Give to the Beautiful

We had a seminar recently from an experimental economist out of the University of Chicago. He has done a variety of cool things using field experiments. Let me mention the one he presented. The experiment involved sending people door to door to do fund raising for a (real) charity. The fundraisers (who were college students) were paid $10/hour.

Men averaged about $9/hour in donations. There was little correlation between their productivity and their appearance.
Pretty women got about $17/hour in donations.
I think Not Pretty women got something close to the guys.

The Pretty Woman effect on fund raising was entirely driven by higher donations when a man answered the door. They were more likely to contribute, although the size of the contribution was about the same.

I hereby ask ya’ll to find a plausible tie-in to Mormonism so that I can post this on T&S.

67 comments for “Give to the Beautiful

  1. Brett
    November 28, 2005 at 7:33 am

    Good looking missionaries baptize more than normal or ugly looking missionaries. And have you all noticed how all the sister missionaries that work in temple square are ususally really hot? Is it inspiration or just a good PR move?

  2. November 28, 2005 at 10:22 am

    I don’t know if I can connect it to Mormonism, but maybe, just maybe, it could be connected to evolution…

  3. kneight
    November 28, 2005 at 10:29 am

    I was a strange looking missionary, and I know it kept me out of a lot of houses.

  4. Jesse
    November 28, 2005 at 10:37 am

    Check out this article in the NY Times about pharmaceutical companies that are recruiting college cheer leaders to be their sales reps:

  5. Seth Rogers
    November 28, 2005 at 10:56 am

    Does this mean we’re going to be sending the Young Women out to collect Fast Offerings instead of strange-looking deacons?

  6. LisaB
    November 28, 2005 at 11:09 am

    So ought we to conclude that Wilford Woodruff and Ammon were hunks whereas missionaries and prophets with fewer converts were less “comely”?

  7. November 28, 2005 at 11:15 am

    You conclude that had Wilford Woodruff been an attractive woman he would have baptized not just 4000 or whatever it was, but 17/9 times that many. ;->

  8. November 28, 2005 at 11:40 am

    It must be why the majority of us pay tithing – we enjoy being around us. I have had plenty of non-members tell me that everyone is our church is much better looking than the average person.

  9. Elisabeth
    November 28, 2005 at 12:10 pm

    LOL! Are you serious?! Here’s the tie to Mormonism: Mormon men are just as easily persuaded by women with big boobs and pretty smiles as is anyone else.

  10. Mark B.
    November 28, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    Now wait just a minute Elisabeth. What about all the women in the church who don’t have big boobs? Aren’t a lot of them married? How’d that happen?

  11. Elisabeth
    November 28, 2005 at 12:28 pm

    C’mon, Mark. We all know that Mormon men look beyond superficial outward appearances to choose their Celestial companions. But when it comes to advertising (or fundraising), Mormon men are just as susceptible to the influences of beautiful women as the next guy.

  12. Tatiana
    November 28, 2005 at 12:44 pm

    If I were a man, I think it would bother me that men were so easily manipulated. In fact, it worries me even though I am not a man. Is it a good thing? Drug representatives are quite often young, attractive females, too. They are trained, though they aren’t chosen for their knowledge of chemistry, metabolism, or statistical methods. Should we choose only female doctors in order to be safe from what seems to be (or at least what drug companies certainly seem to believe is) a bias in the prescribing of drugs?

    As for Mormons being better looking, that’s an interesting theory that I’ve never heard before. I had heard a theory that Mormons are fatter, but was never able to gather any evidence to prove or disprove this assertion. Perhaps the Word of Wisdom could be invoked to support either hypothesis, because 1) Mormons are healthier (in the first case) or 2) Mormons eat a high carbohydrate diet (in the second). Someone should do a study!

  13. Kaimi Wenger
    November 28, 2005 at 12:45 pm


    Women can certainly be attractive without “big boobs.” However, ceteris paribus, the big boobs are likely to be a feature that enhances a woman’s attractiveness.

    (And why is it that the lawyers are the ones who always make the conversation about boobs, anyway?)

  14. November 28, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    Some things that are true at large are true for Latter-day Saints, too. The fundamentally unjust favoritism of ‘cute girls’ is pretty universal. No, no sour grapes here, I’m one of them. My husband and I have actually conferred on several occasions, deiciding that it’d be better if I made a request or an application here or there, as I can bat my eyelashes and almost guarantee success, particularly if the person from whom we are requesting something is male. I suppose it’s slightly manipulative to knowingly send me, when I’m presenting the same application or request that he would be, but there’s no dishonesty about it. I would look at Temple Square, where, yes, all the sisters have the distinct tendency to be beautiful/darling/cute, and say that it’s more a matter of ‘putting your best foot forward.’ I suppose, it being a semi-universal cultural truth in our society, it would behoove fund raising organizations to employ such people.

    Now, whether it is ‘good’ or ‘right’ or ‘fair’ is a whole other ball of wax. We know that it ‘is,’ what would be interesting would be to go to the ‘why’ of it–we’d need to hit that to make an estimation of the morality.

    Perhaps, in our advertising-driven society, we are so accustomed to the mentality used in commercials and print ads (use this product that these beutiful people are using, and you, too, will feel more beautiful) that we see where we put our dollars (or our life in the case of missionaries as opposed to fund raisers) as our own personal expression of who or what we want to be or what we want to be a part of.

    Anyone who has ever done any direct missionary work knows, is highly aware, that they are respresenting the church (as a whole) to that investigator. Therefore, an attractive missionary, as a representative of the church and its accompanying culture may unwittingly carry a culture-driven message that not only can you have the happiness and peace that I have in the gospel you can look good doing it (so to speak).

    There’s your LDS tie in.

  15. Frank McIntyre
    November 28, 2005 at 1:05 pm

    LisaB, in this case there was no strong beauty effect among the men, so I’m afraid we still don’t know from this if Ammon was gorgeous. On the other hand, there is a paper showing that men earn more who are handsomer, and the effect they find is at least as strong as the prettiness effect for women. Those studies aren’t quite as cool as these, though, because here we get actual measures of productivity.

    Christian, the real problem, of course, is that “evolution” is sufficiently vague conept that one can tie anything to it…
    But yes, clearly if WW had been a woman, he would have converted 4000*17/9 people :)

    Elisabeth, I guess I should clarify that these weren’t Mormons. The experiment took place in the South among the Gentiles. Although I don’t see any reason to think it would be very different here.

    Tatiana, just from the study, it is not clear that the men are being manipulated. They may just prefer to give money to pretty women, and it is not clear that having that preference means you are manipulated.

    As for the doctors, I’d be interested to know if it has any negative effects that they prefer talking to pretty people. It might be (and I don’t know) that most of the kick from being pretty is that you get a hearing, not that people who listen to you are swayed by your beauty. But if you are selling junk you may still not do very well. In this case, the doctors are willing to take the time to look at the evidence and look at the pamphlets because it is pleasant to do so. But they may not actually be using drugs that are noticeably worse. In fact, it could make them more informed overall and so there is the possibility that one gets a better outcome. Of course, to know what really happens, you’d want some actual evidence.

  16. Frank McIntyre
    November 28, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    By the way, thanks for everybody’s very clever tie-ins to Mormonism. Next time I’ll come up with something more challenging because this was clearly too easy for you people.

  17. jeraldo
    November 28, 2005 at 1:12 pm

    The scriptures certainly bear out the persuasive power of good looking women, e.g. Salome getting John the Baptist’s head on a plate and Lamanites not slaughtering Nephites because their daughters were hot – no doubt the bugly ones were told to hide (Mos 19:13).

    Do you think the camera men for the MoTab stick on good looking singers longer than non good looking – not saying they definately do. If so, do they do so for personal enjoyment or out of duty to church PR?

  18. Mark B.
    November 28, 2005 at 1:22 pm

    Is Elisabeth a lawyer? She brought up the subject. :-)

  19. gst
    November 28, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    My mother’s family was converted by female missionaries and likely wouldn’t have been had male missionaries knocked on the door, for reasons having nothing to do with comeliness. My grandmother would never have opened the door to two strange men, but did not feel threatened by women, and invited them in.

    By the way, in reference to certain physical features of women, I find that particular palindrome distasteful (and I don’t like the other one any better).

  20. gst
    November 28, 2005 at 1:38 pm

    But I’m not about to jump out of my car about the whole issue, just so you know.

  21. b bell
    November 28, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    They need to do a reverse study and send out hot guys and not hot guys and track how the females answering the door respond. I am wondering if women would respond the same.

  22. November 28, 2005 at 2:03 pm

    Frank, it’s not my field, but I suspect a tie-in to evolution by natural selection is not vague but in fact operationally definable. It would depend on three correlations that seem testable: that (1) female beauty and (2) a woman’s receipt of greater resources were both correlated with higher fertility and/or more healthy children, giving a greater likelihood that children survive to reproductive age; and (3) a woman’s willingness to mate with a particular male correlated with that male’s ability and willingness to bestow resources. If these held, then males who bestowed resources on females independently of considerations of beauty, or who proved unwilling or unable to bestow resources on women, would have fewer posterity. Hence over time men with either of these characteristics would have formed a dwindling fraction of the population.

  23. Jack
    November 28, 2005 at 2:06 pm

    I gotta cute wife. Ergo, I’m penniless after every paycheck.

  24. Elisabeth
    November 28, 2005 at 2:23 pm

    Kaimi – since lawyers typically focus on definitive facts as evidence for a particular assertion – it’s no wonder that lawyers point to a woman’s chest as evidence of her physical attractiveness to men. After all, studies have shown this particular feature singularly attracts their attention.

  25. annegb
    November 28, 2005 at 2:55 pm

    I know when I take my daughters (both beautiful) into the store, any store, I get great service. I sometimes intentionally take them with me for that reason.

  26. jimbob
    November 28, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    At the risk of being too flippant, I read this today in the Onion: “I’m an attractive-people person. I’m not sure where I got it, but I have a gift for getting on well with attractive people. I’ve always been able to connect with good-looking people of all types. It doesn’t matter what race, color, or creed they are. So long as they’re not unpleasant to the eye, chances are good that we’ll hit it off…”

  27. Jesse
    November 28, 2005 at 3:17 pm

    Jack, that’s very funny :-)

    Frank, if docs are not swayed by the more attractive female drug reps, meaning, they don’t actually change their prescribing patterns, then why in the world would the pharmas be recruiting cheer leaders?

    You can bet the pharmas have data to back up their decision. They buy information on prescribing patterns from the large pharmacy benefits managers (there are only a handful that have a virtual lock on the entire national market, managing drug benefits for all the health plans out there), and they can tell you, on an individual physician level, what the docs are prescribing and they can correlate that with the number of rep visits they’ve had and probably who those reps are. Not terribly complicated, but very valuable information. What would be really interesting is to hear about the pharma sales analyst who had the “Aha” moment when s/he figured out that beautiful sales reps were having a disproporionate influence.

  28. Kevin Barney
    November 28, 2005 at 3:23 pm

    I once attended a naturalization proceeding for a Russian woman (my home teachee) who was (and is) gorgeous. It was interesting to see male officials bend over backwards to accomodate her, even though she had forgotten a particular form. I have a feeling that if she were not so attractive, she would have had to come back with the proper form before being naturalized.

    This same woman told me about how when she first moved to Provo, she got a job at a taco place there. They had her in the lobby refilling napkins and such, even though she spoke hardly a word of English at that time. Her mere presence was great for sales, and they were sad when she had to quit.

  29. Frank McIntyre
    November 28, 2005 at 3:45 pm

    b bell, The study ran both ways. There was some effect of beauty on the male side but not nearly so pronounced.

    Christian, I am saying that I have yet to encounter any characteristic or hypothetical characteristic that could not be given an evolutionary reading. Thus it is more about story-telling than science. One could imagine science being done, but as often as not it looks more like storytelling. You start with a story about the correlation between beauty and getting resources. But this would seem to be exactly the thing in question. Why is there that correlation to be selected on? Your selection story would work just as well if the man just plain gave more resources without mentioning beuaty at all. At the root that is not about beauty, but about resources.

    Jimbob, I would not worry too much about flippancy…

  30. Adam Greenwood
    November 28, 2005 at 3:55 pm

    As in Naiah Earhart’s family, my wife does a good deal of the negotation and always has more success. Of course, that may be because, besides being beautiful, she goes for the jugular.

  31. Elisabeth
    November 28, 2005 at 4:02 pm

    Adam – you should never underestimate the power of a glittery vest.

  32. November 28, 2005 at 4:05 pm

    I’ve always wondered if extremely tall male missionaries have greater success than average-sized missionaries. I had two 6’6″ companions in the mish, and both seemed to attract a lot of attention wherever they went. Guys go for looks, women go for height.

  33. Adam Greenwood
    November 28, 2005 at 4:06 pm

    I find that the glittery vest inspires envy, Ms. E., more than it does affection and accomodation. Too bad.

  34. Chance
    November 28, 2005 at 4:08 pm

    It seems that every time I hear a GA speak of sister missionaries it is always followed by something to the effect of ‘We need them. The sisters can get into the doors the elders cannot’. Unfortunately it is true. At the U of Wash we had three wards (now 4) that at one point were covered by a pair of elders and a pair of sisters. Guess who brought the most investigators in?

    Generally speaking, both men and women are more responsive to, and less threatened by females. You can blame that on any number of factors (children raised by mothers, rise in feminism, fear of masculenity, etc), but despite the explanations the fact still exists, and it is a challenge that we all have to face.

    When it came time for the Lord to replace King Saul, the Lord counseled Samuel to “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; … for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.â€?

    The Lord looks to the heart, and unfortunately being subject to the flesh (be it our own or some pretty saleswoman’s), we face that challenge on a daily basis be it while shopping or while watching reality tv (Survivor with ugly people?).

    Sorry, random comment with a gospel tie-in while at work…

  35. Julie M. Smith
    November 28, 2005 at 4:37 pm

    “Guys go for looks, women go for height.”

    Not always true. My husband is 6-1 and I am 5-0 and when I first met him, I thought, “ugh. no way. too tall.”

  36. November 28, 2005 at 4:46 pm

    It seems that every time I hear a GA speak of sister missionaries it is always followed by something to the effect of ‘We need them. The sisters can get into the doors the elders cannot’. … Generally speaking, both men and women are more responsive to, and less threatened by females.

    Perhaps the Lord should make a young attractive female prophet. Watch the conversions and obedience of the members skyrocket! (the male members, at least)

  37. Jesse
    November 28, 2005 at 5:15 pm

    I don’t find it unusual that female missionaries would be more easily accepted into someone’s home to talk to them. Seems completely natural that they would meet with a generally more trusting response.

    I once read about a child psychologist who did a study with young children, involving showing them pictures of various people in a random order and asking about how they felt about the people in the pictures. He concluded that young children:

    1. Prefer women to men
    2. Prefer younger men over older men
    3. Prefer clean shaven men over bearded men.

    Something Santa Claus should give serious thought to.

  38. November 28, 2005 at 5:29 pm

    Frank: Thus it is more about story-telling than science.

    Science is storytelling—just a particular kind that aims for testable stories.

    You start with a story about the correlation between beauty and getting resources. But this would seem to be exactly the thing in question. Why is there that correlation to be selected on? Why is there that correlation to be selected on?

    I’m not taking a correlation between beauty and getting resources as a premise, nor as a pre-existing phenomenon to be selected on. I am suggesting that natural selection generates this correlation. It is a suggestion that would be falsified by an empirical demonstration that beauty is not correlated with fertility and/or healthy children (point 1 in comment 22).

    Your selection story would work just as well if the man just plain gave more resources without mentioning beuaty at all.

    My quibble here is with the phrase “just as well.” You’re right that it still works to a nontrivial extent even without beauty entering the picture, for even ugly women tend to mate and receive support for their young children. This part of the story could be falsified by empirically demonstrating that points 2 and/or 3 in comment 22 were false.

  39. MikeN
    November 28, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    Christian (#22) is right on target. This is basic social psychology, and is even in briefer texts such as Myers’ “Exploring Social Psychology” (McGraw-Hill).

    The basic “Give to the Beautiful” phenomenon is consistent with some of the more famous experiments in social psychology (Dutton & Aron, 1974). A good summary of the research is found in: Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G. & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but…: a meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109-128.

    The Mormon connection is that we’re human, and subject to the same biases as other humans.

  40. Matt Jacobsen
    November 28, 2005 at 5:40 pm

    “The Lord looketh on the heart”

    Great quote, love the principle. But I always felt this line would have been more effective had David grown up to be an incredibly ugly man. Instead, we learn that the Lord looketh on potential appearance. In the end, David’s heart was not the equal to his stature.

  41. jeraldo
    November 28, 2005 at 6:09 pm


    Too Funny


    Tall people generally do have greater powers of persuasion than short people, there are an inordinately large amount of 6 ft CEOs of fortune 500 comapnies. I am sure that Kellogs or Heinz (don’t remember which) insisted in the old travelling salesmen days insisted that salesmen were 6ft or over.


    The saying ‘opposites attract’ is generally untrue. We like people like us. The only problem being; when you are good looking, if you hang around with people who are even better looking you will look bad by comparison, i.e. if you are looking to impress take a couple of ugly folk with you.


    As a man who is not too bad on the eye (Although no male model) If I’m going for an interview, I always hope for the majority of the interviewers to be women.


    I agree there are much better words to describe a womans’ mammaries, but I’m not sure you’d find my terms any more acceptable.

  42. Frank McIntyre
    November 28, 2005 at 6:37 pm


    I am not saying that you were assuming the beauty correlation you wished to test. I’m pointing out that it is a distraction from the survival part of the story. I don’t see how natural selection in and of itself creates that correlation at all.

    To put it another way, suppose the survey results were not beauty but were about green eyes. Then you present your hypothetically empirically testable framework showing your correlations that green eyed women get more resources and so it is evolutionary. But this has not at all told me why _green_ eyes should be evolutionarily favored by men. A man who indiscriminately gave out resources to his mate, regardless of eye color, would do better because he would be removing a pointless constraint. To put it another way, this green-eye lover-guy gives too little if married to any other eye color, putting him at a clear evolutionary disadvantage to the all-color lover. Thus the survival and evolution is not at all about green eyes; the green eyes correlations are actually a non-evolutionary puzzle to be explained.

    Furthermore, even if the correlations all exist now, do we know if they existed a million years ago? Do we know if they were strong enough to matter a million years ago? Do we know if they were overwhelmed by other factors also correlated to beauty? No, No, No. So, is it really testable?

    We will, for the sake of the argument, ignore the fact that green eyes are obviously very attractive.

  43. jeraldo
    November 28, 2005 at 6:42 pm


    I think that the claim that

    men go for looks and women go for power

    is more true.

  44. manaen
    November 28, 2005 at 8:51 pm

    This explains Elder Holland’s commentscomments.

  45. Adam Greenwood
    November 28, 2005 at 9:23 pm

    Frank M.,
    putting aside the specifically evolutionary portion of the argument (the assumption that things used to be the way they are now), you are leaving out a key step in Christian Cardall’s analysis. He is arguing that “beauty” is positively correlated with fertility.

  46. November 28, 2005 at 9:33 pm

    Is hiring attractive women to be sales reps any more manipulative than hiring charismatic men or women? The reason why really charismatic people work so well as salespeople is because people buy more from them.

    There was an elder in my mission who was hugely popular with the members and very successful in his teaching efforts, largely because he had the kind of charisma that leads everyone to like and implicitly trust him. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when I returned home and found out he had become an insurance salesman.

    While a good, well-reasoned argument in favor of buying a product might make the most sense, having a presenter who is charismatic or attractive will make a difference. But does that qualify as manipulation? I don’t know. I just know that I’m jealous of the people who are more persuasive than I, not because they have better reasoning, but because they are more eloquent, likeable, or beautiful.

  47. November 28, 2005 at 10:45 pm

    Frank, Adam Greenwood is right, your statement “correlations that green eyed women get more resources and so it is evolutionary” is an inaccurate straw man, for it leaves out the crucial (hypothesized) connections between (1) green eyes and fertility and (2) resources and survival to reproductive age. It is this (proposed) nexus with reproductive outcomes that would make natural selection the agent responsible for generating the (in your example) observed correlation between green eyes and reception of resources.

    You seem to insist on an answer as to why green eyes (or the perception of beauty in general) would be correlated with fertility. This causal link would be an interesting further question in its own right, and one for which further testable hypotheses might well be formulated; but when the correlation is with fertility, I think even establishing the correlation without understanding the underlying causality constitutes evidence that natural selection is in play.

  48. November 28, 2005 at 10:47 pm

    Frank, your example of a male who likes green eyes not giving resources to his other-eye-colored mate presupposes a willingness for males to be exclusive that may not have been operative when these tendencies were forged. A male with options open would do worse to be completely indiscriminate with his resources. He has some leeway here, certainly more than females; but ultimately his resources are always limited, and he does best to preferentially bestow them on the most fertile females to whom he can gain access.

  49. November 28, 2005 at 10:48 pm

    Frank, I said “hypothesized connections” and “proposed nexus” in comment 47 because I’m not affirmatively arguing that the correlations exist; I’m only arguing that they may be testable. I am agnostic as to the outcome of the test. Your concerns about conditions now vs. times past are legitimate, but it is not obvious to me that they are insurmountable. For all I know, some combination of historical records, anthropological work, animal models, comparisons of biology and brain scans in humans vs. other primates, etc. could address some of these concerns. The seemingly willful blindness to possible connections to reproduction, and dogmatic tone of dismissal (no, no, no!) seems to suggest an unwillingness to even allow for the exploration of potentially testable lines of inquiry—an unwillingness that baffles me.

  50. Adam Greenwood
    November 28, 2005 at 11:24 pm

    I’m not sure what the connection between beauty and fertility is, if anything. But I think there has been a connection shown generally fbetween beauty and bilateral symmetry and generally clearer complexions, and then between those and health while growing up and current health respectively. Past and current health are possibly indicators of fertility, I dunno.

    Also, I don’t think it requires a study to say that “beauty” is associated with the prime child-bearing years . . .

  51. Frank McIntyre
    November 28, 2005 at 11:29 pm

    I’m sorry Christian, I read your comment too quickly. I see now your causal path. And yes, the real question becomes one of is beauty correlated with fertility? I agree completely. But the problem is that even if this is so, it does not show that the behavior is due to evolution. Evolution occurs, but there is a strong tendency, which I find distasteful, to make up a story about something being evolutionary and then feeling as if this is the answer. The mechanisms are rarely even as testable as yours (which aren’t). Thus the exercise tends to sound very much like pop psychology.

    “and dogmatic tone of dismissal (no, no, no!) ”

    The dogmatic part is certainly strengthened by the exclamation mark. Except, I didn’t use one because that is not what I was saying(!). I said “No. No. No.” As in, I was answering the three questions in the negative. I have a fair bit of experience with social science, and considering its limitations in the present I am not at all optimistic about what it can tell us about a million years ago!

    “unwillingness to even allow for the exploration of potentially testable lines of inquiry”

    Since I will not be doing the testing, I can’t see how my lack of optimism is a problem. I think there is almost no chance of this stuff being tested on million year dead people and cultures. Beauty is, remember, very culturally sensitive, making the whole enterprise painfully suspect. What we call beautiful is not going to be the same if one moves back (or, in all likelihood, forward) a hundred years.

  52. Frank McIntyre
    November 29, 2005 at 1:12 am


    I think the real problem I have is that I can’t see any way that one is going to be able to take your evolution story and, even with the evidence you hope for, come up with how much of the Pretty Woman effect is evolutionary. In other words, can this theory provide me with a number, between 9 and 17, of how much the Pretty Women would be getting were we to pull out the causal evolutionary factors? I don’t see it. And so it is going to remain just another story that can’t be nailed down.

  53. El Jefe
    November 29, 2005 at 7:10 am

    So big deal.

    There is a complete package which makes people better (salespeople, managers, lawyers, doctors, dentists, CEO’s, etc., you name it). That package includes things such as looks, intelligence, persuasiveness, charm, enthusiasm, likeability, power, tact, energy, passion, eloquence, etc. They all have a bearing on how “successful” people can be. They are also somewhat inheritable characteristics, somewhat random (or brought with us from the pre-existence), and somewhat acquired.

    Or did you think that the networks chose their female (and male) presenters with no regard to looks?

    Looks and IQ are relatively easy to measure. The others are not as easy; although it is probably easier to improve your looks than your IQ. So, do they have trials based on how enthusiastic people do vs less enthusiastic? Or less charming vs more charming? Or more tactful vs less tactful? Of course they don’t…those things are not easy to measure. But they are all part of what makes up a human being.

    To quote Harry Potter (or Dumbledore, better said): “It is not our abilities, but our choices, which make us what we truly are.”

  54. November 29, 2005 at 8:27 am

    El Jefe-

    I think the question here is a little more complex than choosing network news anchors. Doctors, one would hope, are making their decisions based on what is best for the patient. I must admit that the prospect of not being prescribed the best medication available simply because a cheerleader flirted with my doctor is a little disconcerting.

    I can understand why attractive women would make good saleswomen. The issue is whether doctors should be held to a higher standard, requiring a little more objectivity.

  55. November 29, 2005 at 2:27 pm

    “I’m not sure what the connection between beauty and fertility is, if anything”

    According to my developmental psych textbook there are several connections between beauty and fertility. Women with the preferred waist to hip raito (which is ~0.7 as I recall) are easier to impregnate (and therefore more fertile) than women with a different waist to hip ratio. And as you said past and current health are strong indicators of fertility, but are also and more especially indicators of good genes. There is also the theory that rare features, like green eyes, are attractive because they help to help diversify the gene pool and prevent inbreeding.

  56. El Jefe
    November 29, 2005 at 3:07 pm

    What IS objectivity, in this context? Did the doctor buy because the salesman was more persuasive? That she had more passion? More intelligence? More enthusiastic?

    Could you measure those, in a test? Basically, no.

    But doctors will usually buy the drugs which will work best. However, there are competing versions of the same drug. And the doctor may well make the decision to buy Brand X vs Brand Y. Do you know on what basis, other than looks, the doctor made that decision? Basically, no.

    The point being, it is relatively easy to measure the looks factor. It is hard to measure the other factors. Even among good looking saleswomen, I will be willing to bet that there are good saleswomen, and poor ones. And it doesn’t correlate exactly with their superstructure.

  57. Adam Greenwood
    November 30, 2005 at 1:47 am

    Thanks, Andermom. Fascinating.

  58. November 30, 2005 at 9:00 am

    Adam Greenwood makes a good point about youth, beauty, and fertility being correlated. I shouldn’t have said I was agnostic on that. O me of little faith! Thanks also to MikeN and Andermom for consulting actual studies.

    Frank, sorry for the extra, inaccurate exclamation point. I’m not as pessimistic as you about the testability because of the various potential proxies I mentioned earlier. Also, my layman’s sense from a few years’ of watching abstracts and news stories in Science and Nature is that there is evidence that many (though not all) aspects of beauty are conserved across time and cultures to a greater extent than you’ve suggested.

    I agree that a quantitative prediction of the experimental outcome is not likely to be forthcoming; but it seems that quantitative predictions are very rare outside of the physical sciences, and I think qualitative insights are still valuable.

    However maybe your quantitative question can be answered in this case: In other words, can this theory provide me with a number, between 9 and 17, of how much the Pretty Women would be getting were we to pull out the causal evolutionary factors? The answer is 9. I don’t remember any other compelling causal factors being suggested in this thread, so I feel free to ascribe the entire difference to evolution. (I’m secretly hoping you’re now going to give us the testable and quantitative theory from economics you’ve been holding up your sleeve, that blows the evolutionary hypothesis out of the water. I’m all ears et cetera, waiting with baited breath and so on, waiting to be enlightened and so forth.)

  59. November 30, 2005 at 9:03 am

    I meant to say bated breath. Sorry for the typo. (Sheepish corrections sure take the wind out of displays of bravado, don’t they? ;-> )

  60. Frank McIntyre
    November 30, 2005 at 10:35 am


    I thought Adam’s stuff was interesting. But once again, without the quantitative link it is all just story telling.

    Your physical science background is probably hurting you here. The idea that all of a difference can be attributable to one factor rarely pans out in social science work. Error terms and unobservables are large and important. In physical science work they tend to be more about small amounts of measurement error or something easy like that. In social science they include a host of unobserved factors. This is why economists spend vastly more time studying statistics than biologists and chemists.

    And those statistics make clear that the answer is not 9. Pretty women in the sample also tended to have better personality characteristics than average. From the sample we know which characteristics lead to higher donations. Thus it is clear that that if they maintained those personality traits, they should score above 9 even with average looks. So right off the bat, a little statistics makes a mess of your story being the only answer.

    Although it is very popular in any scientific endeavor to shout out that one’s pet theory explains everything, that wouldn’t be science, that would be rhetoric. Unobserved factors matter, even if nobody mentions them or even knows about them. Good science in this case would invovlve some methodological showing of the facts you assert, along with a statistical confidence interval. That is the standard in econometrics and it works wonderfully.

    As for quantitative research in social sciences, I see why you might think this, but I can promise you that economists do tons of quantitative studies. All of my work, for example, is quantitative and there are tons of economists who do stuff like me. The ability to quanitify the theory is one of the things that makes economics so cool (and more than story-telling). And it is why I am not very impressed with the qualitative stories. If, at the end of the day, you assume that all differences are due to one’s personal theory, you might as well be in the humanities.

  61. November 30, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Frank, why the gratuitous swipe at the humanities? I don’t think of philosophy as, per se, one of the humanities (in spite of the fact that we are in that college at BYU), so I don’t take your remark personally, but it seems odd in the extreme to characterize the humanites as disciplines in which “all differences are due to one’s personal theory.” Can you give an example of what you mean by that?

  62. annegb
    November 30, 2005 at 12:04 pm

    Yeah, uh, Frank, what’s up with you and Humanities? That was my favorite subject in college. Jim, you’re so my man. (guys, picture his face hearing that).

    I think good looking people are more pleasant because from birth others are more pleasant to them. But I also think the reverse is true: some people appear better looking because from birth life has been pleasant to them. They have a pleasant countenance which can be, damn can’t find the word, not mistaken, but sort of, can be mistaken for beauty. Isn’t niceness lovely? Not that I would know from personal experience.

    But I believe there are few truly ugly people in the world, it’s all relative.

  63. Bill
    November 30, 2005 at 12:59 pm

    Frank has obviously never had the enjoyment of reading this dissertation:

    Trowbridge, Lynn Mason.
    The Fifteenth-Century Chanson: A Computer-Aided Study of Styles and Style Change.
    Ph.D., Musicology, University of Illinois, 1981.

  64. Frank McIntyre
    November 30, 2005 at 1:14 pm


    Sorry, I wrote that too quickly and it came off harsher than I meant it.

    When I say that “you might as well be in the humanities” I mean that you aren’t doing science, you are telling stories, and for that we don’t need you, we have people in the humanities to do that. I am certainly not claiming that there is no value to the humanities (and I don’t really consider philosophy part of the humanities either), just that it is not science. Since Christian’s position revolves around how evolutionary arguments (or his anyway) are fully scientific, I’m pointing out that it is a rather weak version of science that cannot quanitifiably test its claims.


    I like the humanities as humanities. I get testy when people use the tools in the humanities and try to pawn it off as more definitive than it is. One occasionally finds people in the humanities and in the sciences waxing on about society and human nature but the evidence they bring to bear is laughable. I often find that annoying. Similarly scientific training does not generally make one a particularly good philosopher, poet, or musician.

  65. Frank McIntyre
    November 30, 2005 at 1:23 pm


    Oooohhhhhh!!! A computer-aided study! Well never mind. Clealy the humanities are overrun with empirical work. I bet that study isn’t even an outlier :).

    Let me say again for emphasis, I am not saying that I don’t like the humanities. I love reading good books and listening to beautiful music. I am amazed by people who are trained to read and write carefully in their chosen field. But you don’t use a pencil to eat soup.

  66. annegb
    November 30, 2005 at 9:29 pm

    Frank, I wasn’t a very good student. I have no idea what you said. That’s okay, don’t try to explain it. I was just playing with Jim’s head.

    But I did love my Humanities class.

  67. December 1, 2005 at 4:30 pm

    Doctors, one would hope, are making their decisions based on what is best for the patient. I must admit that the prospect of not being prescribed the best medication available simply because a cheerleader flirted with my doctor is a little disconcerting.

    Perhaps we could require beautiful pharmaceutical sales reps to wear masks.

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