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