The Study

Miss America...er, USA, 2011: It's Not The Only Time We Judge A Book By Its Cover, Just The Only Time We Admit It

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Alyssa Campanella was crowned Miss USA last night in Las Vegas, topping 50 other beauty queens to represent the USA at September's Miss Universe Pageant in (where else?) Brazil. Campanella, a 21-year-old model from California, confessed to a love of British history and described herself as a "huge history geek." Her combination of (dyed) red hair and Anglophilia seemed to impress the pageant judges as well as the Googling masses, whose searches for "Miss America 2011" (the rival pageant is often confused with the Miss USA competition) are currently a top-ranking trend. While you may not have tuned in (after all, as a TNR reader, you're surely above all the glitzy superficiality of these things), a range of academic literature shows that if you were to meet Campanella, you wouldn't wait for her to dish on her love of Tudor history before assuming she's a brainiac.  

That's because we not only judge beauty, but we use it as a basis for more substantive judgments as well. One 1995 meta-analysis (PDF) performed by three scholars at Michigan State found that "physically attractive adults and children were perceived as more intellectually competent than their less attractive peers," and another study from 2002 (PDF) reported that "attractiveness was correlated with perceived intelligence at all ages."

But the impact of beauty on the beholder doesn't stop at perception. In a paper (PDF) both unsurprising and slightly depressing, six researchers from the University of Texas-Austin reviewed a series of studies and found that not only are attractive people judged more positively than unattractive people, they are treated better, too - even by people who know them. The researchers' results showed that people agree about who is and is not attractive, both within and across cultures, and that "attractiveness is an advantage in a variety of important, real-life situations," affecting the judgments of both men and women, children and adults. "Overall," the authors wrote, "these results indicate that despite conventional teaching, people do indeed judge books by their covers even when they have behavioral or other information on which to base their judgments." So while you might decide you have better ways to spend your time than watching beauty pageants, don't be too quick to pat yourself on the back - chances are you're judging people based on their looks every day, even if only subconsciously. 

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