People have joked with me that I didn’t go through my doctoral education properly, probably because my body didn’t exhibit the usual signs of gaining weight, bags under the eyes, and so on. Instead, I lost about 100 pounds and gained biceps. I guess there’s something about the research and publishing process made me want to hit the kettlebells or the heavy bag. It’s better therapy than smashing my head on my desk, that’s for sure.
Anyway, I’m about to say something that we already know, but man, do we not like it – the beautiful people get all the perks. Sorry to say this, sci.casuals, but it’s happening not just in our heads, it’s a social phenomenon (that ultimately is in our heads anyway) known as the halo effect. The short story: we associate ‘aesthetically pleasing’ with good qualities, like energy, power, and all-in-all something good and something (or someone) we want to associate with. If we can’t be beautiful people, maybe we can be with them because they are truly, truly special…
…and then it turns out that deep inside, we’re biologically similar. The beautiful people look special, but we don’t know much else – society seems to have granted them first-impression advantages. The authors of this week’s Featured Article propose a ‘simple social bargaining’ model where the beautiful people, whether they’re good looking or at least look physically intimidating, are less likely to support equality since they have benefited from the inequality of society in which they got more because they’re the beautiful people. Yes, humanity is much more complicated than that, but is there evidence that supports the beautiful people want to keep everyone else down?
Am I starting to sound like I’ve got some kind of complex? Let me back off for a second.
Vocabulary for the day: ‘egalitarianism.’ The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines this in two ways: “a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs” and “a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people.” The study, if anything, seems to attack the second definition. The study focuses on men rather than women on the relationship between being formidable/attractive and striving for equality. There are several reasons for this that I’ll leave to the sociologists who happen to be reading this week’s Featured Article (leave a comment – I’d really like to hear from you), but the whole of human experience with the ‘alpha male’ is the best I can summarize it in less than a week’s reading. It’s more complicated for women, sociologically speaking, and there’s thousands of years of social development behind this that I can’t summarize in one blog post, not to mention I’ve only had one cup of coffee so far.
How did the authors approach the relationship of social equality and male formidability? Considering how aesthetics, which is a personal thing, is really dependent on a lot of mental gymnastics, they decided to take more objective measures of male formidability that volunteered for their study. These measures included the size of their shoulders, biceps (flexed, bro), chest, and waist. They also measured grip strength and arm/chest strength. Yes, we know, handshakes and all that, formidability, alpha-ness, and crushing it when shaking hands. You’ve met people who treat handshakes as a show of power, a test, by crushing your hand. That’s why you want to make a firm handshake – not only don’t you want to show weakness, it’s a defense mechanism for your hands!
Anyway, there’s also taking pictures of their faces to rate their dominance, attractiveness, and masculinity. The study has several variables that I won’t explore on this post due to length. Besides, if you’re interested in the details, you’ve got to read the Featured Article – can’t leave all the sciencing to me, right? Finally, there’s a questionnaire that the participants had to fill out; this is where their attitudes towards egalitarianism get tested.
So what did they find? Like what studies (and basically living in society) have found, ratings of body formidability correlated positively with the questionnaire’s measure of social dominance and negatively with supporting redistribution (and for you statistics boffins, yes, these were significant). So yes, taking everyone in the study as a whole, the alpha-er (this is not a word) the male, the more they tend to support systems that keep their alpha-ness. Here’s the interesting part – they also asked how much time each participant spent in the gym, which adds another variable. Turns out that if the statistics controlled for amount of time in the gym, the negative relationship between formidability and supporting redistribution becomes non-significant. Also, controlling for formidability ratings, the correlation between gym time and social dominance is non-significant, but gym time and supporting redistribution becomes significant and negative. This supports some of the studies that they’ve found (check Section 1.2 on the article) which, if I’m going to be snarky about it, pretty much says guys who hit the gym don’t really support redistribution anyway, and in addition are motivated to bulk up. I’m not going to go into the physical attributes of formidability, since it turns out they weren’t significant anyway (especially regarding the face).
So what, not all of the beautiful people are selfish jerks, but guys who go to the gym are just a bunch of preening bullies? The authors definitely wouldn’t say that, so neither are we in sci.casual – they got mixed results at best, nothing definitive that says that this causes that. There may be other variables at play – narcissism, for one – that they didn’t consider if only to keep the number of variables reasonable. Hey, as I’ve mentioned before, human nature is complicated. At the very least, the whole of alpha-male-ness and seeking equality is still negatively related, but alpha-male-ness itself, or at least looking like one, isn’t enough to explain it.
So perhaps the beautiful people may even want to raise their fellow man, no more and no less than anyone else – isn’t that what philanthropy and charity is about, anyway? It’s not always a competition, you know?
Speaking of philanthropy (it’s by sheer coincidence that I’m also handsome – my mom told me so): as a science teacher and chemistry education researcher, I stand with education, and it’s disappointing that teachers don’t often have the funds to carry out some of the innovations that they want to carry out for their classrooms. Hey, they often have to pay out of pocket, especially in the United States. Perhaps show and throw some support their way (especially us American casuals) by going to DonorsChoose.org. You don’t have to donate so much, and even a little support from a lot of people adds up to a lot of support. Once I get my assistant professorship up and running, I’m going to start looking into donating on behalf of sci.casual. It’s probably going to be cheaper than sports supplements.
Post-script: unless you’re a Francophone, I know you ran the title through Google Translate – if it doesn’t make sense, it didn’t translate all too well between ‘lift’ and ‘raise’ and a meme just blew up in my face. If you do speak French and the headline is all wrong, please leave a comment so I could correct the headline. We’re all about accuracy here in sci.casual.
Post-script #2: let’s face it – English was an absurd language to begin with anyway.
Featured Article: Price ME, Sheehy-Skeffington J, Sidnaius J, Pound N. (2017). Is sociopolitical egalatarianism related to bodily and facial formidability in men? Evolution and Human Behavior. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2017.04.00
Featured Image: Public Domain (Author: Rogério Silva, 2015)