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Should You Judge A Book (Woman) By The Cover?

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticNovember 20, 2012 8:25 AM


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"Do physically attractive women possess particularly attractive inner attributes?"

So ask the authors of a study just out in Psychological Science: Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover, Revisited. Their answer? People do tend to judge (female) books by their covers, but we shouldn't.

Psychologists Segal-Caspi and colleagues took 118 female Israeli students and videotaped them walking into a room and reading a weather forecast.Then other students - male and female - judged the 'targets' on attractiveness, but also tried to work out their personality, purely based on 60 seconds of video.


So what happened?

The judges judged prettier women as having stereotypically 'better' personality traits e.g. less neurotic and more friendly. Interestingly, both male and female judges did this, and there were no significant differences between the genders.

So there's

a tendency to think that those we find attractive are also beautiful on the inside

- but, that's all an illusion, say the authors. The targets were also rated themselves on personality, and these self ratings told a different story - there was no correlation between personality and average ratings of attractiveness.

There were however some small differences in self-reported values, with attractiveness being associated with valuing tradition and conformity, but not 'self-direction'.

So there we have it. Books, covers, don't judge 'em by 'em. It would have been better if this study had included both male and female 'targets', though, and the whole thing does rely on the validity of self-report, though no more than any other psychology paper.

The journal Psychological Science has been criticized recently, accused of publishing findings that probably aren't true and wouldn't be interesting even if they were. I don't think that applies to this, though.

On the contrary, this is the kind of study that psychologists should do more of.

The subject may seem crude, unsophisticated and not very 'scientific' but like it or not, it's one that people care about. Many people have strong views on issues like this (one way or the other), ones based essentially on hearsay, and personal recollections, i.e. on not much to speak of.

By addressing issues such as these, psychologists could really help to clear up some messy debates and damaging misconceptions.


Segal-Caspi, L., Roccas, S., and Sagiv, L. (2012). Don't Judge a Book by Its Cover, Revisited: Perceived and Reported Traits and Values of Attractive Women Psychological Science, 23 (10), 1112-1116 DOI: 10.1177/0956797612446349

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