attractiveness and people’s inclination to act in a self-interested manner.”
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Study 2: The above findings were replicated in a sample of Chinese college students when their actual self-interested behaviors were assessed: “Those who perceived themselves as more attractive allocated themselves more resources; their sense of entitlement accounted for this effect.”
Study 3: A conceptual replication of the first two experiments, Study 3 examined the causal role of psychological entitlement: “Heightening psychological entitlement could make participants with low self-perceived attractiveness show increased self-interested behavioral intention.”
Studies 4 and 5: In these experiments, the researchers manipulated participants’ self-perceived attractiveness, increasing it through comparison with unattractive others, in either a public or private setting. Analysis of data showed that heightened attractiveness correlated with greater “self-interested behavioral intention and actual behavior.” Furthermore, “increased psychological entitlement consistently acted as a mediator in this process.” When acts were made public (vs. anonymous), attractiveness no longer influenced self-interested behavior, perhaps because making a good impression was now a priority. Previous research shows such strategic behavior is particularly common among people who are dishonest, arrogant, or narcissistic.
What is beautiful is good…or is it narcissistic?
Overall, the results agree with prior findings that suggest that relative to less attractive people, good-looking individuals….
- Strongly pursue self-enhancement.
- Are self-important and egotistical.
- Think they belong to privileged social classes.
- Use social opportunities for their own benefit, regardless of whether doing so comes at a cost to others.
Hence, analysis of data supported the evolutionary view instead of the what is beautiful is good view of attractiveness.
In summary: Beauty is often indicative of evolutionary advantages (e.g., health, fitness, fertility) and therefore, desired. This gives attractive individuals greater bargaining power. Consequently, they feel entitled, believe they can/should get whatever they want, and behave selfishly.
Previous work proposes that compared to others, good-looking people are treated in a more positive way in many domains, such as at school, at work, and in dating markets. But how do attractive people actually behave?
Selfishly, according to five investigations reviewed.
Self-perceived attractiveness predicted selfish intentions and behaviors, particularly when the act was not public and so could not damage the person’s reputation. This was mediated by a sense of entitlement.
In short, the more attractive a person is, the more likely he or she will take special treatment for granted and behave in a narcissistic and inconsiderate manner.
But to them, this is not being selfish. After all, the world of attractive narcissists is populated by those either too dumb or too jealous to recognize or acknowledge the superiority of beautiful people. So what people consider insensitive or self-centered is just beautiful people getting the respect they deserve!