While good looks can get you far in life, psychologists say there are pitfalls for the beautiful.

David Robson with the BBC – Do those blessed with symmetrical features and a striking figure live in a cloud of appreciation – or does it sometimes pay to be plain?

Combing through decades of findings, social psychologists Lisa Slattery Walker and Tonya Frevert at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte have reviewed all the evidence to date – and their conclusions are not what you might expect.

At the most superficial level, beauty might be thought to carry a kind of halo around it; we see that someone has one good attribute, and by association, our subconscious assumes that they have been blessed in other departments too.

o psychologists, this is called the “what is beautiful is good” heuristic, but fans of the sitcom 30 Rock might recognise this as “the bubble”. Jon Hamm’s character is remarkably incompetent, yet manages to live in blissful self-delusion thanks to his good looks. As a doctor, for example, he can’t even perform the Heimlich manoeuvre, but somehow managed to drift through medical school thanks to his natural charm.

According to the available evidence, the bubble is a reality. In education, for instance, Walker and Frevert found a wealth of research showing that better looking students, at school and university, tend to be judged by teachers as being more competent and intelligent – and that was reflected in the grades they gave them.

But if beauty pays in most circumstances, there are still situations where it can backfire. While attractive men may be considered better leaders, for instance, implicit sexist prejudices can work against attractive women, making them less likely to be hired for high-level jobs that require authority. (If you want Hollywood’s take on this truism, Frevert and Walker suggest that you look no further than Reese Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde.) And as you might expect, good-looking people of both genders run into jealousy – one study found that if you are interviewed by someone of the same sex, they may be less likely to recruit you if they judge that you are more attractive than they are.

The Pitfalls of Beauty