A follow-up experiment was done, where Group A and Group B were both given the same list of traits of the hypothetical person, yet with the exception that Group A had the word ‘warm’ on their list, where as Group B had the word ‘cold.’. They were then asked to record their impressions of the hypothetical person. Group A generally gave more positive descriptions of the person than that of Group B. Asch concluded that the trait ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ can be considered central traits as they influenced the participants perceptions of their other traits. This conclusion suggested that once a central trait has been identified, the halo effect is applied so that all the person’s traits become either wholly negative or positive.
Furthermore, research to support the halo effect has been carried out worldwide to show the cultural universality with the term. Wheeler and Kim (1997) found that Korean, American and Canadian students who were thought of to be more attractive were rated by their peers as more sociable and friendly that the non-attractive students. This indicates that the halo effect occurs in many cultures.
Our study reflects the above research on the halo effect. as the aim is to investigate the extent to which cognitive bias is present in individuals, when judging strangers solely by the western criteria of beauty, in this case, symmetrical facial features.
Null Hypothesis: There will be no difference in attributes of highly attractive (symmetrically faced) people compared to unattractive people. Any difference is due to chance or other random variables.
Research Hypothesis: Subjects will rate highly attractive (symmetrically faced) people with positive attributes, while rating unattractive (less symmetrically faced) people with negative attributes.
Design: This experiment utilized an independent samples design because two different groups were compared. The time and location of the experiment were controlled as was the assessment procedure. The choice of Neither Agree nor Disagree was excluded purposely to avoid inconclusive results. The independent variable was the level of physical attractiveness (symmetry of face), while the dependent variable is the rating that the participant gave the sample. Informed consent was obtained from the participants, and all were debriefed after the study.
Consent Form (Appendix 3)
Debriefing notes (Appendix 4)
Standardized instructions (Appendix 5)
Photographic samples (both male and female) in form of contact sheet (Appendix 6)
Survey forms (Appendix 7)
Participants: The target population is confined to the opportunity sample of ACS high school students aged between 13 and 16 years and of both genders. The opportunity sample was used due to scheduling limitations. Randomized sampling was used to assign the participants into two groups. An equal number of slips (15 labelled one and 15 labelled two) were placed in a hat and the participants then drew from this to determine which sample photograph they would be shown. Group One contained students that were going to be shown the symmetrically faced sample, while Group Two contained students that were going to be shown the unsymmetrically faced sample. Both groups contained 15 participants each, and all spoke English fluently, yet were of varied nationalities.
- The opportunity sample was obtained.
- Students were informed of the experiment using a standardized set of instructions.
- Consent forms were distributed.
- Participants were randomly assigned into two groups, each containing 15 students.
- The order in which the students completed the survey was randomly assigned.
- Participants were taken out individually and completed a survey based on a photograph placed on the desk. Group 1 was test first and following that, Group 2.
- The survey was collected after the participant completed it and was placed out of view of the next participant.
- The group number, participant number and photograph number were recorded on the survey.
- The next photograph in the group series was placed on the desk based on which participant was to come out next.
- The participant completed the survey.
- The participants were debriefed about the nature of the experiment, using the debriefing note.
The Likert Scale data was made into numerical form in order to be summed and ranked for the Mann Whitney U test, with 1 being strongly agree and 4 being strongly disagree (see appendix 2). The median for Group 1 was 10, while the median for Group 2 was 16. The mean for Group 1 was 9.66, while the mean for Group 2 was 16.25. The standard deviation for Group 1 was 2.46, while the standard deviation for Group 2 was 2.41. Figure 1 is a bar graph showing the mean for both groups.
To test the significance of the results, a Man Whitney U test was used (see appendix 2). This was done because the results of the experiment are one-tailed, unrelated and ordinal data.
At one degree of freedom for 0.05% level of significance the critical value of U must be less than 37. In this case U was zero, and consequently lower than 37, so we could reject the Null Hypothesis and accept the Research Hypothesis. p<0.0001 which means that the results were highly significant. The probability of getting these results by chance or random error was less than 0.1%.
The results show that the research hypothesis is accepted at the 0.05 level of significance for the Mann Whitney U test. This means that students rated attractive individuals (or those with highly symmetrical faces) with positive attributes such as popular and friendly, where as those with less symmetrical faces were rated with negative attributes such as unpopular and unfriendly.
This finding is similar to the research Thorndike conducted, where he asked army officers to rate their charges in the categories of intelligence, physique, leadership, and character. He found that, like our experiment, the participants tended to rate more highly those who were more physically attractive than those who weren’t. The results also support the work of Soloman Asch. Asch’s experiment concluded that once a central trait has been identified the halo effect is applied, and then it is assumed that all that persons traits are negative or positive. In our case, the central trait was attractiveness, and from that the significant majority of our participants then perceived the person with only positive traits or negative traits. Correspondingly, Wheeler and Kim, (1997) found that Korean, American and Canadian students who were perceived as being more attractive were rated as more sociable and friendly than non-attractive students. Our investigation supports this, as the physical appearance of the person in the sample photograph influenced the participant’s choice, and either rated them more positively if they had a symmetrical face, or rated the person in the sample photograph more negatively if they had an unsymmetrical face.
The limitations of the investigation involved the methodology used to conduct the experiment. It may have been proved to be more accurate if we had asked the participants to judge the photos on an instinctual basis, which is what would have been more accurate measure of their cognitive bias. Some of the participants would spend a large amount of time deciding which option to choose on the likert scale which could have altered their first impressions of the person. By using the opportunity sample, we could not control subject variables. Using a random sample as a modification to the experiment in the future would prevent this. Repeated measures would have proved a more effective technique than independent samples because it allows for more control over these variables. However, due to the limitation on time, repeated measures were not conducted. Furthermore, because we used a likert scale, there is also a possibility that the answers did not reflect the accurate feelings of the participant because they were forced to be limited in their response, with no room for elaboration. As well as this, we did not include the undecided option, which although didn’t allow for ambiguity, may have forced the participant to make an opinionated choice when he or she did not really have one.
There were some strengths in the way we conducted the experiment. By making the participants to rate the sample photographs alone, we eliminated the chances of them being distracted by their classmates, or being peer pressured into giving a certain answer. We also made sure that each participant was tested in the same environment, so consistency was ensured.
The implication of our findings is that our perceptions of others can be flawed because over our tendency to generalize peoples personality’s based on one positive characteristic, in this case, physical attractiveness.
Asch, S.E. (1946) Forming Impressions of Personality, Journal Of Abnormal and Social Psychology.
Goodwin, C.J (1998). Research in Psychology: Methods and Design, (2nd ed.). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Jamison, Jennie Brooks (2006) Research Methods in Psychology for High School Students, iUniverse
Thorndike, E.L. (1920). A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings, Journal of Applied Psychology, 4, 469-477.
Appendix 1 - Raw Data
Group 1 Data (attractive/symmetrical faced sample)
Group 2 Data (unattractive/unsymmetrical faced sample)
Appendix 2 – Mann Whitney Test Calculations
1- Strongly Agree
4- Strongly Disagree
Group 1 Group 2
N = 12 Ra = 78 N = 12 Rb= 222
Ua = NaNb + Na(Na+1) – Ra Ub = NaNb + Nb(Nb+1) - Rb
= 12x12 + 12(12+1) – Ra = 12x12 + 12(12+1) – 222
= 144 + 78 – 78 = 144 + 78 - 222
= 144 = 0
Appendix 3 - Consent Form
Participant Consent Form
This is to confirm that you fully understand and voluntarily accept to participate in this psychology experiment. The results will be used as data and will remain confidential. You have the right to withdraw from the experiment at any given time. Please do not discuss the experiment with your classmates, as you will be debriefed after the experiment is over.
Appendix 4 - Debriefing Notes
First of all, we would like to thank everyone for his or her cooperation in our experiment. The photographs consisted of samples divided into two groups, symmetrical and unsymmetrical faces. The aim of this study was to investigate the extent to which cognitive bias is present in individuals when judging strangers solely by the western criteria of beauty, in this case, symmetrical facial features. According the results of similar studies, symmetrically faced individuals are deemed as attractive, while asymmetrical faced individuals are seen as unattractive. We are hoping to find results that are in concordance with these studies. All of your information is confidential and on request, it will be removed from the data.
Appendix 5 - Standardized Instructions
The following instructions were read aloud to the classroom of participants before the experiment:
Welcome, thank you for volunteering to participate in this experiment. We will be taking you out individually to complete a short survey and we ask that you not discuss the survey after returning to the classroom. Please take a slip of paper from the hat.
Group 1 will be the first group to take the survey. Will participant 1 please follow us outside?”
Just to remind you, your answers are entirely confidential and you have the right to withdraw your answers at any time during this experiment. You also may ask for your results after the experiment is completed. Please look at the following image and answer the below survey as honestly as you can.
After participant 1 completed the survey, the participant was asked to go back to the classroom and participant 2 was asked out to complete the survey. This action was continued until all 30 participants had completed the survey.
Appendix 6 - Photographic Samples
Group 1- Symmetrically Faced Individual:
Image 1 is was manipulated in Photoshop to create an exact mirror image on each side. The proportions of her face were created by using the guidelines of “the golden ratio” a feature that has been used as a western characteristic of beauty since the roman times.
Group 2- Unsymmetrical Faced Individual
Image 2 was also manipulated using Photoshop. The eye sizes have been made different and the face elongated. Her eyebrows are of dissimilar lengths and two beauty marks create asymmetry of the skin. The image itself is also asymmetrical in posture.
Appendix 7 - Survey Forms
The survey was based on Goldberg’s “Big five” personality traits (1993), outlining the five broad factors or dimensions of personality. These factors, sometimes referred to as OCEAN, are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism; in this form, they are also referred to as the Five Factor Model (FFM). However, some discussion remains about the Openness factor, which is sometimes also referred to as “Intellect”.
Our survey then asked the participants to rate the photographs in terms of a. how open the person is, b. how truthful and genuine the person is. c. how popular or how likely the person is to have friends, d. how friendly they are, and e. how active or energetic they are.