Do People Think Attractive Women are Less Intelligent, and Why That Matters
Societal stereotypes widely portray attractive women as less intelligent, but do people actually endorse such beliefs? If yes, do these beliefs differ between children and adults, implying they may be learned through socialization? And what are the downstream consequences of these beliefs on cognitive pursuits? Across six studies, we find that children associate attractiveness positively with intelligence such that more intelligent people are also more attractive (study 1). But adults instead consider more attractive women to be less intelligent (study 2). This belief reversal emerges post-puberty, suggesting a role of socialization and imbibing of social stereotypes in creating this disparity (study 3). We also find downstream consequences of these beliefs on the pursuit of intelligence: children choose cognitive pursuits when they are feeling attractive (study 4), in line with their belief that intelligence and attractiveness go together, thus, if they feel attractive, they must be intelligent. But women (not men) instead choose more intelligence pursuits when they are feeling unattractive (studies 5-6), in line with a possibility that when women feel unattractive, they infer intelligence is a more identity-relevant trait for them. The solution to encouraging intelligence pursuits among women is not to make them feel unattractive, but instead to adjust these socially learned beliefs and be aware of the damage they cause.