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wundayatta's avatar

Are humans hypocrites when acting as if inner beauty is more important than outer beauty?

Asked by wundayatta (58706points) August 21st, 2008

Evolutionary biology has theories about why beauty is a trait that enhances survival. It also seems to be associated with other traits that make one better able to compete, such as intelligence!

Yet, we all just know we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. We all are taught that beauty is only skin deep, and inner beauty is more important than outer beauty. The evolutionary biologists would say we don’t “know” this at all, but in our society, we’ve agreed to maintain this fiction that we look beyond surface beauty to inner beauty.

Let’s assume the evolutionary biologists are correct. If so, why do we behave like this? Why is it so bad to use looks as an indicator of quality, when, in fact, it IS an indicator of quality? It seems so unfair, I know. It seems so wrong. So what’s going on here? Are we natural hypocrites, or is there something deeper happening?

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46 Answers

augustlan's avatar

I don’t think we’re hypocrites, exactly. While looks are important in an initial evaluation, insides are more important in the long haul. We use both to determine if a person is worthy of our interest.

Scrumpulator's avatar

Its all a matter of perspective man, some tribes beauty is decided on how many scars you have. Some, how long your neck is, people put rings around their necks to stretch it, if those rings come off, they die. I don’t think that we are hypocrites, we don’t chose our leaders by their looks, if we did, our nation would fall.

It’s the circumstance that dictates the looking in or out. We look in when we are trying to find strengths, like for job positions and employment. We look out initially when we are looking for a mate, a lover, even friends, and once this has past our personal test, then we look in,

It is all about perspective, And I believe that the in or out is dictated by necessity, We look out when thinking about wive or a husband, its a primal thing to consider for our offspring. After all we all want healthy babies. But now in today’s society, We look in a lot faster then 200 years ago, because we have higher standards in morals, ethics, and intelligence then before. 200 years ago, a farming girl would want a good strong husband. today, you don’t have to be a good strong husband as much as your inner beauty would have to contain intelligence and ingenuity as these are attributes that will better serve survival in an economic oriented and not farm oriented world.

So, no we are not hypocrites, these things are only decided factors of circumstance, and they change with fluctuation according to need.

wundayatta's avatar

@scrumpulator: Oh dear. In fact, there is strong evidence that we do choose our leaders by looks. Or, at least, looks play a fairly significant role in our choices. They placed pictures of politicians competing in an election in front of a bunch of college students, and asked them to pick their favorite. These were minor elections in different parts of the country that the students would have never heard of or seen.

Guess what? In some 60% of the cases, they chose the actual winner of the election, purely based on looks! This is a statistically significant difference, and indicates that looks play a strong role in our choices. Scary, eh?

robmandu's avatar

< < wants to know if we can flag the ass avatar. Yuck.

wundayatta's avatar

More data for you all to chew on. There is this common misconception that notions of beauty are different around the world. Scrumpulator uses the example of scars (although I don’t understand how that’s different from the US where people are scarring and tattooing and piercing themselves like crazy these days, but let’s assume there is a difference).

Once again, people have studied notions of beauty all over the world, and they have found many areas of similarity, primarily in terms of symmetry of features. Again, they place pictures of folks around the world in front of people, and no matter what culture you’re from, people identify the same photos as being beautiful.

robmandu's avatar

This is a question of maturity.

There is plenty of hotness out there wrapped around internal greatness. I’m lucky to have snagged one.

But there will always be the folks that only chase the hotness and then wonder later why the relationship is shallow and meaningless and doesn’t last.

It’s because those folks who do that have not yet elected to grow up, nor address the things that are significant to a real relationship. Therefore, they’re stuck in the evolutionary conundrum you present here.

The evolutionary argument only holds reign if you talk about removing rational thought from the equation… leaving only instinct and emotion. But people have the ability to use their intelligence to rise beyond that… if they ever choose to.

Bri_L's avatar

I think your a hypocrite if you say inner beauty is as important or more and don’t mean it or act otherwise.

I had never heard that beauty was associated with other traits that make one better able to compete, such as intelligence. Do you mean if your pretty you may actually be smarter to? I would want to see the data on that.

I guess I don’t know, I have known a lot more “pretty” people who were complete and total shallow, pretentious, narcissistic jerks than plain or not so pretty people. Not a very good indicator of “quality” to me. But Then I have known truly beautiful people who were so inside and out as well. Rare but true.

wrestlemaniac's avatar

well it depends on the type of person you are.

bridold's avatar

I have to agree with Scrumpulator and augustlan…

I don’t think I could word it better than they did.

willbrawn's avatar

no. Inner beauty is very important. I have meet some really ugly people and they were physically gorgeous.

wrestlemaniac's avatar

true that, and if you love someone, then you would love them for what’s on the inside not out.

Tone's avatar

Our social systems don’t necessarily line up with our biological/evolutionary motivations. Because we have notions of fairness and equality (though how really selfless these are themselves could be easily argued), we try to encourage each other to ignore what we think of as superficialities. Our biology, however, often compels us to act in a different way.

Humans are a pretty unique species in that we have this conflict. We are animals, and in that sense our purpose is to reproduce ourselves and little else. Commonly held ideas of physical beauty are thought to match up with genetic quality. We also have higher intelligence and a high degree of self-awareness, which often leads us to different conclusions than our biological instincts. In my opinion, these things work together—it’s a balance. Our sense of morality and fairness is also an evolutionary advantage, but in any species there will be traits that compete against each other in some way. In the end, the combination of these traits makes us even more successful, if not always consistent in our behavior—i.e. hypocritical.

wundayatta's avatar

Studies and articles about the link between beauty and intelligence:

From the Economist

Symmetry is correlated with beauty; beauty is correlated with intelligence and success

The dissertation of one of the main researchers into the link between beauty and intelligence

Abstract from a conference for a paper connecting beauty and intelligence

Prokosch, Mark (U. of New Mexico)
Yeo, Ron (U. of New Mexico)
Miller, Geoffrey (U. of New Mexico)

Evidence For A General Fitness Factor: Psychometric Estimates Of G Predict Correlations With Body Symmetry

Intelligence is sexually attractive. We propose that this sexual preference arose because general intelligence (the g factor) is a reliable indicator of “good genes” and developmental stability. Just as bodily symmetry advertises developmental stability at the morphological level, intelligence may advertise developmental stability at the level of brain development and cognitive functioning. In line with this hypothesis, Furlow, Armijo-Prewitt, Gangestad, & Thornhill (1997) showed that body symmetry correlates positively with performance on one intelligence test (the CFIT). Our results go further in establishing the existence of a general ‘fitness factor’ superordinate to both g (intelligence) and symmetry (bodily developmental stability). For a sample of 78 male U. students, we measured body symmetry (using an average of 10 measures) and performance on five different mental tests: Ravens Progressive Matrices, WAIS III Vocabulary, Shipley Vocabulary, Digit Span Forward, and Digit Span Backward. G was estimated in two ways – as total Ravens score and as the first principle component of the total test battery. Body symmetry predicted higher Ravens scores (r =.394 ), as well as the first PC (r = .268) but not second PC. Vocabulary scores also predicted symmetry (r = .266, for WAIS III, r = .245 for Shipley), but digit span scores did not. These results suggest that general ability or g is more strongly related to developmental stability than other more specific cognitive factors are. Thus, g may be highly valid indicator of resistance to developmental instability, which may explain its sexual attractiveness.

Geoffrey Miller Psychology, Logan Hall 160
U. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131–1161
United States

phred78's avatar

@daloon: I watched a TV show the other day, talking about it. Beauty is an equation and it repeats itself across nature. Except we humans only see what we want to see, so for me someone might be beautiful and ugly to other people.

The one thing that I find amazing is that an ugly person soon becomes beautiful when you start spending them with him/her. It’s like the outside suddenly stops being important and you just forget about their excessively oily hair and enormous pimples :P

flameboi's avatar

not everyone…

wundayatta's avatar

@phred78: I think that’s a wonderful thing. I’m glad you are that way. I’m not. I used to beat myself up about it, because it was important to me to be a nice person and not to treat anyone unfairly. Now I understand why I can’t make my emotions fit with my intellect. Now I see there is a good reason to be attracted, based on beauty.

I suspect you are a rare person, and that the vast majority of people are more impacted by beauty than their ability to see inside. And remember, these studies are done using randomized samples. Despite all your individual experiences here, this place is unlikely to be full of people who are similar to the general population. So your experience does not invalidate the studies.

phred78's avatar

@daloon: I wasn’t talking about meeting the love of my life. I was talking about people you meet in general. Of course you have extremes. Sleazy dirty people with bad breath are not exactly my friends. But that’s a different thing, I think. Ok, maybe I exaggerated…

wundayatta's avatar

@phred: I have no idea what to say to that! Hey! What’s the confused emoticon? Anyway, imagine that here.

wrestlemaniac's avatar

well i think humans are people who say one thing and think another.

phred78's avatar

Confused emoticon: :S

wrestlemaniac's avatar

i’ll be honest sometimes when i look at a girl i first see them for what’s outside, but when i get to know them i feel ashamed at myself and see them for what’s inside.

mee_ouch's avatar

Both animals and humans are innately pre-disposed for social interaction. Most animals exhibit various behaviours that have been stereotyped as species-specific. The survival of most species figures heavily on social behaviours. Aggression is one behaviour innate to both humans and animals and is a fundamental determinant of ‘survival’. The notion that beauty is ‘skin-deep’ is rooted in cognitive thought and utilized as a tactic to “even” the odds of said survival. Physical beauty is simply an asset. Although it may aid in initiating communication, survival is not wholly dependant on it and may still be at risk for both humans and animals if the ‘eye-candy’ fails to deliver the goods. In the animal world, even the most colourful plummages have their limitations. Such limitations are correlational to displays of communication more than physical attributes. Communication that, for the animal world, is limited mainly to inherited behaviour patterns. In contrast, the human brain’s ability to function at a cognitive level, is what most determines his/her survival. And that depends not only on biological capability, but learning and cultural differences as well. Hypocrasy? Nah….
We’re simply using our noodles!

wrestlemaniac's avatar

mmmmm. nooodles. (homer Simpson’s voice)

Bri_L's avatar

@ daloon – Thank you! I read all the articles and that is amazing reading! I don’t quite follow how the physical attributes translate into mental ability, but clearly it has been well studied and proven. Thanks again.

With reference to this: “I used to beat myself up about it, because it was important to me to be a nice person and not to treat anyone unfairly. Now I understand why I can’t make my emotions fit with my intellect. Now I see there is a good reason to be attracted, based on beauty.” Are you saying that you would ignore someone of marginal beauty who has a great personality and intellect because of your own intelligence?

I would also suggest that the majority of us wouldn’t fall into what the “studies”, or those who trust their “intellect”, judge to be beautiful enough to be the “complete package”, that is to say Outer beauty with inner beauty and intellect. So, perhaps by an evolutionary process, due to the lack of choice the “beautiful people” have, we have developed a different sense of what is important. We are able to look to inner beauty and accept “flawed” exterior.

All I know is my wife is a stunner, I mean a head turning hot 37 year old getting hit on 19 year old college students, mensa IQ level person, and not a day goes by I don’t feel blessed that she is one of the few beautiful people who looks inside.

wildflower's avatar

Beauty is boring!
Sure it’s nice to look at. So is a sunset or a pretty painting, but does it challenge you, invigorate you, engage you, make you laugh, make you blush and just crave more?? It doesn’t do that to me! That takes charm, style and wit!

Just my 2 cents.

Bri_L's avatar

Edit: I just realized I lost the end to my last paragraph. And I wouldn’t change the 11 going on 12 years I have had with her for the world no matter what she looked like.

To further the discussion, outer beauty can be fleeting. You can gain weight, lose your hair etc. What happens then.

wundayatta's avatar

Well, I will forever be grateful that women overlook the lack of outer beauty. I, too, overlook it in women, which is a good thing, I believe. But it is dismaying to me that I constantly look, and the women I look at are the goodlooking ones. It further dismays me that if there is a smart person with good looks and a smart person who is only ok looking at a table, I will spend the majority of my time with the smart person who is easy on the eyes (and, no doubt, be having DOM fantasies while I’m talking to her).

Bri_L's avatar

Another interesting thought is how our ideas of what is good looking has changed over the decades and centuries.

gailcalled's avatar

The French have a lovely expression; “Une jolie laide.” It applies to a female, only, but not surprisingly, knowing the French.

And some cultures worship callipygean women.

marinelife's avatar

I do not accept that intelligence correlates with beauty necessarily. Otherwise, wherefore the dumb blonde stereotype. Can you say Paris Hilton? The brilliant Britney Spears?

Is Stephen Hawking beautiful? Albert Einstein?

Also, I agree completely with phred78. I have found that so true and, in my case, it goes both ways. If I meet someone and get to know them, my feelings about that person are based on whether I respect them, whether they are funny, kind. Beautiful people who do not act in a beautiful way appear quite ugly to me.

While it is undeniable that a host of shallow factors such as height in men, beauty in both sexes, last name translate to more easily achieved success in our culture, they are not the only factors people are judged on.

Not having them does not mean you can’t be successful. Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir ruled nations and no one would have called either one even attractive. Most people would call Naomi Campbell beautiful, but she has a very ugly soul. Her beauty has not kept the world from seeing that and her for what she is.

I think a failure to look beyond the surface indicates a lack in the perceiver.

scamp's avatar

@robmandu flagged to no avail!

wundayatta's avatar

@Marina: The statistics refer to averages. There is still variation, and so some beautiful people will be dumb, just as some average looking people will be really smart (a fact of which I, personally, am very glad). That there are folks who go against the trend can be true at the same time as it can be true that, on average, beautiful people are smarter.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’m often distrustful of people who are really good looking. Maybe it has to do with growing up in L.A., but when I see these people I automatically think they are vain, shallow, and only interested in becoming famous. So, I guess I’m another one who doesn’t fit the stats.

wundayatta's avatar

@tinyfaery: Oh, I do that, too. I always told myself they were airheads. I thought they also had an unfair advantage, so, to the best of my ability, I was not going to help them.

And yet… I don’t actually carry out that vow. Because I also want to treat people based on talent, not based on how they look. The people I hire tend to be good looking young women. So that makes it look like prejudice in favor of airheads. In fact, they are nothing but airheads. They are the most talented of the applicant pool. Still, it doesn’t look good when I have a ratio of six goodlooking women to every many I hire. I swear, I don’t plan this. So maybe there is something to the stats?

tinyfaery's avatar

@daloon I think people hire people who they would like to be around, who they comfortable with (for whatever reason). You should look up those statistics. Do blacks hire blacks? Do gays hire other gays? I know there is a prejudice regarding hiring the good-looking over the not so good-looking. Are you attractive? Do you want to be around other good-looking people? What’s your reason? Maybe the fact that you like to be around pretty people says more about you than it does people in general.

wundayatta's avatar

@tinyfaery: I don’t know if you understood me. I don’t want to hire people because they are attractive. I want to hire people because they are competent. In fact, I believe I do hire people based on competence. However, the people I hire also happen to be attractive. So it could look as if I’m hiring based on looks, but I’m not.

I’m not attractive. Perhaps one of the many reasons I choose the avatar I have. If you think my avatar is ugly, then you’d have a heart attack if you saw me.

tinyfaery's avatar

I tell this to my clients all the time.—It doesn’t matter what you want to do, we all want to do a lot of things. What matters is what you actually do. If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. If you are aware of it, you can change it.

arcoarena's avatar

Inner beauty has a way of affecting outer beauty.

A true and sound individual with a good heart and lots of personality can come off more attractive in my opinion than someone who may be slightly more physically appealing body but less personality.

But people will always judge each other. THAT is part of human nature I think however ridiculous a habit it is.

alive's avatar

wow. talk about over simplified…

1st of all to compare beauty with ALL other traits is highly over simplified because there are countless things that can be attributed to survival tacticts or “quality” as you put it in a person.

MORE importantly though (and i find it funny as well) is the term “beauty” but you have left it undefinded. Are we talking about an attractive face?
belly button?

everyone has somethings attractive (physically) about them, and everyone has somethings that aren’t attractive about them.


Knotmyday's avatar

I love the concept of jolie-laide. I am soo attracted to unconventional beauty, especially women with large noses. not a fetish, to clarify
Of course, the aquiline profile is just the initial head-turner. Couple that with wit and intellect, and I am in deep smit.

Sereene's avatar

Whith regard to evolution—

It’s survival of the fittest, not survival of the most beautiful. That being said – I’ll buy that it’s a criteria for survival. Peacocks don’t get eaten when they fluff their feathers. ;) But, I look at it a little differently—

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Everything (yes literlly everything, if you view without judgement) is beautiful in its own way. We’re all beautiful. So then, YES, beauty would be a factor because all living creatures have beauty. It levels the playing field for that criteria. Even if you don’t think someone is attractive, someone else will. Who is the universal judge to say? And yes – I understand there are factors such as facial symetry, etc. that have been scientificaly proven as attractive…

Back to the ‘fittest’ notion. Really healthy, fit people are also often attractive. The two go hand in hand. And statistically then, more beautiful people would survive. If you’re being attacked by a mountain lion, and he thinks you’re so beautiful you’ll be tasty, you’ll go first.

It depends on the situation. In the case of human interaction, not purely science – human to human – I guess we all better hope for the one who’s threatening to find us beautiful.

With regard to inner beauty vs outer beauty—

Staying with my belief that all humans are beautiful in their own way… it’s not a person’s looks that will keep you warm at night, put your best interests at heart, or love you to pieces when you’re having a bad day. It’s their mind, heart, and soul that does that. If they’re pretty (for you) to look at, it’s a bonus! You can find a perfectly beautiful shell with nothing inside that connects with you as a person. How dull. So I don’t think we’re hypocrites, beauty (read: attraction) is important and unique to each of us. But it’s what’s inside that counts.

wundayatta's avatar

If more “beautiful” people are more intelligent, then, in fact, the person’s look do correlate with staying warmer at night, having your best interests at heart, and all that other stuff.

Intelligence has a very clear survival value, and beauty seems to be a good indicator of intelligence. Humans have been getting smarter over the generations (about 20 points per generation on intelligence tests), and, if I recall an article I read a while back, we are also getting more beautiful, on average.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. Many will play off that folly because of the negative reaction people take when it is believed that a person is summed up by their appearance more than their personality. People are not meals and most people go by what they see before they think of other factors. Like we are hardwired to love babies we are hardwired to like things and people that are pleasing to the eye. Exactly what is beautiful I guess lies on who is doing the looking? I have seen obese women with a toddler in tow and a new born in the buggy. She apparently had someone that thought she was attractive enough to be intimate with, more than once.

Who can say exactly who is and who isn’t attractive, the only measuring stick we have is flawed. What is attractive in one nation or community is not in another. I know in this community I am not seen as very attractive, I could not walk into a bar and walk out with just about any gal I wished. I did not have cheerleaders fighting over me to go to prom in high school or begging me to take their promise ring. I was basically ignored or avoided by most females. I was always thought of as a great guy once they got the chance to know me but our getting to know each other was not hinged on how well I looked. Took me a while to accept that but after I did I knew the pool of women was way smaller and the search would be harder, but if a obese woman can get corked up twice I could find someone too.

Pretty is not the only thing in a relationship, because eventually beauty will fade or be taken away by a tragic accident and if all you have is looks then the relationship is doomed.

Good-looks is more like the shingle or window sticker that attracts the buyer, the merchandise has to still be good. I could not imagine being with a woman that looked this if she was a sharp as a bag of bowling balls, arrogant, mean to clerks and servers, hot-headed, whiny, dishonest, un-loyal and violent.

People who don’t or can’t admit off the bat looks rule the day before personality get its chance are rather hypocritical; no one goes to a party and say ”check out her over there, I bet she knows a lot about Shakespeare and loves to laugh a lot”.

wundayatta's avatar

Well done, @Hypocrisy_Central. I just wanted to point out one situation where your last statement might not be as true, and that is at an academic party.

MacBean's avatar

” one goes to a party and say ”check out her over there, I bet she knows a lot about Shakespeare and loves to laugh a lot”.”
…I do.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@wundayatta I just wanted to point out one situation where your last statement might not be as true, and that is at an academic party.
How many people are going to be at parties full of scholars and intellectuals? Most are going to be at parties with beer, booze, hot wings, ribs, and women they hope to score with, and not because she knows Pi to 1,000 places. ;-)

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