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Numerous studies on physical attraction have examined how different variables influence our perception of others’ attractiveness. An area that has not yet been explored is the effect of group membership on perceived attractiveness. In our current research, we hypothesized that subordinates within a political party would view their leader as more physically attractive than would the subordinates of a rival political party.
We conducted two studies to examine the extent to which the followers within a group would consider their group leader to be more physically attractive than would the followers of a rival group. First, we administered online surveys in which 49 legislative aides for Wisconsin state legislators were presented with photos of political candidates and asked to rate their physical attractiveness on a 9-point Likert scale. Participants were presented with a set of 16 familiar politicians from Wisconsin, and a set of 8 unfamiliar politicians from New York.
In support of our hypothesis, we found that the ratings of a leader’s physical attractiveness varied congruently with the political affiliation of the rater, and were be a function of familiarity. In other words participants in a specific party rated political candidates in their party as more attractive especially when they were from Wisconsin and therefore familiar.
Next we examined whether the results that we found in the first study would remain consistent for individuals who more distantly support the leaders of their affiliated political party. We recruited 91 students from the University of Minnesota who self-identified as politically affiliated and again asked them to rate the physical attractiveness of both familiar and unfamiliar politicians. Unlike the legislative aides in the first study, these participants did not have a direct personal link to the party that they support.
We found that the students in the second study rated the physical attractiveness of familiar politicians in congruence with their own political affiliations higher. This pattern was not seen for the ratings of the unfamiliar politicians. It is important to note that the effect size for familiarity is greater in the first study, which we believe is due to the fact that the participants had more personal familiarity with the political leaders and party.
The results of these two studies provide evidence that leaders are viewed as more physically attractive by their followers than by members of rival groups. These findings have implications for understanding the non-monetary benefits of leadership, the development of office romances, and how organizational relationships can influence the perception of the otherwise objective trait of physical appearance.
Download paper from SSRN (the Social Science Research Network)
Kniffin, Kevin, Brian Wansink, Vladas Griskevicius and David Sloan Wilson (2014). Beauty is in the in-group of the beholded: Intergroup differences in the perceived attractiveness of leaders. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(6), 1143-1153. doi:10.1016/j.leaqua.2014.09.001.
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