Writing About Pretty Dumb People Turns Out Pretty Dumb

Are pretty people dumb? Or just lazy? That's the issue at the heart of Eric Felton's piece in today's Wall Street Journal. The problem with the article, however, is that it makes your feelings feel confused.

Felton points to a paper recently published in the European Journal of Social Psychology:

A group of women took an intelligence test to set a baseline for their smarts, and then each walked around, all the while being videotaped (sometimes the camera was held by a man, sometimes by a woman). Each volunteer was shown her video, and then given another IQ test. By and large, the scores on the second test dropped — especially if the videographer was male.

This supposedly proves that if someone is looking at you (i.e., you are attractive), your IQ drops. Or: You're distracted enough to score poorly on a test.

Also this:

[A different study finds that] young people who are more attractive are also more likely to indulge in binge drinking. Which has a certain raw logic to it: The handsome and the pretty get invited to more parties.

And this:

A few years ago I heard corporate raider Carl Icahn explain why so many companies are so poorly run… He said that too many firms are run by CEOs who got where they are through boyish good looks and fraternity-president bonhomie.

Here are the problems with trying to figure out what to think and how to feel about all this:

  • How did the researchers define "attractive?" Isn't beauty in the eye of the beholder? Maybe the teens all had the same "look," as is the case with cliques, but does that mean they were all hotties?
  • Felton uses Scooby Doo's Daphne and Velma to make a point, writing: "Daphne was the dingbat ingénue, vacuous, vain and impeccably turned-out. Velma, by contrast, was the geeky brainiac, traits signaled by her wide, plain face, high-refracting eyeglasses, frumpy mop of hair and shapeless sweater. The cartoonists expected us to know, just at a glance, which of the two was smart." Yeah… But those characters were created 40 years ago. Today many would find Velma — with her hipster glasses and haircut — fairly foxy. We have a culture of geek chic! We also have movies like She's All That, which inform millions that the face behind the glasses is hot! Not to mention: People like Harvard grad Natalie Portman, Brown student Emma Watson, businesslady Ivanka Trump and Marissa Mayer of Google debunk the pretty=dumb theory.
  • Felton asks, "Were you to view two pictures, one of a fellow who resembles Bill Gates and the other a Fabio doppelganger, wouldn't you make a quick assumption about which was a genius and which was a dolt?" Maybe, but only because they look just like two famous people?
  • The illustrative photograph accompanying this story is an old-ish picture of Jessica Simpson. Rude! And: Sad.
  • Generalizations suck.

In conclusion: Do some attractive people rest on their laurels and underdevelop their brains? Sure. And some don't.

A Pretty Dumb Hypothesis About Good Looks [WSJ]