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Monday, June 21, 2010

How Beautiful?

Beauty often changes critical situations and even life. Think of your attitude toward lesser, repugnant insects versus your conception of something like a butterfly in the natural setting. Your mind is predisposed to treat the butterfly with respect and preserve its life because of its pleasant aesthetics. Many other uglier insects such as common flying ants are harmless but because they lack your perception of beauty, you assume the uglies are unworthy to live, so you normally kill the poor bugs.

The psychology of beauty is complex  and the exacting concept of beauty is as yet undefined but beauty does often lie in the eyes of the beholder or how individuals perceive other people or things. Things that appeal to your senses and all objects that are compatible with your personal preferences are often described as beautiful.

The projection of your needs perceives the beauty, so beautiful objects or persons simply cater to your idealizations or fancies and reflect your natural need to relate to all that is appealing. Saberi Roy (Reflections In Psychology, 2009) states, "Human beings are controlled by the senses and we tend to repeat processes or experiences that appeal to the senses, that are harmonious and have structure and form. Beauty appeals to our sense of sight so there is a preference for repeating the experience of beauty."

Even though he knows the perception of beauty can change, Roy concludes that several theories of beauty presently exist. He elaborates on the following theories:

1. Beauty as Symmetry and Proportion - to find beauty in perfectly shaped and sharp proportional features.

2. Beauty as a whole rather than parts - to find beauty in a broad holistic view (a rose as beautiful - less attentive towards each petal but more consideration to the symmetry of the flower as a whole).

3. Beauty as projection and wish fulfillment - to find beauty in idolized personal or inner fancies similar to someone known or admired.

4. Beauty as innocence and charm - to find beauty in the inherent ability to attract individuals with the sheer force of personality and presence that connects good looks with social confidence.

5. Beauty as a product of culture and society - to find beauty in an accepted concept that seems to change with time as society changes and the perception of beauty varies in different cultures.

Most agree, you have a tendency subconsciously to treat attractive people with more respect and care, as if less attractive people deserved less. Don't you often hear people cursing other people when inconvenienced? They say things such as “Ugly bitch! Block my way and make me miss my appointment! I hope you fall down!” And you know, most of these same people would be less likely to curse if the person blocking them were an Angelina Jolie lookalike.

This so-called Halo Effect refers to a cognitive bias whereby the perception of one trait (i.e. a characteristic of a person or object) is influenced by the perception of another trait (or several traits) of that person or object.The prominent trait overshadows (halos) other possible negative traits, so we give the prominent trait(s) more positive consideration. (E.L. Thorndike, E. L., "A Constant Error on Psychological Rating," Journal of Applied Psychology, IV, 1920)

Soloman Asch ("Forming Impressions of Personality, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,41, 1946) did much work with this bias to find attractiveness as one of the most important central traits in the Halo Effect. You often judge attractive people as having a more desirable personality and more skills than someone of average appearance. In other words, you assume that if an individual is good looking, that person must be good in other ways, too. You might even assume good looking people are more intelligent and more popular, and are thus more likely to get away with committing a serious crime compared to those who are unattractive. And, some believe you just may be right.                        

One theory behind this halo effect is that it is accurate -- attractive people are indeed more successful. If you are confident in the self-perception of your looks, and others further perpetuate this confidence with healthy feedback, you may just be more successful. Your own drive and spirit are stimulated to greater heights.

Various studies show your beauty gets you more attention and higher evaluations from teachers, more personalized care from doctors, and lighter sentences from the legal system than those cursed with major imperfection. 

Poets have forever raved about beauty. Brave men have started wars over nothing more than beauty. Women the world over constantly have striven for it. Scholars have devoted their lives to deconstructing the impulse to obtain it. Ordinary mortals erect temples to beauty. Yes, in just about every way imaginable, the world honors physical beauty. 

So, the next time you go out of your way to swat a fly or squish an icky insect, consider whether that attitude has crept its way into your personal acceptance and view of others. Beauty does change in its cultural and societal definitions. People can also appreciate and value beauty in all its strange and intricate forms. Most people who make tremendous contributions to the world are judged by their inside attractiveness, not by their physical beauty.

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