First Impressions: the Effect of Physical Attractiveness and Personality on Relationships
Sponsored by Missouri Western State University Sponsored by a grant from the National Science Foundation DUE-97-51113
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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
GONZALES, C. L. (2000). First Impressions: the Effect of Physical Attractiveness and Personality on Relationships. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

First Impressions: the Effect of Physical Attractiveness and Personality on Relationships
CASEY L. GONZALES
LOYOLA UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS DEPARTMENT OF PSYCHOLOGY

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (bhalla@loyno.edu)
ABSTRACT
This study investigated the pursuance of relationships based on first impressions. The sample consisted of 89 undergraduate students from Loyola University of New Orleans that were over 18 years of age. The independent variables were gender, appearance, and personality. The dependent variable was the pursuance of the relationship based on the three independent variables. The hypothesis was that men would prefer physical attractiveness over personality when pursuing any type of relationship (dating or friendship) and women would prefer physical attractiveness when pursuing a dating relationship but would prefer personality to physical attractiveness when pursuing a friendship. The results showed that personality rather than physical attractiveness was an important factor to both men and women when pursuing a dating relationship or friendship.

INTRODUCTION
It is a popular belief that a first impression is a lasting impression. First impressions are important because they are the initial idea that a person forms about another person and it determines whether a person decides to pursue any type of relationship with anyone. People tend to form impressions of each other rather quickly. They use minimal information, such as the sex of the person, appearance, or a brief encounter to draw conclusions about each other; these types of factors can lead people to form remarkably detailed impressions (Taylor, Pepau, & Sears, 2000). The observation that a person is wearing conservative clothes, such as a suit and tie, for example, may lead to the interpretation of a variety of other characteristics, such as being conservative politically, or having a conservative job, such as a business man. People also use behavior to draw conclusions about others. For example, if someone observes a classmate helping an elderly person across the street, he or she concludes that the classmate is thoughtful and helpful. The three characteristics that affect interpersonal attractiveness across a range of social relationships are warmth, competence, and physical attractiveness. In 1977, Folks and Sears (as cited by Taylor, et. Al) defined the characteristic of warmth as a positive outlook and positive attitude towards people and things. The characteristic of competence matters mostly when it depends on the nature of the relationship that he/she has with a person. For example, people like their friends to be good conversationalists, and people who bring in their cars to be fixed expect mechanics to be good at fixing cars. The importance of competence is demonstrated in research done by Leary, Rogers, Canfield, and Coe (as cited by Taylor, et. al) in 1986. Their research was based on being a good conversationalist. In one study, college students gave descriptions of boring versus interesting speakers. The students reported that they were bored with speakers who talked too much about themselves; they also reported being bored by people who are overly passive, tedious, and serious in their interactions. According to Berscheid and Reis (1998; as cited by Taylor, et. Al), the third characteristic, physical attractiveness, is the most difficult of the three characteristics because it is hard to avoid forming impressions of people based on their appearance. One reason is the stereotype that a person who is physically attractive has other positive qualities as well. Jackson, Hunter and Hodge (1995; as cited by Taylor, et. al) state that attractive people also are believed to possess qualities that seem irrelevant to physical beauty, such as mental health, dominance, and intelligence. Teachers evaluate cuter students as being smarter and more popular than unattractive students with identical academic records (Clifford and Walster, 1978; as cited by Taylor, et. Al). Students rated a lecture by a female teacher more interesting and judged the woman to be a better teacher when she was made up to look more attractive, rather than plain (Chaikin, Gillen, Derlega, Heinen, and Wilson, 1978; as cited by Taylor, et. Al). Attractive defendants sometimes even receive sentences that are more lenient when they are perceived as physically attractive (Mazzella and Feingold, 1994; as cited by Taylor, et. Al). One study conducted by Cunningham (1986) showed that beauty contest winners that have "widely spaced eyes, small noses, small chins, wide pupils, high eyebrows, and a big smile" were assumed to be more intelligent, sociable, and personable (as cited by Dushkin Online). Although these research studies showed that physical attractiveness is connected with assumed good qualities, research suggests that the stereotypes about attractive people are unfounded and there appears to be no link between looks and intelligence, happiness, dominance, or mental health (Feingold, 1992; as cited by Taylor, et. al). Observing people and their behaviors will help others choose the characteristics that are most important to them when pursuing any type of relationship. The characteristics of warmth, competence and physical attractiveness are important influences when choosing romantic partners and mates. Extensive research on heterosexual mate selection documents that several consistent sex differences exist in the qualities that people search for in a mate. Many studies showed that although both sexes view a partner`s physical attractiveness as an asset, men placed greater value on the physical attributes of a partner than women did (Feingold, 1990; Jackson, 1992; as cited by Taylor et. al). In a national survey of Americans, women were more willing than men to marry someone who was not "good looking"(Sprecher, Sullivan, & Hatfield, 1994). Women also prefer older partners while men prefer younger partners. Women place greater emphasis on a partner`s economic resources than men do. Men were more willing than women to marry someone who was not likely to have a steady job, earned more, and had more education. These sex differences have been found not only in the United States but in a wide range of other cultures as well (Buss, 1989). This topic of gender differences in forming relationships has been an important topic in the development of evolutionary explanations for social behavior in humans (Sprecher, et. Al, 1994). Men and women are biologically different in the kind of traits they find desirable when choosing a mate or a friend. For example, Buss (1989; as cited by Taylor, et. al) predicted that men should prefer partners with traits that signify their reproductive value, such as youth and good looks. Women should prefer partners with traits that signify their "potential for resource acquisition", such as status and ambition. It can be assumed that both men and women select specific partners in order to "enhance their reproductive success" (Sprecher et. Al., 1994). The preceding biological facts about gender differences could also refer to sociocultural factors. In other words, men prefer partners who are young and attractive while women prefer a partner who can provide financial stability. This rationalization can be supported by the "traditional sex role socialization and poorer equal opportunities for women" (Sprecher et. Al., 1994). Men are known as the providers who determine the family`s economic and social status and women have been cast homemakers who care for home and children. The reason for this is that women have typically had poorer economic and educational opportunities than men have. Women will seek husbands who will be resourceful providers and for men to seek youthful wives who will devote themselves to domestic activities. The preceding research topics helped develop the hypotheses of the pursuance of relationships based on first impressions. The reason why the following research study differs from previous studies is because it focuses on "first impressions" and how they effect the decision to pursue a relationship or not. Previous studies explain that warmth, competence and physical attractiveness contribute to the process of interpersonal attraction and relationships, but the different researchers did not explain the effects of the three characteristics on first encounters. Sprecher (1994) explains that men and women are biologically different in the kind of traits possessed when choosing to pursue a relationship. Buss (1989) explains that men and women select specific partners in order to "enhance their reproductive success." All of these studies have a good basis for the gender differences based on specific characteristics when choosing a mate or a friend, but they do not have any evidence of pursuing relationships based on first encounters. The first impression is the major factor for people because they use that impression to decide whether to associate with a person or not. Without the actual meeting of a person and the reasons why they decide to pursue a relationship based on the first impression, there would be no basis for certain qualities that men and women look for in relationships. The objective of this research was to study the effect of first impressions when pursuing a relationship based on three variables: sex, personality, and attractiveness. It was hypothesized based on past research that men would prefer physical attractiveness rather than personality when pursuing a dating relationship or friendship. Women would prefer physical attractiveness to personality when pursuing a dating relationship and would prefer personality to physical attractiveness when pursuing a friendship.


METHOD
ParticipantsThe participants in this study were chosen by convenience sampling and consisted of 89 undergraduate students, which consisted of 35 males and 54 females from Loyola University of New Orleans. Each student was over the age of 18 and the participation was voluntary. They were recruited by their professors` announcement of the research study in their classes and the students were offered extra credit for their psychology course or overall course credit.

MaterialsAn informed consent form was provided for the participants to sign in order to give permission to the researchers to participate in the study. The experimenters created a questionnaire with four scenarios that contained a combination of different appearances and elaborate personalities. Each scenario was accompanied by three choices. Each scenario described a different combination of a good personality and physically attractive, a good personality and physically unattractive, a bad personality and physically attractive, and a bad personality and physically unattractive. The three choices that accompany the four scenarios were: a.) pursue a dating relationship with this person, b.) pursue a friendship with this person, c.) pursue no relationship at all with this person. Based on their choices, it was determined whether or not the participant decided to pursue the relationship based on physical attractiveness or personality. For example, if a participant picked "pursue a dating relationship with this person" for the scenario that stated: " During lunch you are disturbed by an obnoxious, loud person who is seated across the room. When you turn to see who is causing the disturbance you realize it is that cute person in your religion class", than it can be assumed that this person does not really care if this person has a nice personality or not, just as long as the person is physically attractive. The participants could choose more than one answer. They could pick "pursue a dating relationship with this person" and "pursue a friendship with this person" if they would like to have either relationship with the person who is described in the scenario. The participants were instructed to choose more than one answer if needed by circling the choice with a pen or pencil.

Design and ProcedureThe type of design is an experiment because the researchers were testing independent variables, which were the sex of the participants, physical attractiveness, and personality and how each of them affected the dependent variable, which was the type of relationship that was pursued. The sex of the participants was defined by determining whether they were male or female. Attractiveness was defined as physical appearance (e.g. attractive, not physically attractive)[American Heritage Dictionary]. Personality was defined as characteristics that are easily determined by a brief encounter with a person (e.g. behavior, speech, arrogant) [American Heritage Dictionary]. The dependent variable in the study was whether a relationship (dating relationship, friendship, or no relationship) was pursued or not. Dating relationship was defined as the partner will be willing to be romantically involved with someone (American Heritage Dictionary). Friendship was defined as relationships not based on romantic feelings, but on similar interests or mutual likings (American Heritage Dictionary). No relationship was defined as no contact other than the first encounter (American Heritage Dictionary). The only control of the study was that the experimenters manipulated the scenarios and each scenario was equal in length. They did not describe how the person in the scenario was attractive; they simply described them as physically attractive so that the participants could imagine exactly what they would find physically attractive. It would not be a valid study if the experimenters described physical characteristics of the person because different people have different interpretations of physical attractiveness. If the experimenters described one of the people in the scenarios in a specific way, than maybe one participant would not find that description physically attractive to them.When the participants entered the room, they were each given two informed consent forms and a questionnaire that were stapled together. The forms were identical and they stated that the participant would not be exposed to any danger by participating in this experiment and that this experiment was being performed in order to study the pursuance of relationships based on first impressions. The forms also explained that the participant could withdraw from the study at any time that he or she felt uncomfortable. The participants signed the bottom of the forms and dated them. The experimenters collected one copy of the form and told the participants to keep the other copy for their records. After signing the consent forms, each participant was instructed to look at the questionnaire and disclose his or her sex by circling either male or female on the top of the paper. After the demographic question, the participants were instructed to read the four scenarios that described situations that introduced four different types of people. They were asked to answer each question asked by circling either "yes" or "no". After the participants handed the questionnaires to one of the experimenters, they debriefed everyone. The experimenters explained that they were trying to find out if males and females differed in their selection of partners or mates based on physical attractiveness or personality. It was explained that research generally shows that males tend to pursue romantic relationships and friendships based on physical attractiveness, and females tend to pursue romantic relationships based on physical attractiveness and they tend to pursue friendships based on personality. It was also explained that the reason why we decided to conduct this experiment because we were curious about the impressions that different people make when we first encounter them. What makes them attractive or unattractive? Why would anyone be interested in getting to know this person as a friend or a possible romantic partner? Why wouldn`t anyone want to get to know them better? The experimenters explained that by conducting this study, they might be able to have these questions answered based on the choices that the participants chose based on the scenarios. The experimenters proceeded by asking the participants if they had any questions. One participant asked about scenario number 2 (see Appendix) and asked about the sentence that stated: "But this is not the type of person that most people would consider physically attractive." He commented that this statement might lead people to think that just because most people do not find this person physically attractive does not mean that everyone will think that this person is unattractive. Based on his statement, he was not sure if he should interpret that the person was unattractive or not. Another participant asked if the experimenters considered the factor of self-esteem. She commented that sometimes people who have low self-esteem might view themselves as unattractive and not desirable enough to have an attractive partner, so they may ultimately pick an unattractive person because they would be able to identify with them easily. These participants brought up good questions that the experimenters would take into consideration in future experiments. After the question/answer session, the participants were thanked and allowed to leave.


RESULTS
It was hypothesized that men and women would prefer physical attractiveness rather than personality when pursuing a dating relationship. The results showed that men would not date an unattractive person with a good personality; however, women would date an unattractive person with a good personality [x(1, N=89)=5.590, p=.02]. These results showed a significant difference between males and females, and it partially supported the hypothesis. The results also showed that both men and women would not date an attractive person with a bad personality [x(1, N=89)=5.706, p=.02]. The results were significant because the majority of women (93%) would not date an attractive person with a bad personality, but only a few men (9 out of 35) would not date an attractive person with a bad personality. It was also hypothesized that women would prefer personality rather than physical attractiveness and men would prefer physical attractiveness to personality when pursuing a friendship. The results showed that both men and women would be friends with an unattractive person with a good personality [x(1, N=89)=.0978, p=.75]. These results partially supported the hypothesis. It was also founded that men and women would be friends with an attractive person with a bad personality [x(1, N=89)=.3068, p=.58]. These results also partially supported the hypothesis. In addition, two validity checks were used in the survey. One check was the combination of an attractive person with a good personality and whether or not men and women would pursue a dating relationship or a friendship with this combination. It was founded that all men and women would pursue a dating relationship [x(1, N=89)=22.75, p=.00] and a friendship [x(1, N=89)=77.40, p=.00]. There was also the combination of an unattractive person with a bad personality. Both men and women would not pursue a dating relationship or a friendship [x(1, N=89)=35.64, p=.00]. These results aided the fact that people were answering questions accurately.


DISCUSSION
The study that was conducted showed that different appearance and personality combinations play a major part in developing first impressions and the pursuance of relationships. This experiment demonstrated many counter-results with the hypotheses. It was expected that men and women would only date someone who is physically attractive, no matter if their personality was good or bad. The results showed that men would date someone who was attractive and possessed a good personality, but would not date someone who was attractive and possessed a bad personality. Women would also date an attractive person with a good personality and would not date an attractive person with a bad personality. Both men and women would not date an unattractive person with a bad personality. The difference was that women would also date an unattractive person with a good personality. This result does go against the hypothesis, but it does support the past research that was conducted by Sprecher, Hatfield and Sullivan in 1994. Their study proved that women would date men who are unattractive as long as they had a nice personality and were able to provide for them financially. It was also expected that men would only pursue a friendship if the person were physically attractive and women would pursue a friendship with an unattractive person who possessed a good personality; both men and women would not be friends with an unattractive person with a bad personality. The results showed that both men and women would be friends with an unattractive person with a good personality. These results did not support the hypothesis that men would only pursue relationships if the person was physically attractive, but they did support past research done by Leary, Rogers, Canfield, and Coe in 1986 on the importance of being a good conversationalist in order to have a meaningful relationship. Another difference that resulted was that both men and women would pursue a friendship with an attractive person with a bad personality. These results support the hypothesis that states "Men would pursue a friendship with an attractive person even if they possessed a bad personality." All of these results demonstrated the prominence of physical attractiveness in the pursuance of relationships, but also showed that personality is a prominent quality also. Depending on the type of appearance/personality combination, there will be the determinant of whether or not someone will want to pursue a relationship based on that first impression.This study will contribute to the greater knowledge of the human race because it demonstrates that first impressions effect people`s opinions and decisions about one another. When a person is meeting someone for the first time, that person should be on his or her best behavior and want the other person to think that the person is interesting and is worthy of a possible relationship. If people read the results of this study, they will realize how important first impressions are when pursuing relationships. Not only do people desire others to be attractive, but people also desire others to have a good personality. Good conversation between two people is one of the keys to a lasting relationship. This study will also contribute to the greater knowledge of social psychology, which is the study of individual`s behaviors. It demonstrates that different appearance and behavior combinations affect the possibility of a relationship. There were not many studies found that tested the prominence of first impressions in different situations. Hopefully this study will spark others to become more curious and interested in studying this topic further. There were a few changes that should have been made in order to enhance validity. The explanation of the questionnaire was not clear enough, and it should have been explained to the participants that they should answer the questions based on their first impression of the person, not because they would like to get to know the person better before deciding to pursue any type of relationship with the person. The scenarios also were unclear about their intent. There were not supposed to be any implications or deep interpretations of the people in the scenarios, but some of the participants thought about them in too much depth. The directions that were given by the experimenters should have stressed the importance of the first impression issue. Once the scenario has been read, the participant should answer it with the instinct that is immediately evident to them. The directions told the participants to "Circle One" (see Appendix) and some participants thought it meant to circle the gender that you would like to pursue a relationship with. One limitation was the fact that people are victims of social desirability. They mainly answer the questions based on what they think they should say, and not what they really think about the questions. Overall, the experiment was a very interesting and enlightening experience and the results added to the study of relationships, which is found in the growing area of social psychology. This study has opened the door for new possibilities in the area of the study of impression formation. Another relationship that could be tested is a business relationship. A good first impression is very important in the workplace, especially if someone is being interviewed for a job. Another relationship that could be tested is a teacher`s first impressions on students. Will a teacher`s first lecture have an effect on a student`s decision to remain or withdraw from the class? Instead of the use of scenarios, experimenters could use confederates in the study that demonstrate different appearance/personality combinations and test participants to see if it has any effect on their opinion of that type of person. These new ideas for research may help people to have a better understanding about the importance of first impressions.


REFERENCES
Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex Differences in Human Mate Preferences: Evolutionary Hypotheses Tested in 37 Cultures. Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12, 1-49.

McGraw Hill Dushkin Online. (2000). Physical Attractiveness and Impression Formation. Exploring Psychology [On-line]. Available: http://www.dushkin.com/connectext/psy/ch15/attract.mhtml

Morris, W. (Eds.). (1978). The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Sprecher, S., Sullivan, Q. & Hatfield, E. (1994). Mate Selection Preferences: Gender Differences Examined in a National Sample. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 1074-1080.

Taylor, S. E., Peplau, L., & Sears, D. O. (2000). Person perception: Forming impressions of others. In N. Roberts, B. Webber, & J. Cohen (Eds.), Social Psychology (pp. 62-97). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.


APPENDIX
Please take 15 minutes and read through the following scenarios and choose the type of relationships you would pursue. You are allowed to choose more than one relationship per scenario.

Circle one: male female

1. After class you are approached by a person in your class who invites you to a study session for your next test. You have never talked to this person before, so upon meeting this person you notice that this person is physically attractive and has an aura of confidence. During conversation you find that this person is intelligent and honest.

Would you date this person? Yes / NoWould you be friends with this person? Yes / NoYou would have no relationship with this person. Yes / No

2. You are at the library, and are having trouble finding a book. A person in your class approaches you and asks if you need help. While this person is helping you, you realize that this person is knowledgeable about things you find interesting. Furthermore, you have a lot in common with each other. But this person is not the type of person most people would consider physically attractive.

Would you date this person? Yes / NoWould you be friends with this person? Yes / NoYou would have no relationship with this person. Yes / No

3. During lunch you are disturbed by an obnoxious, loud person who is seated across the room. When you turn to see who is causing the disturbance you realize it is that cute person in your religion class.

Would you date this person? Yes / NoWould you be friends with this person? Yes / NoYou would have no relationship with this person. Yes / No

4. On the first day of your math class you notice that there is a person who is being rude to the teacher and is very arrogant when expressing opinions. When you turn around to see who this person is you notice that this person in not physically attractive.

Would you date this person? Yes / NoWould you be friends with this person? Yes / NoYou would have no relationship with this person.Yes / No


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