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Weapon of Influence #3: Physical Attractiveness

Weapon of Influence #3

Influencing through Images

Dozens of empirical studies have shown the strong influence of physical attractiveness in improving one’s opinion or value placed upon an object or person. Similar to some other tools of rapport building, the influential effect of physical attraction is automatic and commonly goes undetected (Cialdini 2001). One research study showed new car advertisements to two groups of men, one with an attractive female next to the car and one without the female included. The men who saw the ads including the female described the car as better-designed, more expensive-looking, more appealing, and faster than the other men. These same men denied that the presence of the young woman had influenced their opinion of the vehicle (Smith 1968).

Traits commonly associated with physically attractive people include talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence (Wheeler 1997). Being physically attractive can produce what is referred to as a halo effect. A halo effect occurs when one positive characteristic dominates the way a person is viewed by others (Cialdini 2001). Cialdini, a well established and published researcher on similarity and liking explains that with physical attractiveness “good-looking equals good.” An example of this can be found within the one year’s federal elections in Canada where “attractive” candidates received over twice the number of votes as their competitors. The most surprising result of this study was that 73 percent of Canadians surveyed claimed in the strongest possible terms that physical attractiveness did not influence their vote. (Cialdini 2001) Physically attractive people enjoy numerous benefits throughout their lives. They are thought to be more intelligent in school by their teachers (Ritts 1992 – education research??), more favorably looked upon during job interviews (Mack 1990), paid more in the workplace (Cialdini 2001), and receive superior treatment within the US legal systems. These are not small insignificant advantages. In one study researchers found that defendants were sentenced to jail twice as often if they were categorized as unattractive people (Cialdini 2001).

- Richard

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