Unattractive People Overestimate Their Looks While Attractive People Rate Themselves Accurately, Per Study

A new study suggests that unattractive people don't have an accurate view of their looks, while good-looking people have a better grasp on how they appear to others.

By Gina Florio3 min read
Pexels/ Rheza Aulia

New research published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology examines the disparities between how attractive and unattractive people perceive their own attractiveness. While previous studies have shown that attractive people generally have advantages in various aspects of life, including earning potential and social relationships, this research focuses on self-perception. Led by Tobias Greitemeyer, the study involved six different experiments asking participants to rate their own attractiveness and to predict how others might rate them.

Unattractive People Overestimate Their Looks While Attractive People Rate Themselves Accurately

The results showed a compelling trend: unattractive people were more likely to overestimate their level of attractiveness. In contrast, those who were rated as attractive by the majority of participants were more realistic about how they were perceived, even occasionally underestimating their attractiveness. According to Greitemeyer, unattractive participants considered themselves of "average attractiveness" and were unaware that strangers didn't share this view. On the other hand, attractive individuals had a more accurate self-assessment that was rooted in reality, rather than inflated self-perceptions.

The research raises a critical question: why do unattractive people overestimate their looks? One theory tested was whether a positive, non-defensive mindset could be influencing their perception. To assess this, Greitemeyer conducted an experiment asking participants questions aimed at affirming other aspects of their personality unrelated to physical appearance. However, this experiment did not change how unattractive people rated themselves, suggesting that their inflated self-assessments are not a defense mechanism to maintain self-worth.

The studies also found that unattractive individuals were not as skilled at differentiating between levels of attractiveness in others. This led to speculation that unattractive people might have different beauty ideals, but this idea didn't appear to impact their perception of themselves. The results also drew comparisons to the Dunning-Kruger effect, a psychological bias where people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. The underlying reason for this could be that unattractive people lack the metacognitive skills to recognize their shortcomings in judging attractiveness—both in themselves and others.
The Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that individuals with low ability or knowledge in a particular area overestimate their own competence. Conversely, highly competent individuals may underestimate their ability, assuming tasks are equally easy for everyone. This effect occurs because people with low ability lack the metacognitive skills to accurately assess their own performance, leading to inflated self-assessments. Meanwhile, experts are more aware of the nuances and complexities of a subject, making them more cautious in overestimating their skills.

Another layer of complexity emerged from the study. When shown photos of individuals who were clearly either highly attractive or unattractive, most unattractive participants chose to compare themselves to other unattractive individuals. Greitemeyer interpreted this to mean that, on some level, these people have a sense that they might be less attractive than they would like to believe.

Unattractive people were more likely to overestimate their level of attractiveness

In sum, the research reveals a puzzling dynamic. While attractive people generally possess a realistic assessment of their looks, unattractive people consistently overestimate their attractiveness, but not as a way to maintain self-worth or defend against negative feedback. The reason for this discrepancy remains an enigma, and while unattractive individuals may have some vague awareness of their lower attractiveness, they appear to lack the metacognitive skills to fully grasp it. The study adds an interesting dimension to our understanding of attractiveness, self-perception, and psychological biases, even as it leaves questions unanswered.

Attractive People Live Longer and Are More Likely to Be Married

More and more research has emerged lately to suggest that good-looking people really do have an advantage in life. "Pretty people privilege" really is a thing after all. The study "Physical Attractiveness and Cardiometabolic Risk" explores the relationship between an individual's physical attractiveness and their long-term health, specifically cardiometabolic risk (CMR), which includes factors like LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. The study uses data from the U.S. National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and finds a clear correlation between higher ratings of attractiveness and better health outcomes a decade later. This holds true across genders and racial/ethnic groups, although the relationship varies based on the demographics of the interviewers.

The findings support the evolutionary theory suggesting that physical attractiveness is not just an aesthetic quality but may also indicate underlying biological health. Attractive individuals tend to have better life satisfaction, self-confidence, and find intimate partners more easily—factors that positively impact health. However, the study also accounts for confounding variables like socioeconomic status, initial health conditions, and BMI.

In the context of modern society, where cosmetic alterations are common, the study acknowledges that appearance alone may not be a perfect health indicator. However, the overarching idea is that there is an intrinsic connection between appearance and health. For instance, weight loss transformations often result in individuals looking more attractive, reinforcing the notion that focusing on internal health can naturally enhance external beauty. The study suggests that appearance and well-being may be more closely linked than previously believed.

Physical attractiveness is not just an aesthetic quality.

Other research explores how women's perception of the sex ratio in their communities affects their body dissatisfaction and motivations for weight loss. Spanning five studies with 1,776 participants, a study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior in July found that a higher perceived ratio of women to men led to increased competition among women for mates. This heightened sense of competition correlated with greater body dissatisfaction and a stronger inclination to diet. These trends were consistent among university and community women, as well as single women.

Two experimental studies manipulated women’s perception of the sex ratio. Women who believed there were more women than men in their community were less satisfied with their weight and shape but only if they believed the manipulation was genuine. When exposed to a male-skewed dating profile array, women had a decreased desire to lose weight compared to a female-skewed array.

The study also found that a woman's weight impacts her marital prospects. Thinner women are more likely to be married and have wealthier, more educated, and taller partners. Men married to thinner women also report greater marital satisfaction. This reflects a domain in which women compete for romantic relationships, corroborating men's self-reported preferences for thinner partners.

Looks aren't everything, but they can often be an indicator of many factors in life, from health to marriage to how you perceive yourself. Being attractive isn't necessarily something that only comes with genes; you can improve your looks by being healthy, putting effort into your appearance, and carrying yourself with grace.

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