Halo effect: Are attractive people really more confident?


One of the most established findings in social psychological research is that, compared to people with average looks, attractive people are considered to be more intelligent, more interesting, more creative, as better leaders, better parents… in short: they are attributed a whole range of socially desirable traits. Psychologists call this the halo effect: the attractiveness of pretty people casts a ‘positive halo’ on their other characteristics.

It is easy to think that, because of all this flattering feedback, attractive people must be really full of themselves, or at least super confident. But have you ever noticed that good-looking people don’t really seem to have the same positive opinion of their abilities and personalities as others do? Research has confirmed that the relationship between confidence and attractiveness is really inconsistent. But why? After all, attractive people also show the halo effect when judging others, so why don’t they apply it to themselves?

There are two possible reasons. The first one is that not every attractive person finds themselves all that good-looking, i.e. there is a difference between objective attractiveness (as judged by a sufficiently large random sample of other people) and self-perceived attractiveness. While objective attractiveness is only slightly correlated with confidence, there is a strong relationship between confidence and self-perceived attractiveness. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if other people think you are good-looking, you yourself have to think so too.

Another reason for the inconsistent relationship between confidence and attractiveness is that attractive people are generally aware of the halo effect. They realise that others see them through the ‘pretty-lens’ that makes them judge their abilities and traits more positively. It is a bit like if you suddenly got really famous or rich, you would never know when people actually want to be your friend because they genuinely like you or because they want a piece of your fame/money pie. Even if you realise that you are attractive, knowing that other people judge you more positively because of that can leave you very uncertain about your own abilities. A famous example for this phenomena is the case of Marilyn Monroe, who was considered one of the most beautiful women during her time, yet reportedly had a lot of insecurities: She felt that she owed her fame solely to her looks, which damaged her self-concept of being an actress and was apparently one of the factors that contributed to her depression.

So, although being attractive brings about a whole host of benefits in life, better confidence is not always one of them.

What are your experiences? Are attractive people more or less confident? 

*image via collider.com

73 thoughts on “Halo effect: Are attractive people really more confident?

  1. This was a really interesting post. You’ve looked at the issue from a totally different angle than most people. I think that if people tell you that you are beautiful on a regular basis, you will begin to believe it, thus gaining confidence. Confidence does come from objective attractiveness, but only because it leads to self- perceived attractiveness.

  2. I couldn’t give a crap if people only liked me for my money. What I need is MONEY so I can get a super super hot chick. Thats what I want, thats what I need

    SUPER HOT!

  3. Good article. It explains a lot about why completely beautiful women still only see their flaws. I’m not certain it holds as true for men as men generally tend to be less critical of their own physical appearance than women. I also agree with Rose’s comment that self-esteem is built over a life time and beauty can be situational. Yesterday I had a bizarre incident where the right side of my face swelled up and I looked like Will Smith in the allergy scene from Hitch. Most days I’m considered very attractive anyone meeting me in the last two days will have a very different view!

  4. There was a time I’d have killed to be more attractive. Now I’m 40, so it’s like, “Meh, whatever.” Confidence is definitely an issue, though. When it comes to my workplace and my writing (not related to each other at all), I can be very confident, but outside of that, not so much.

  5. Great post. I loved reading it. If you haven’t read it already, I loved the book “Survival of the prettiest” by Nancy Etcoff, its jam packed with studies related to beauty.

  6. I agree with you on this halo effect and all. I do believe though that upbringing as well as experiences in childhood either positive or negative, has a great deal to do with the way a person feels about himself/herself.

    Good article! Regards, D

  7. When you believe that you are attractive, you will also believe that others think your attractive.
    Maintaining this state of mind produces an wiilingness, desire, and determination to manifest your goals and dreams into reality

  8. I really like this post. I sometimes struggle with confidence and that’s due to rejection in the past. I find that guys in particular don’t care to learn from me because of my looks. They only see the face and think there’s nothing they can learn from me.

  9. Do attractive people get several perks in life? I would say yes for sure. I’ve read many studies that talk about how attractive people are judged to be more confident, smarter, and in the case of job interviews more qualified and fit to fulfill the position. I think that whether attractive people have more confidence is still up for debate. From one perspective, it is the chick and the egg. If you are attractive and the world turns more gently in your favor, you probably will have more confidence in yourself and your ability to succeed. On the other hand, attractive people have problems and insecurities too – so let’s not hate too much.

    http://www.thatperfect.com ;)

  10. Oddly enough, I misread the title several times as “Are confident people really more attractive,” and would have answered yes. Confident people attract.

    So little attention is given to how people feel about themselves and what we know about ourselves. That is what delivers real, positive self-worth; self-knowledge and acceptance. Beauty is a construct, and as you’ve alluded to, attractiveness is subjective.

  11. Beauty can be very isolating. People assume that you are confident, and don’t need anything! That you have no vulnerabilites. You have to work even harder to have friends and to prove yourself. Isolation doesn’t bring much confidence. HOWEVER, if you want friends you have to be friendly no matter who you are which should make a person feel better about themselves. Then again…. someone that is plain can have confidence and win the admiration of others… just look at Abraham Lincoln. It is all in the attitude……… a good one is gold!! Beauty is no cure all for anything! It is the basics that count, warmth kindness and knowing that life is about “we” instead of “me.” Thanks for the article, and what a versatile site!!!!!

  12. I also read an article about how attractive people are less likely to be convicted of a crime, and if they are convicted, they receive less of a sentence than others in similar situations.

  13. Loved this! So very true. I strongly believe that confidence has nothing to do with how attractive you are or how many people “want” you or “love” you or find you attractive for that matter.

  14. Confidence comes from one of two places:

    1) How YOU perceive the world perceives you.
    2) How YOU perceive your place in the world. (Ie; how you perceive yourself)

    And how much faith you put into either.

    Beauty can and most certainly DOES pertain to both… but luckily, it doesn’t have to.

  15. I have to say that the most confident people I’ve met are NOT that attractive. And because of their confidence I see them as more attractive than I normally would. I bet that’s what many people find. I don’t think this is unusual. You meet someone who is “average” looking, and with their great personality, they metamorphose into a beauty! Isn’t that true sometimes?

  16. Really interesting post – I think that good looking people often feel intimidated by this ‘halo’ that people put over them. Almost like people have higher expectatoins of them than ‘less good-looking’ people.

  17. Growing up as the non-attractive member (of the three women in my family…) I had to perceive my inner beauty on my own. I think perhaps sometimes having a common face might be a useful advantage. Less may be expected, but it will be the others’ loss when I am content and they are not.
    I must though be ‘attractive’ enough as I am married (over 30 years) and am now a grama!

  18. I have to agree with you on this one. Having good looks isn’t always a blessing. There is a stigma against people who are attractive. Most of the time they are deemed as stuck up, selfish, self centered, take advantage of people, use their looks to get what they want, and many others that I will refrain from saying. The truth is that when you are called such names over and over again, and are none of them, it begins to wear down your confidence and puts you in a place of insecurity. You end up feeling like you are what they call you and nothing better. Your confidence lessons and you feel like a shell of a person who isn’t worth much. It takes a very strong spirited individual to not let those words affect your confidence and bring you down. You have to look in the mirrow everyday and tell yourself: ” I am a good person. I am doing nothing wrong. I am not what they call me. I love who I am. I am beautiful just the way I am.”

    Thank you for your words and research on this topic. I look forward to reading more of your writings!

  19. Great post !
    Personally I think beautiful ,good looking people or even the rich has no link with the confidence trait , to me confidence is claimed with accomplishments , a life time feedback , relationships , education and society, and also lets not forgot a main factor that i believe in is that sometimes its a given from god just like the charisma trait .Looks do no good if your inner self is aimless meaning you have no content , like for an example a highly fame movie with no goal to reach for its audience just contains poor content for entertainment , people will get to check out the movie out of curiosity and fame but will have no impact on them , simply the movie will be lost in memory .
    I believe you can claim confidence out of your self and its accomplishment , beauty was and will always be a door to anything that you want but will never keep you on going on with your goals in life . Goals are reached with hard work , determination and patience . Lets also not forget when your good looking or rich and you get to attract people around , you know exactly why those people are around you as Marlyn Manroe when stated their here for fame and desire nothing much or less . As a person we always want to be as expected high expectations sometimes hurts the self , you always want to be or claim to be as expected from you , which sometimes causes sadness frankly speaking more than a depression , cause to me depression is a very powerful word meaning a severe mental illness mainly caused when a family member passes away , huge failure in life .

    Thank you for sharing such topic

  20. Great post… As much as people want to say that I am so beautiful, I don’t think that at all, and have hard time even accepting compliments because I think that they just lie.

  21. I really enjoyed this post. In my work as an Image Consultant I often find that the more attractive clients (as perhaps defined by society) have just as many insecurities about their appearance and intrinsic value to others as any of the rest of us. What’s most important is our own opinion of ourselves. It doesn’t matter what you look like if you don’t believe in yourself. Self confidence is more attractive than any hair style or outfit. If you believe in your own value, you’ll feel good about yourself and your appearance will be enhanced. A smile is always the best accessory for any outfit.

  22. Hmmm . . . my own personal experience points to attractive people living to what is expected of them. So much so that I don’t believe I ever see the real person, only the public persona.

    Then again, I don’t travel in those circles enough to be in the know.

    As for confidence, I would suggest that when things come easy to someone (compliments, jobs, perks), and when those are even peripherally linked to one’s looks, at best it can provide a false confidence that can easily be shattered.

    I think real confidence comes from having surmounted challenges, faced and survived hardship, and especially when someone accomplishes something on their own.

    That said, being attractive is a definite plus . . . for instance, I am not surprised most singers are very attractive. But I am disappointed they are so; one need only go to you-tube to listen to people who have as much or more talent than headliners, but lack the “look” to be given a shot.

    The exception is male singers. Many famous rockers are downright hideous, slime-ball-looking, and on the other side of the “looks” bell curve. But in that case it’s an asset with the “ladies”. That I cannot explain. There’s no figuring women.

  23. It’s been my opinion that attractive people are trully full of themselves. Consider the cute cheerleader, the gorgeours receptionist or the pretty gifl next door. They each bask in their “good looks” because they receive positive comments, compliments on their opionions and they generally elicit help when they look confused or distressed.

    I have heard (in my day) pretty girls saying that they could get whatever they wanted because of their looks. But that of course did not include good greades; they had to work for those.

    So alghough the research says that the attractive people have less self confidence, I also include this anecdotal evidence of otherwise.

    Just my 2 cnets. Great Post though.

  24. Great post. I think being attractive has it’s positives and negatives. My daughter is gorgeous (yes totally bias) BUT at school she had girls be nasty and jealous because she is/was attractive PLUS kids wanted to be her friend because she is attractive. She has always had plenty of friends. She is very confident. We have lived in three different countries (New Zealand, USA & Australia) same issues in all of those western countries. Now she is older I do think she has it easier than less attractive people. She seems to smile and light up the room and get away with saying or doing anything. Employer’s in my view will pick attractive people over unattractive if they both have the same qualifications. Perhaps even if they don’t?

  25. A reason attractive people may actually be LESS confident is that confidence comes more from one’s ability to exist and relate as a human, rather than just look nice. Therefore, having all of this attention and pressure on one’s appearance leads people to feel like their self is less accepted and acknowledged. The image of Marilyn Monroe is perfect, as most people know she was actually a tortured soul. Some of her diary/journal was released a few years back and proves some insight on her lack of confidence and philosophical frame of misunderstood mind. And on screen we just saw a pretty face on a gold-digging lady…

  26. Fascinating post. I’ve never really considered dissecting it, but I do know one thing – there are some very interesting and brilliant people out there, who would never get a second glance for their looks. Great reminder to not judge a book…

  27. Love this pic of Marilyn, she looks so lost right at hat moment, one piece of evidence sh needed to feel more than jut pretty and she never got that, nice read as well, and thank for visiting my site, Lucianus

  28. Your post rminded me a photography class I was hired to model for. The professor (one of the most successful in her country) said something to the students I’ll never forget. It ws something o th effect of : ” Never forget to tell the model she is beautiful, most of the time she has no idea that is so…”.

    Shocking, but oh so true…

    I guess our self evaluation is the one that matters the most as far as confidence goes…

    http://chicalarusse.com/

  29. It seems that there would be a “competitive effect” among attractive people — like Marilyn Monroe — knowing that 1) other good looking people dislike her because she is attractive as well and 2) all people are waiting for her to get old and ugly so that they can gloat that she is no longer beautiful. Those of us who are ordinary looking know that we won’t get by on our looks, so we find other aspects of our character or personality to develop and feel good about.

    Thank you for your recent visit to the Norwegian Artist and for Liking the painting, Chimu.

  30. I have photographed quite a few models in the past. In my opinion they are beautiful, have a perfect body, and (most of them) have a great personality too. Yet often they are as insecure as the average person. Sometimes more so. I think for attractive people, they must sometimes ask themselves “Do people like me because I’m attractive? Or do they like me for who I am?” And this doubt will inevitably create insecurities. Just my thoughts :)

  31. As someone who’s spent a life in the arts, I’ve known an inordinate amount of Impressive People–both exceedingly beautiful in the physical aspect (lots of them, of course, performers of various kinds) and extraordinarily accomplished–and almost to a person, I would say that they were just as insecure about their looks and/or accomplishments as anyone else. My take on it is that whatever else we’re gifted or “cursed” with, or defined as, through our lives, we’re all just plain human beings and, as such, vulnerable to pretty much the same fears and worries–or able to have confidence and a healthy ego–as everybody else. It seems to me more often determined by our environment and training and choices whether and how we cope or rise above our natural inclinations. True clinical depression, Social Anxiety Disorder, and other mental illnesses can affect our chemical makeup to a degree where we aren’t capable of making any logical choices and acting on them (as I know personally), but even in many of those situations there can be tools for changing the balance, and there are clearly people with any form, mild to severe, of mental disease, who still have the same good/bad self image that is somewhat separate from their actual appearance, as well as the will and ability to work toward altering the self-image.

  32. Thought-provoking. I think the “halo effect” is a double-edged sword. People may expect more from attractive people, and thus put more stressors on and lead to a lack of self confidence in “pretty people.” There’s also the objective versus subjective, which you mention. I know many people who, by “most” standards, are attractive, but they do not believe it. Overall, I have found that sex plays a role; attractive men appear to be more confident, and attractive women less confident. That’s just my experience, I have no “evidence” to back it up. Great post though, got my mind working:)

  33. Two thoughts: 1) maybe there is some reverse feedback involved and the confidence makes the person look more attractive, which makes them more confident, and so on in an “upward spiral”, 2) it might be good to consider the “addiction” effect of being attractive in which the positive feedback people get from their own good loox is like a drug which they seek more of and get upset if they don’t get the same “high” every time. This is a very interesting post. Also, thank you for checking out my blog.

  34. Very interesting post. I know so many pretty girls that seem to be out there chasing something, idk. Maybe it’s confirmation they are after, which shows their lack of self confidence and lack of wisdom. Personally, I feel true beauty starts within. Take care of yourself and build yourself to be a better person. Nourish your mind, body, and soul and it will show on the outside…to EVERYBODY. Be of good courage encouraging others, that’s what creates that magnetic effect ;)

  35. Interesting topic.
    Initially, slim attractive well groomed people do better at first job interviews than overweight plain people. But it’s your experience & skill that gets you past the second interview.
    In my youth, I would have said a genuine smile gets you just as far as looks in life – it’s a positive reflection of your inner mind.
    Smile and the whole world smiles with you (and wants to be with you too).

  36. Interesting concept. As I’ve got older and the attractiveness of youth has begun the fade ( I was never a stunner) I’ve relied more on responses to brain rather than looks. Being TOLD I was good looking has never really given me any confidence. I see much better looking people all around than myself. But confidence is more about confidence in my abilities than looks. And that’s been shaky over the years but grows with experience.

  37. What about make-up? I have pretty bad skin, so when I see myself every day – with breakouts, and blotchiness, sans make up, I feel pretty *meh* on most days. But then I’ll polish myself up, be out and about, a snapshot goes on FB and my friends compliment me, say I’m pretty.

    Then, the super model who graces every magazine cover gets the flu and is seen picking up meds: red, puffy faced, swollen nose, blotchy skin, no make up. Now is she pretty to the observer?

    Now, this is exaggerated for the sake of conversation. But it’s all about the situation. Self-worth is built over a long time. It’s a lifetime. But a snap judgement of how someone looks is just that.

    So perhaps it’s more about the entirety of our looks than the actual appearance in any given moment.

    It’s also hard to shake that understanding of what we used to look like. The gawky teenager may very well consider herself awkward long after she’s become the swan.

    Interesting topic, good post!

  38. Interesting … I think most of us must have some sort of ‘mental mirror’ that tells us what we are like. Sometimes it’s foggy or broken and needs some cleaning or attention.

    I’m glad to find your blog. I love things that get me thinking!

  39. Really interesting post, I have myself many times thought of this but never got deeper into it as I don’t have the time to actually read into research I want to read, more than the stuff I need to read for essays and my dissertation… I like the way you write, you made it very interesting!

  40. I like the comparison with people becoming famous or rich overnight, guess the pretty people can be insecure as they do not know if their entourage is close to them hoping some of the good looks will rub off on them, or just because they simply want to be with them.
    We usually are in awe of the attractive people, but in the meantime us common mortals do judge them… hence the usual pretty vs smart that a majority of people believes in: either one or the other, a person cannot be both.

  41. Really interesting post! I always wondered what the relationship between self-confidence and attractiveness was. I wonder if depression can also come because people expect their other abilities to match up with their beauty, and are disappointed when they do not. Attractiveness at least seems to always garner high expectations from others.

  42. There are a few things you forgot to consider. First of all not all attractive people think of themselves as such. Secondly, some people tend to prioritize interior traits over exterior ones, such as intelligence. Finally, when someone is overly attractive (by the general standards) it actually backfires as they are perceived to be ‘unattainable’ for a large segment of the population, hence they don’t get to feel as such.

    I’m interested in knowing what are your thoughts regarding these three factors.

  43. Beauty is something we crave as humans, and we seek it almost instinctively. The thought that beauty is only skin deep is generated by the media, and not necessarily the truth. Beauty involves several aspects, including symmetry, form, harmony of color and shape, a certain order, the “feng shui” of life, if you will. It may be the reason that avant-garde sculptures may be viewed with a bit of apprehension, as they do not invoke a response to “beauty,” per se. Therefore, it may well be that this need we have to gaze at beauty inspires us to attribute other qualities known as the halo effect. It may be interesting to examine the effect of looking at beauty in the laboratory, and operationalize it as, say, exposing subjects to various stimuli and gauging their response electrically: sunsets, Angelina Jolie, the verdent mountains of Hawaii, and the like, and intermingling within those images other, less traditionally beautiful images as comparison.

  44. I’m old. Through the years people have often focused on how confident I was. I wondered what that meant and I came up with the conclusion that the less self-conscious (the less you thought about yourself) the more people interpreted that as confidence.

  45. Great post! My underdrad degree is in Psychology and I read an article describing attrcative people as being more likely to get promotions. etc. I can see the concept behind it, and what you say do make a lot of sense, being more attractive looke good to others form the outside looking in, but doesn’t necessarily boost the confidence of the person on the inside extending out.

  46. Great post, it’s so true. Even the media reveals this at times, but we tend to think of it as something comical- like “she or he can’t really believe they’re unattractive, that’s just dumb”. Yet, you never really know what’s playing out in the other persons mind. Depression is an ugly monster- but when concealed in a beautiful “package” the world downplays it- to that persons detriment. Marilyn Monroe was a great example of this.

  47. There are very few people talking about biological beauty. Its good to see intelligent people out there into it. It’s a cultural elephant that needs addressing.

    The first breakthroughs on BBeauty I ever discovered were Omni and Newsweek articles in 1995. It has also a lot to do with Latent Inhibition http://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2010/10/highly-sensitive-and-creative-latent-inhibition/

    It’s something I feature as an on-going in my novel, being that it’s my story as if I were a girl growing up in a future world: http://www.vesperheliotropic.com/

  48. i liked this post as I’m very interested in Psychology as well as the creative field. i believe that people assume that attractive individuals must surely be confident, but agree w. the article that even attractive people {whether they know it or not} need reassurance and have insecurities, just as everyone does… {maybe even more at times}… interesting!!
    xx, kristina

  49. Interesting… I agree that there is a confidence and stigma that surround good looking people. I don’t agree that that makes them any more intelligent but WE do (I include myself) seem to get better opportunities then someone whom you might refer to as unattractive. Any advantage that is gleamed from our outward appearance albeit unfair is human nature. We are attracted to the attractive. I could go into a complete psychology analyses of why this is but I think you covered that perfectly and it is a fact that can’t be denied.

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