A natural observation study was conducted on a New Jersey university campus in order to study the relationship, if any, between height and perceived attractiveness. Four hundred participants were observed in a natural setting. This sample consisted of 201 males and 199 females. The observers independently rated each participant subjectively on an attractiveness scale, which ranged from one to ten. The observers then estimated the individual’s height, as well. The two variables of height and attractiveness were observed in order test the Assortative Mating Theory. This study was influenced by a study conducted by Kanazawa and Kovar (2004), and the results indicated that taller individuals are generally perceived to be more attractive than individuals of a shorter stature. In addition, there was a higher correlation between the facial attractiveness of females and their height than there was within the male group. Therefore, for females, the hypothesis was even more significant.
The act of appraising the attractiveness of other individuals is an aspect of everyday human living. Statements and phrases such as “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” have become rather commonplace within American culture. But are statements such as this one truly valid? Are there factors that contribute to perceived attractiveness?
Data has shown that those who are perceived to be physically attractive are also perceived to be of a higher intelligence than those who are viewed to be unattractive (Kanazawa & Kovar, 2004). In addition, research shows that the approaches with which we appraise attractiveness can, potentially, be innate behaviors (Samuels & Ewy, 1985; Langlois, Roggman, Casey, Rittner, Rieser-Danner, & Jenkins, 1987). Physical characteristics such as facial symmetry are said to be contributors to higher perceived attractiveness, and this is because it is possible that physical attractiveness is unconsciously associated with healthy, or desirable, genetics (Gangestad, Thornhill, & Yeo, 1994; Mealey, Bridgstock, & Townshend, 1999).
One way to measure this stereotype is to observe an individual’s height in conjunction with subjectively rating their attractiveness. This method allows the relationship between healthy, or desirable, genetics (height) and attractiveness (facial attractiveness) to be observed. The goal of this study was to explore whether, or not, we view attractiveness from an evolutionary standpoint, thereby causing us to perceive taller individuals to be more attractive, by correlating the relationship between observed individuals’ height and attractiveness.
Evolution is a factor that plays a critical role in our subjective perception of attractiveness (Kanazawa & Kovar, 2004). Taller individuals are often perceived to be more intelligent and successful than those of a shorter stature (Dannenmaier & Thumin, 1964). From an evolutionary standpoint, facial symmetry is a prime factor in gauging perceived attractiveness (Gangestad, Thornhill, & Yeo, 1994; Mealey, Bridgstock, & Townshend, 1999). In regard to healthy genetics, facial symmetry indicates the presence, or lack thereof, of disease and poor genetics (Gangestad, Thornhill, & Yeo, 1994; Mealey, Bridgstock, & Townshend, 1999). Therefore, individuals with symmetric faces will be considered to be more attractive (Gangestad, Thornhill, & Yeo, 1994; Mealey, Bridgstock, & Townshend, 1999). It is evident that these common stereotypes might not be stereotypes at all. Langlois, Roggman, and Reiser-Danner (1990) further supported this theory by researching infants. It was observed that 12-month-old infants displayed a great amount of noticeable pleasure when interacting with unknown individuals who were wearing physically attractive masks over their faces. In addition, these children exhibited a lesser amount of pleasure when associating with strangers who were wearing masks that were physically unattractive (Langlois, Roggman, & Reiser-Danner, 1990). This potentially supports the theory that beauty is not necessarily in the eye of the beholder, as these children have not yet, at a mere twelve months of age, established a personal perception of attractiveness based on social norms or modeling.
A study by Jackson and Ervin (1992) demonstrated that men of a taller stature were rated to be more physically attractive and were also rated to be of a greater professional status. After using a trait ratings method, women who were of average height or above were also perceived to be more physically attractive than women with a shorter stature (Jackson & Ervin, 1992). Past research also supports that men will opt to mate with women who are physically attractive, while women will prefer to mate with men who are successful and are more powerful than the “average men” of society (Gutierres, Kendrick, & Partch, 1999). Therefore, according to the theory of assortative mating, high-status males and physically attractive females will form relationships.
This study involved the testing of multiple hypotheses. The first hypothesis was tested in order to examine the relationship between Height and Perceived Attractiveness for the sample in general. It sought to help the researchers discover if taller individuals were perceived to be more physically attractive in regard to facial features. The second hypothesis was tested in order to examine the correlation between Height and Attractiveness for gender separately, and to examine whether, or not, the relationship would be more significant between both genders than for the whole sample.
Four hundred natural observations were recorded in various locations on a pre-determined New Jersey college campus. Observations were conducted on 201 males and 199 females. A convenience sample was taken, therefore, only individuals that appeared to be between the ages of 18 and 25 on the college campus, and who were on the designated location for conducting observations, were selected to be observed. Since this study was executed in the format of a naturalistic observation, all of the participants remained anonymous and, therefore, no consent from the participants was obtained or required. All observations were recorded on a Likert Scale data sheet that was designed by the researchers.
The results of this study suggested that height does have an effect on perceived attractiveness in our everyday culture. Taller individuals were perceived to be more attractive, while individuals of a shorter stature were perceived to be less attractive. Since facial symmetry is associated with healthy, or desirable, genetics, participants’ attractiveness was rated solely on their facial features, thus testing to see if perceptions of attractiveness are unconsciously innate and have a genetic basis. Since only facial features were rated in regard to a participant’s attractiveness, the researchers were able to reinforce the theory that attractiveness is perceived based upon genetics. Although it is commonly stated that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” this study indicated otherwise.
The findings of this study support that, despite thousands of years of human existence, evolution still plays a major factor in a person judging the attractiveness of another individual, even if they do not realize it through a conscious level of processing. Therefore, height, in association with “desirable genetics,” will have an influence on perceived attractiveness. Since a taller individual will be unconsciously perceived to be the possessor of healthy genetics, he or she is more likely to be considered attractive and viewed as a potential mate. Persons of a shorter stature are less likely to be associated with healthy genetics, therefore leading to them being deemed less attractive and less of a potential mate for the perceiver.
There were many strengths associated with this study, one of which was having a large sample (of 400) to observe. This insured exemption from any random error. Taking the average of the sample allowed the researchers to cancel out any possible flaws in the data. In addition, the college campus on which the observations were conducted on provided an ample amount of participants. The researchers were able to observe these participants in a natural setting, allowing them to fully exhibit natural behavior.
The researchers are, however, left with some questions regarding the results. Although there are many implications for the findings of this study, there are also other factors that were not measured for or taken into account when this study was designed. The omission of these factors allowed the researchers to remain consistent with past research. In other words, although this study indicated that genetics do have a very strong relationship with how attractive an individual is perceived to be, what do others believe? What other factors might be at play?
Many individuals often refer to other features that supposedly make an individual attractive. For example, personality, beliefs, interests, level of intelligence, socioeconomic status, like-mindedness, culture, talents, etc. People even sometimes say that attractiveness is not even as great of a factor as some of these other human qualities. Investigation into this area would be very beneficial to our understanding of how human beings appraise an individual’s attractiveness. Although this study found that height and perceived attractiveness are correlated, it is entirely likely that this is only a small piece of the picture.
There existed a handful of limitations within this study, the first, being that there was a hole in the data between observed genders. As opposed to 200 individuals being observed for each gender, 201 males were observed and 199 females were observed, which strayed slightly away from our intent to have an equal amount of gender-based observations.
In addition, a low reliability existed for the recorded attractiveness ratings. Perhaps this is because, once again, different observers had different opinions on how to judge facial symmetry and, thus, failed to take facial symmetry effectively into consideration. After all, every person is different, and subjective appraisal can often cause differences in opinion. Furthermore, perhaps a low reliability between observers was obtained based on facial attractiveness because some observers could have possibly been observing, either consciously or unconsciously, other aspects and not the face alone. This, of course, would cause breaches in recorded scores for attractiveness between observers.
In conclusion, this study provided an in-depth look into the basic human drives that are not always associated with genetics. However, as has been concluded, genetics and evolution both play a major role in perceived attractiveness. Not surprisingly, we have evolved in such drastic forms throughout the span of human existence, while still maintaining the innate factors that cause us, as human beings, to perceive attractiveness in the fashion that we do. Such knowledge can allow us to much better understand basic human drives and functioning, and can further clarify why we act the way we do as such highly complex structures.
A Brief Author Bio:
Tyler J. Andreula graduated Summa Cum Laude from Montclair State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology. Soon after, he went on to pursue a Master of Arts degree in counseling at Montclair State University, along with training in substance abuse counseling at Capella University, and training in cognitive-behavioral therapy from the Rational Living Therapy Institute. Tyler is a member of Chi Sigma Iota (the honor society for professional counselors), the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists, the American Counseling Association, and the American School Counseling Association. He currently works primarily with adolescents and their family members.