Look at all those pretty Democratic women

Okay, I’m apparently just thinking that because I’m a Democrat.  The Republican readers are far more impressed by the attractiveness of fellow Republicans (but can we all agree that Ann Coulter is just horrible? 🙂 ).  Some fun and interesting social science via Wonkblog:

Another piece of research that came across my desk recently might offer some clues as to why. A studypublished in the journal Political Behavior suggests that finding out that someone is of a different political party can influence perceptions of how that person looks.

“People are likely to see people from the other political party as less attractive, and we found that for both men and women,” said Stephen Nicholson, the study’s lead author.

The effect is due to something researchers call “in-group bias.” That means that people in a social or cultural group tend to evaluate members of their own group more positively and people outside of that group more negatively. Past research has suggested that these negative feelings arise especially under conditions where different groups are competing — like politics.

The study was carried out during the 2012 presidential election, part of a larger research project about political issues. Researchers showed a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults a photograph of someone of the opposite sex — either a “moderately attractive” male or female — accompanied by some various information about the person’s likes and interests, sometimes including whether they supported Barack Obama or Mitt Romney for president.

When they weren’t told about the political leanings of the person in the photograph, Republicans and Democrats found the person equally attractive. But when the survey respondent was told that person supported a different political candidate from them, men and women of both parties reported the people in the photographs as being less attractive. [emphasis mine]

Republicans found Obama supporters to be less attractive, while Democrats found Romney supporters to be less attractive. In addition, women were more likely to rate the person in the photograph as more attractive if they were of the same political party — though no such effect was found for men, as the graph below shows.

"The Politics of Beauty: The Effects of Partisan Bias on Physical Attractiveness," Stephen P. Nicholson, Chelsea M. Coe, Jason Emory, Anna V. Song

Notice this was a nationally representative sample of adults, not just college students.  So does this mean that cross-partisan couples are really attractive?  Seems like they might need to be to help overcome this natural bias.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

One Response to Look at all those pretty Democratic women

  1. ohwilleke says:

    The crazy thing is that this bias persists, even when you are aware of it.

    For example, a woman, MM, that I went to college with (she lived down the hall from me in the same dorm) who lives about an hour away from me now (although she and her husband are always no shows at alumni events) is objectively speaking a quite physically attractive woman. Her husband was a college friend of mine who has fairly similar tastes in physical beauty to me, which confirms that in a vacuum I’d very likely be attracted to her physically. Indeed, I thought she was beautiful myself before I got to know her. I know that.

    But, her vitriolic conservative politics and mean personality are even worse than Ann Coulter. So, as a result, I don’t perceive her as beautiful, even though I know that if she had different politics and she wasn’t so damn mean, I would think otherwise. Despite the fact that I consciously know that, however, my current perception of her appearance in photos as rather ugly doesn’t change.

    It’s subtle, almost like changing the lighting in a photograph to change the mood and emotional valence of the same underlying subject of the photo. But, it is real effect.

    One of the things you learn when you try to learn to draw is just how much of what we see is what we think we are seeing rather than what we actually see. It is true in evaluating beauty as well.

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