Social psychologists have shown that we don’t just think attractive people are particularly attractive. We also tend to think that, compared to the less attractive, they are smarter, nicer, better lovers, superior employees, more perfect parents, and so on. Conversely, we attribute negative characteristics to less attractive people. Ever notice how often the “bad guy” in movies is unattractive? Often. The “good guy”? Almost never. Unless, of course, the whole plan is to confuse you and surprise you with the “AHA! The guy you thought was good was bad!” plot. We can see this in the media and social psychologists find it in our brain, too.
A clip from a singer on Britain’s Got Talent illustrates this pretty fantastically (watch here if they’ve disabled embedding):
Fillyjonk, at Shapely Prose, writes:
She’s over 40, she’s ungroomed, she’s on the fat side, and her accent denotes low class. As it turns out, she also has learning disabilities and has never been on a date.
Could someone so unattractive be a good singer? The judges and audience don’t think so. As she is being introduced and chats with the judges, they show clear disdain for her. They mock her. Shots of the audience grimaces; their faces reveal disgust and impatience. And it’s sort of amazing because there is absolutely nothing about a person’s appearance, age, or class that should affect her ability to sing.
And then she does. She sings well. Not even great, just well. And the judges and audience members express utter shock and amazement: “Wow, an unattractive person that can sing! It’s a miracle!!!” The audience gives her a standing ovation. Her triumph, though, isn’t so much about her performance, as it is about her ability to shatter the profoundly low expectations they have for “ugly” people.