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Huh. Unattractive People Overestimate Their Attractiveness; Attractive People Underestimate Theirs.

·605 words·3 mins
Psyched for the Weekend

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to a super attractive friend or romantic partner tell me they looked like crap.  Or asked for reassurance that they looked okay — when in fact, they looked stunning.

This kind of behavior can actually be a little trying. It can come off as a disingenuous form of attention-seeking. An indirect press for affirmation.

Because they must _know _how stunning they are, right?

Yeah, actually, no apparently. According to a new study, super attractive people are likely to underrate their own attractiveness. That part was less surprising in hindsight than the other major finding: That unattractive people were likely to overestimate their attractiveness. Huh.

(The way these measures were calculated was by comparing the ratings of individuals of their own attractiveness against how strangers rated them.)

The researchers actually cite the work of Dunning-Kruger in their lit review. Their work has been referred to many times in this series — Dunning-Kruger even received its own feature in one installment. The tl;dr of Dunning-Kruger is that skilled people doubt themselves, and the unskilled are confident.

This current study would suggest that self-perception could possibly similarly warp in non-skill-based domains, like personal appearance. Which is honestly kind of fascinating.

In a way, the findings are also sort of reassuring to me, as I’ve personally never considered myself particularly attractive. For the longest time, I thought I was absolutely hideous.

Maintaining an Aggressive Neutrality Re: My Physical Appearance

My whole path away from self-loathing and body negativity was to try to maintain an aggressive neutrality on it. I talked my way through it in a very strange way, I’ll admit… by using statistics. (Look, I love stats… is that a crime?)

So, without getting stranded too far out there in Stats Land, I basically decided to define “average looking” as any values that fall plus or minus one standard deviation from the mean. This statistical group would of course include the people who are on-the-nose, precisely average (i.e., the mean in this case, instead of the median or mode because there’s no need to get that fancy on a cognitive reframe). But it would also capture everyone who is a bit above average or a little below average. For the purposes of this neutrality reframe, these folks are close enough to “average” to lump them in.

By definition, two thirds of any given population will be within plus or minus one standard deviation from the mean. (That’s how standard deviations work.)

Therefore, in this reframe, two-thirds of people are “average looking.”

All else being equal, there’s a two-thirds chance that I’m roughly average looking.

True, this means I don’t get to parade around feeling like I’m super good-looking and looking down on other people or something because of it. Or perhaps scooping up romantic partners easily like an invading giant would snatch up hapless villagers running away from them. It would mean that I’m unlikely to be discovered on a street corner for an appearance-based industry (like acting or modeling or something). Or whatever sorts of fantasies people have that revolve around being extra good looking.

But I also don’t spend much time and energy worrying that I’m hideous. So a neutral self-belief at the end of the day saves me an awful lot of hassle and frees up my mind to worry about other things.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.



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