Doing good may make people look better

0:00
play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
  • Although beauty can be highly subjective, studies show people usually agree on who is attractive and who is less so. 
  • Previous research shows that people attribute other positive characteristics to people they consider beautiful, such as intelligence and good social skills. 
  • In three studies conducted in the U.S. among adults, teens and the elderly, those rated as more attractive were more likely to volunteer without their volunteering history being known.
  • The findings of these three studies also contradict stereotypes that physically attractive people are shallow or mean. 

Giving is good for you.

For years, researchers have been finding that people who support charities or volunteer for causes can benefit from being generous.

For example, they might learn new things, meet new people or make others whom they care about happier. Researchers have also found that giving may make the givers themselves happiermore confident and even physically healthier.

READ MORE: Mandela Day's 67 minutes will never be enough - we need to learn the habits of empathy daily - expert

As experts on the science of giving, we looked into whether there’s another possible upside to doing good: physical attractiveness. It may seem surprising, but across three peer-reviewed studies, we found that others rate people who give money or volunteer for nonprofits, give to their friends and even register as organ donors as more attractive. We also found that more attractive people are also more likely to give in various ways.

While our findings may raise eyebrows, we actually weren’t too surprised – the personal benefits of being generous are well established in our field.

3 studies

Our first study examined data from a large, nationally representative sample of older U.S. adults. We found that seniors who volunteered were rated as more attractive by interviewers than those who did not volunteer – despite the fact that the raters were unaware of respondents’ volunteering status.

The second study analysed data from a nationally representative sample of U.S. teens for several years. We found that those who volunteered as teenagers were rated as more attractive once they became young adults. We also found the reverse: Those rated as more attractive by interviewers as teenagers were more likely to volunteer when they grew up. Again, raters did not know about participants’ volunteering history.

Our third study used data collected from a sample of Wisconsin teenagers from 1957 until 2011. We found that teens whose yearbook photos were rated as more attractive by 12 raters were more likely to give money over 40 years later, compared to their less attractive peers. We also found that these adult givers were rated as more attractive by interviewers than nongivers around 13 years later, when they were around the age of 72.

In all three studies, raters were asked to give their opinions on how good-looking participants were, using a rating scale where lower numbers meant less attractive, and higher numbers meant more so. Although beauty can be in the eye of the beholder, people often agree on who is more or less attractive.

READ MORE: Bonang on how she’s making the world a better place to live in – ‘educating the girl child has a ripple effect’ 

A halo effect

Our results suggest that giving could make people better-looking, and that being more attractive could make people more likely to donate to charity or volunteer.

These findings build on previous research indicating that beauty confers a “halo” – people attribute other positive characteristics to them, such as intelligence and good social skills.

These halos may explain why attractive people tend to marry better-looking and more educated spouses and are more likely to be employed and make more money.

Those higher earnings, logically, mean that good-looking people have more money to give away. They also make more friends, which means they have larger social networks – subjecting them to more requests to donate and volunteer.

Not just a bias toward beauty

Because we were aware of this beauty bias, in all three of our studies, we statistically controlled for demographic factors such as gender, marital status and income.

We also controlled for respondents’ mental health, physical health and religious participation, given their links to both attractiveness and giving.

So, we know that our results are not explained by these preexisting differences. In other words, it is not merely that more attractive people are more likely to be married, richer, healthier or happier – and therefore more likely to give.

But, there could be other alternative explanations that were not measured.

READ MORE: Nomzamo Mbatha continues fight for quality education in South Africa with Cotton On Foundation 

Why this happens

We would love to know whether doing good actually causes people to be more good-looking. But it is not possible to figure that out for sure.

For example, in studies on what smoking does to your health, scientists could not require some participants to be long-term smokers and other participants to avoid tobacco altogether. Such arrangements would not be ethical or even possible.

Similarly, we can’t require some participants to be long-term givers and others to never volunteer or support charities. Most people give in some way, so asking them to stop would not be realistic, or even ethical.

Still, by following what a group of specific individuals do over time, we can discover whether giving at one time can predict whether someone will be more physically attractive at another time – just like we know that people who smoke have higher rates of lung cancer than those who don’t.

Overall, using the best available evidence, we find that it is indeed possible that doing good today may make you appear better-looking tomorrow.

To be sure, we don’t know why beauty and doing good are linked. But it’s possible that people who take care of others are also more likely to take care better care of themselves. This possibility is supported by our previous research showing that volunteers are more likely to get flu shots and take other health precautions.

Taken together, our three studies confirm the link between moral and physical beauty that was described in ancient Greece by the poet Sappho: “He who is fair to look upon is good, and he who is good, will soon be fair also.”

Our findings also contradict myths that beautiful people are shallow or mean, as suggested in the movie “Legally Blonde” and countless other “mean-girls” films about teens. Instead, we have found another way that doing good could be good for you.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.  

Follow us on social media: FacebookTwitterInstagram

Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our stories and giveaway.

The Conversation

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
What part of your lifestyle are you most conscious about when it comes to sustainability and ethical consumption?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Clothing and accessories
13% - 39 votes
Skincare products and makeup
15% - 47 votes
Food and home
72% - 224 votes
Vote