Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You may be smarter than you look

But people still link your brains to your beauty

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New research offers good news and bad news for the homely among us. First, the good news: People can't tell how smart you are by how good you look. The bad news? They think they can.

As reported last month in the journal Plos One, researchers had 40 men and 40 women take a standard intelligence test. Then they photographed the subject's faces, instructing them "to adopt a neutral, non-smiling expression and avoid facial cosmetics, jewelry, and other decorations."

Next, 160 strangers reviewed the photographs. Half of the reviewers rated the photos according to how smart the subjects looked, while the other half rated them according to the subjects' attractiveness.

The researchers found a strong relationship between how attractive people thought a person was and assumptions about their intelligence: The higher the attractiveness rating, the higher the rating for smarts. This relationship was particularly strong when the subjects were female.

But the connection between perceived intelligence and actual intelligence was much less clear. Indeed, there was a significant gender gap: Reviewers did pretty well at guessing the actual intelligence of men, but they were completely lost when trying to identify smart women.

Researchers surmised that judging women on their intelligence -- rather than their attractiveness -- may just not be something people practise very much. But it gets weirder: When researchers compared the attractiveness ratings for various subjects with their IQ scores, they found no relationship whatsoever. This suggests that there is absolutely no connection between brains and beauty. But assumptions about a person's intelligence seem to be based largely on stereotypes related, at least in part, to notions of attractiveness.

To probe this idea further, the researchers constructed "intelligence stereotypes" for both men and women, using the photographs reviewers had rated by level of intelligence.

"Our data suggest that a clear mental image (of) how a smart face should look does exist for both men and women within the community of human raters," the researchers concluded. "... In both sexes, a narrower face with a thinner chin and a larger prolonged nose characterizes the predicted stereotype of high-intelligence, while a rather oval and broader face with a massive chin and a smallish nose characterizes the prediction of low intelligence."

These assumptions carry centuries of cultural baggage. More to the point, they're simply wrong. The researchers found no relationship between these facial stereotypes and a person's actual intelligence.

 

-- Washington Post-Bloomberg

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2014 D3

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