Webster, M. and J.E. Driskell. 1983. “Beauty as Status.”

Webster, Murray, Jr. and James E. Driskell, Jr. 1983. “Beauty as Status.” American Journal of Sociology 89(1): 140-165.

Beauty impacts what we think about individuals, and how we interact with them. Beauty serves as a link to other forms of status generalization (like race or sex). Beauty impacts general/specific predictive expectations, is modified through its combination of other statuses – across the demographic and stimuli of respondents (generalizable statement).

Beauty impacts social life – good/fortunate to be beautiful, bad/unfortunate to be ugly (from folklore, intuition) – experimental/naturalistic students show advantage for beautiful people, based on romantic/sexual appeal, envy, desire to be of equal beauty/status/privilege.

Lit review:

  • Perrin (1921): attractiveness important in popularity, more desirable (Miller 1970)
  • Waller (1937): “ important in dating, marriage choices – dating frequency in college students (Huston 1973, Adinolfi 1970)
  • Clifford and Walster (1973): attractive children expected to receive higher marks than non-, infractions viewed as less serious (Dion et al 1972) – are graded higher – in college- than non- (Landy and Sigall 1974)
  • (Horai, Naccari, and Fatoullan 1974): Opinions more likely to be validated, or at least supported in times of disagreement (Dion and Stein 1978), perceived as more friendly, confident, likeable (Miller 1970), more successful in business dealings (Baker and Churchill 1977) – perceived as more accomplished (Dion et al 1972)

Attractiveness advantages à attractiveness is presumed with skill à “ impacts interactions attached with skill à “[…] attractive people are seen as better at most things and are more successful; and better and more successful people become, by virtue of those traits, more attractive to others” (143) – builds into stratification systems.

*** Linking cognition (thoughts/opinions) to interaction (behaviors) ***

Beauty as “diffuse status characteristic” (144) – similar to race and sex, hold cultural stereotypes, builds hierarchy, impacts interaction.

Specific status characteristics – abilities of limited scope, often task-oriented, descriptive (doctor, professor, author).

Diffuse status characteristics – a “carrier” of other traits, expectations of behavior/condition — much more broadly attributed (race, sex, age)

  • when attractiveness is noted/becomes salient, it modifies the nature of interaction (salience) — treating the assumptions held about a status characteristic as IF it offered insight to ability/action and thus relevant to interaction (burden of proof process), impacting on how interacting individuals behave toward each other.

Status generalization (Berger et al 1977; developed by Humphreys and Berger 1981) – the combination of statuses (and expectations) as they merge and offer information — frequently generalized, flattening/misattributing expectations — but, for beauty, this status generalization works in the attractive person’s favor — despite the understanding that  “expectations are formed, not on the basis of a single status characteristic, but rather from the entire set of statuses an individual possesses” (159)

Results: “people who possess the high state of attractiveness are also expected to possess the high state of general, unlimited characteristics” (158) – attributing competency or skill even in things that have absolutely nothing to do with appearance — attributing this to conventionality (kx^ salience with what is expected?) and the holding of other high statuses (wealth, fame, etc.) – those who are wealthy are frequently idealized, giving them power in other domains, such as physical beauty?


Adinolf, A. 1970. “Characteristics of Highly Accepted, Highly Rejected, and Relatively Unknown University Freshmen.” Journal of Counseling Psychology 17: 456-64.

Baker, M. J., and G. A. Churchill. 1977. “The Impact of Physically Attractive Models on Advertising Evaluations.” Journal of Marketing Research 14.538-55.

Berger, J., M. H. Fisek, and M. Zelditch, Jr. 1977. Status Characteristics and Social Interaction: An Expectation States Approach. New York: Elsevier.

Clifford, M. M., and E. Walster. 1973. “The Effect of Physical Attractiveness on Teacher Expectation.” Sociology of Education 46:248-58.

Dion, K. K., and S. Stein. 1978. “Physical Attractiveness and Interpersonal Influence.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 14:97-108.

Dion, K. K., E. Berscheid, and E. Walster. 1972. “What Is Beautiful Is Good.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 24:285-90.

Horai, J., N. Naccari, and E Fatoullan. 1974. “The Effects of Expertise and Physical Attractiveness upon Opinion Agreement and Liking.” Sociometry 37 601-6.

Humphreys, P, andJ. Berger. 1981. “Theoretical Consequences of the Status Characteristics Formulation.” American Journal of Sociology 86:953-83

Huston, T. L. 1973. “Ambiguity of Acceptance, Social Desirability, and Dating Choice.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 9:32-42.

Landy, D., and H. Sigall. 1974. “Beauty Is Talent-Task Evaluation as a Function of the Performer’s Physical Attractiveness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 29:299- 304.

Miller, A. G. 1970. “Role of Physical Attractiveness in Impression Formation.” Psychonomic Science 19:241-43.

Perrin, R. A. C. 1921. “Physical Attractiveness and Repulsiveness.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 4:203-17.

Waller, W. 1937. “The Rating and Dating Complex.” American Sociological Review 2-727- 37.


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