Beautiful Seems Good, But Perhaps Not in Every Way: Linking Attractiveness to Moral Evaluation Through Perceived Vanity

Da Eun Han, Sean M. Laurent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations

Abstract

For almost 50 years, psychologists have understood that what is beautiful is perceived as good. This simple and intuitively appealing hypothesis has been confirmed in many ways, prompting a wide range of studies documenting the depth and breadth of its truth. Yet, for what is arguably one of the most important forms of “goodness” that there is—moral goodness—research has told a different story. Although greater attractiveness is associated with a host of positive attributes, it has been only inconsistently associated with greater perceived morality (or lesser immorality), and meta-analyses have suggested the total effect of beauty on moral judgment is near zero. The current research documents one plausible reason for this. Across nine experiments employing a variety of methodological and measurement strategies, we show how attractiveness can be perceived as both morally good and bad. We found that attractiveness causally influences beliefs about vanity, which translates into beliefs that more attractive targets are less moral and more immoral. Then, we document a positive association between attractiveness and sociability—the nonmoral component of warmth—and show how sociability exerts a countervailing positive effect on moral judgments. Likewise, we document findings suggesting that vanity and sociability mutually suppress the effects of attractiveness on each other and on moral judgments. Ultimately, this work provides a comprehensive process account of why beauty seems good but can also be perceived as less moral and more immoral, highlighting complex interrelations among different elements of person perception.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)264-286
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume124
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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