INTRODUCTIONFirst Impressions: The Effect of Attractiveness and Personality on Pursuing Dating Relationships and Friendships When two people meet, they form impressions of each other, even if they are only in contact with each other for a minute. This phenomenon has been a topic of interest for decades. Many researchers have conducted research studies that examine the dynamics of how and why people form impressions of each other. As stated in the textbook by Taylor, Peplau, and Sears (2000) there are two characteristics that people asses when forming impressions; competence, and physical attractiveness. The authors note that “in general we like people who are socially skilled, intelligent, and competent.” The type of competence depends on the type of relationship that is being pursued. For example a mechanic should be knowledgeable about cars, and a professor should be good at lecturing, therefore demonstrating competence in their positions which in turn causes a person to be more attracted to them. The authors also state that although people say looks are not important, people base most impressions on looks alone. A study conducted by Dion (1972), as cited by Dushkin online (2000), found that physically attractiveness truly does effect our impressions of others. Furthermore, many people believe that “attractive people can do no wrong” (Dushkin online, 2000). This is especially true for males. It has been found that males prefer attractiveness to personality when when pursuing relationships on all levels from friendship to romantic relationships (Huston and Levinger, 1978). Sprecher (1998) found similar findings for females and males in her study. Sprecher set out to find what causes initial attraction and also what factors influence relationship maintenance in both females and males. In this study Sprecher asked one group to identify a past relationship and indicate the factors that lead to attraction. The second group was given the same instructions but was asked to apply them to a current, developing relationship. The third group was assigned randomly to respond to the predictors of initial attraction for three types of relationships, same-gender friendships, cross-gender friendships, and romantic relationships. The findings of this study indicated that men and women found physical attractiveness more important for a dating relationship. Also found was that although physical attraction is important in the initial impression it is not important when trying to maintain a relationship. The above study is unusual because both males and females were found to prefer attractiveness to personality. Most research finds that males prefer attractiveness while females prefer personality. A study conducted by Sprecher, Sullivan, and Hatfield (1994) found that men prefer beauty to personality when choosing a mate whereas women prefer personality and financial stability to physical attractiveness. Taylor et all (2000) cites two explanations for this phenomenon, one is that traditionally men have been seen as the provider and the supporter of the family, the second is that men and women are attracted to mates who provide the best reproductive potential. One such study conducted by Buss (1989), as cited by Taylor et all (2000) supports the reproductive theory. The study was conducted using a survey that compared gender, race and age and their effect on pursuing relationships. Results of this study showed that men prefer younger, more attractive women whereas women prefer older, financially stable men. The proposed reason for this trend is that, as a species men should prefer women who possess traits that signify good reproductive values (i.e. youth, good looks) and women should prefer men who possess traits that show the ability to acquire resources (i.e. success, money). The studies mentioned above focused on impressions and relationships in general, but impressions are also important during spur of the moment encounters. The current study was conducted to emphasize the effect of “first” impressions on relationship choices. Taylor et all (2000) state, when people need to make quick impressions they rely on stereotypical and categorizing based impressions. Knowing that quick impressions are based on stereotypes helps to predict what might happen during a “first” impression. Also important to note is that when judging attractiveness both men and women have the same ideas of what is and what is not attractive (Kleinke, 1975, p.10).In the current study “first” impressions of attractiveness and personality and how they effect the type of relationship pursued was studied. Attractiveness was measured by the physical appearance of a person and personality was measured by characteristics that can be determined when first meeting a person. Past research has studied the effect of impressions on friendship, and dating. Most studies have found that men prefer attractiveness to personality when dating is involved but women prefer personality to attractiveness in a dating relationship. The difference between past studies and the current study was that the experimenters hypothesized that both men and women would prefer attractiveness to personality when pursuing a dating relationship. Based on the results obtained by Sprecher (1998) for dating relationships, it was also hypothesized that men would prefer attractiveness to personality in a friendship, whereas women would prefer personality to attractiveness in a friendship. To test the hypothesis the experimenters created four scenarios that included all the possible combinations of attractiveness and, unattractiveness and good personality and, bad personality. The participants were asked to give the type of relationship they would pursue based upon the scenario described. The current study proposed to get true accounts of first impressions, by doing this the current study wanted to show that both women and men prefer attractiveness over personality in a dating relationship
METHODParticipants Eighty-nine undergraduate students from Loyola University participated in this study. Thirty-nine percent (n=35) were male and sixty percent (n=54) were female. All participants were over the age of eighteen. The participants were recruited from Psychology classes at Loyola University with permission of the instructors’. Some participants were given course credit, while others participated on as volunteers. None of the participants droped out during the course of this study. Convenience sampling was used to recruit the participants.Materials The experimenters designed a survey that consisted of four scenarios. The four scenarios were as follows: good personality and attractive, good personality and unattractive, bad personality and attractive, and bad personality and unattractive. An example of a scenario was “During lunch you are distributed 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.” After each scenario the participants were asked to choose which type of relationship they would pursue from the following three alternatives. Would you date this person? Would you be friends with this person? You would have no relationship with this person. The participants were allowed to choose more than one type of relationship per scenario. (See Appendix A) The only demographic information asked of the participants was their sex. Two copies of the informed consent form were given to the participants to sign and they were asked to provide an e-mail address so that they could receive results of the study. Design and ProcedureThe current study was a true experiment with the independent variables of attractiveness and personality. Attractiveness is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1978) as, “pleasing to the eye or mind.” For this study attractiveness was defined as physical appearance (i.e. cute or physically unattractive). Personality is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1978) as, “distinctive qualities of an individual; especially, those distinguishing personal characteristics that make one socially appealing.” For this study personality was defined as characteristics that are easily determined from a brief encounter with a person (i.e. behavior, speech). The variables attractiveness and personality were manipulated by combining them into four different combinations as mentioned above in the materials section. The dependent variable for this study was the type of relationships pursued based on the combination of the independent variables. Three types of relationship options were given: dating relationship, friendship, and no relationship. A dating relationship was defined, as, a relationship where the participant would be interested in being romantically involved with the person. Friendship was defined as a relationship that is not based on romantic feelings but is based on similar interests or mutual feelings of liking. No relationship was defined as no contact with this person other that the first encounter. The participant was asked to choose as many relationships that applied to the scenario, by giving a yes or no answer for each type of relationship. To control for any outside influences the scenarios were made as neutral as possible. This was done by using gender neutral and inoffensive descriptors. The scenarios were also uniformed in length, wording and the amount of independent variables stated.Participants were tested in groups in classrooms at Loyola University. When the students arrived at the testing site, they were seated comfortably and given two informed consent forms to read and sign. One copy was for the records of the experimenters and the second copy was for the participants to keep for their records or if they needed to contact the experimenters. Once the signatures of all participants were collected, the participants were given the survey to fill out. The participants were asked not to write their name anywhere on the survey. Instructions for the survey were given at this time. Participants were told to take fifteen minutes to read through each scenario and choose the types of relationships they would pursue. Participants were allowed to select more than one type of relationship per scenario. When all participants were done the surveys were collected and the participants were debriefed. During debriefing the participants were told that the answers they provided on the survey were those typical of the average participant. Participants were allowed to ask any questions concerning their participation in the study and any questions about the study itself. When all questions were answered participants were thanked and free to leave.
RESULTSSupport for the hypothesis that men and women would prefer attractiveness to personality in a dating relationship was partial. When participants were asked if they would date a person who was physically unattractive but had a nice personality, results showed that they would not date that person x˛(1, N = 89) = 5.59, p = .018. Contrasting results for the same hypothesis were, when participants were asked if they would date a person who was physically attractive but had a bad personality, participants stated that they would not date that person x˛(1, N =89) = 5.71, p = .017 as shown in Table 1. Results from this test were statistically significant but were opposite to what was hypothesized. Results for the second hypothesis, men would prefer attractiveness to personality in a friendship was not supported. Male participants were asked if they would be friends with a person who was physically unattractive but had a good personality. The response to this question was that they would be friends with that person. Although the results were statistically significant, they did not support the hypothesis x˛(1, N = 35) = 31.11, p = .00. Similar results were found when male participants were asked if they would be friends with a person who was physically attractive but had a bad personality. These results also did not support the hypothesis x˛(1, N = 34) = .029, p = .87. Results for the third hypothesis, that women would prefer personality to attractiveness in a friendship provided partial results. Female participants were asked if they would be friends with a person who was physically unattractive but had a good personality. The responses to this question, yes they would be friends, provided support for the hypothesis x˛(1, N = 54) = 50.07, p = .00. Contrasting results were found when the female participants were asked if they would be friends with a person who was physically attractive but had a bad personality. The response to this question, no they would not be friends, did not yield support for the hypothesis x˛(1, N = 54) = 1.19, p = .28. Questions were asked regarding dating and friendship with a person who was physically attractive and had a good personality. The expected results were found x˛(1, N = 89) = 22.75, p = .00, x˛(1, N = 89) = 77.40, p = .00. Expected results were also found for a question that asked if participants would be friends with a person who was physically unattractive and had a bad personality x˛(1, N = 88) = 35.64, p = .00. These questions and results were used as a validity check for the participants overall responses.
DISCUSSIONComplete support for all the research hypotheses was not found. Partial support was found for the first hypothesis that men and women would prefer attractiveness to personality in a dating relationship. The partial support came from the fact that given different combinations of attractiveness and personality for the question of dating yielded contrasting results. The combination of physical unattractiveness and good personality gave support for the hypothesis that looks really do matter. But when given the reverse combination, physically attractiveness and bad personality, participants would not date that person. Giving no support for the hypothesis. No support was given for the hypothesis that men would prefer attractiveness to personality in a friendship. When given the combination of physically unattractive and good personality, males said that they would be friends with that person. Partial support was also found for the hypothesis that women would prefer personality to attractiveness in a friendship. Given the combination of physically unattractive and good personality, women said they would be friends with that person, supporting the hypothesis. But when given the combination of physical attractiveness and bad personality, there was no statistically significant support for the hypothesis. The combinations of attractiveness and personality that were used as validity check were, physically attractive and good personality, and physically unattractive and bad personality. When both males and females were asked to date or be friends with these people the good combination yielded yes for both dating and friendship, whereas the bad combination yielded no for both dating and friendship. Expected results were found. The current study found results that were similar to past research. Huston and Levinger (1978) found that men prefer attractiveness to personality in a dating relationship. Partial support for this theory was found in the current study. Partial support was also found in the current study for that theory that women prefer personality to attractiveness in a friendship (Sprecher et all, 1994). Unlike past research the current study did not find support for the hypothesis that men prefer attractiveness to personality in a friendship. Suggesting that, like women, men also consider personality when choosing a friend. Also in contrast to past research the current study found partial support for the hypothesis that, like men, women prefer attractiveness to personality in a dating relationship. This idea had not been explored by past research.Although partial support of the hypotheses was found, the current study has shortcomings. Among the most prevalent, is the fact that the questionnaire used to test the participants was created by the experimenters. When the study was being conducted the experimenters realized that some parts of the questionnaire were unclear to the participants. Also the arrangement of the scenarios lead to more complex results than the experimenters originally expected. This lead to a complicated analysis of the findings, which the experimenters did not foreshadow. The participants caused other shortcomings of the experiment. It is felt that the participants did not base their answers on a “first” impression. It is more likely that answers were based on what type of relationship one would pursue if they knew the person better. Also, the experimenters feel that the pressure of social desirability may have caused the participants to respond in a more socially expected manner. This in particular pertains to the questions regarding dating. The practical implications of this study were to make people more aware of how important first impressions are. Even if the participants answered in a manner that was not truly themselves, the questionnaire succeeded in provoking thoughts about how they judge people based on looks and one-time encounters. This is important because not only are first impression important when you are choosing a desirable mate or a trustworthy friend, but first impressions are also important when we are trying to impress others. For example when going on a job interview or when meeting a professor for the first time, we want to make a good impression. So by examining our impressions of others based on first time encounters, we realize how others are affected by their impressions of us. Therefore, realizing that the “first” impression is very important no matter what side of the impression formation you are on. The theoretical implications of the current study are that the findings add to the information on impression formation by providing a study that deals specially with “first” impressions. Also the current study adds to the general field of social psychology.Future research of “first” impressions would benefit from using an already published questionnaire that has been found reliable and valid through past research. Also, future research should explore the relationship between self-esteem and how people form first impressions and how they view relationships. Providing scenarios that relate entirely to dating or friendship so that there is only one choice of relationship might help to clarify the connection between first impressions and the type of relationship being pursued. Future research should look into the importance of first impressions of appearance and personality when personal relationships are not involved. For example in the work place, classroom, or a job interview. This would help to solidify the importance of first impressions in all types of relationships.
REFERENCESHuston, T. L.& Levinger, G. (1978). Interpersonal attraction and relationships. Annual Review of Psychology, 29, 115-156.Kleinke, C. L. (1975). First impressions: The psychology of encountering others. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.McGraw Hill Dushkin Online. (2000). Physical Attractiveness an Impressions Formation. Exploring Psychology [Online]. Available: http://www.dushkin.com/connectext/psy/ch15/attract.mhtmlMorris, W. (Eds.). (1978). The American heritage dictionary of the English language. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.Sprecher, S. (1998). Insiders’ perspective on reasons for attraction to a close other. Social Psychology Quarterly, 61, 287-300.Sprecher, S., Sullivan, Q., & Hatfield, E. (1994). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 66, 1074-1080.Taylor, S. E., Peplau, L. A., & Sears, D. O. (2000). Person perception: Forming impressions of others. In Roberts, N., Webber, B., & Cohen, J. (Eds.), Social Psychology (pp. 62-97). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.
APPENDIX APlease 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 / No You 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 / No Would you be friends with this person? Yes / No You 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