The Situationist

The Situation of Hair Color

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 22, 2008

Blonde Stereotypes

This post is a mashup of several newspaper articles, including Shelley Emling’s article, Blondes, ready for some bad news?,” Tom Spears’s piece, “Paris Hilton factor’ sucks IQ points from men and women equally,” and, from Psychology Today, an excerpt from the book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, which explores, among other “politically incorrect truths about human nature,” the mystery of the “blond bombshell”

* * *

Maybe that’s not shocking. But here’s the blondness bombshell: Women’s intelligence drops the same way.

This shows that men and women treat blond women without much respect, says the group working with Clémentine Bry of the University of Paris X, in Nanterre.

The key is that men and women equally carry the “dumb blond” stereotype in the backs of their minds, the group believes. “They (blonds) were perceived as pretty, but stupid.” Surrounded by blonds, men and women alike think they’re in the company of dummies, and they relax their own thinking to match this. At least that’s the theory.

From Marilyn Monroe to Paris Hilton, “blonde” has long been code for a woman who’s long on looks and light on brains. French blogs have started calling Ms. Bry’s work the “Paris Hilton factor.” The researchers have a fancier name for it: “Blond Like Me: When Britney SpearsSelf-Construals Moderate Stereotype Priming Effects on Intellectual Performance.”

Given that common stereotype, the social psychologists believe, men and women react accordingly.

When blonds are present, even just in photos, the subconscious is saying: Let’s think at a lower level, like them.

The researchers say it’s a variation of common behaviour. If we sit near someone who fiddles with a pen, we tend to fiddle with a pen, too. And if we think we’re surrounded by the not-so-intelligent . . . .”There’s a decrease in performance after an unobtrusive exposure to a stereotype about people who have the reputation to be cognitively impaired,” he said.

In plainer language, blondes might make people act in a less intelligent manner because the people believe — whether they want to admit it or not — that they are in the presence of someone who’s not very smart.

Previous studies also have shown how information from a person’s social context can influence their behavior.

For example, when people are exposed to elderly people, they tend to walk and talk more slowly. When people sit beside someone who is fidgeting, they tend to fidget as well.

“The mere knowledge of a stereotype can influence our behavior,” said . . . Bry . . . .
“We do not pretend that blondes are dumb or dumber than other women. There are absolutely no scientific studies to support this stereotype. Stereotypes are cultural beliefs about social groups, they are not truthful pictures of who people are. The reasons why such a stereotype emerged are unknown and were not the point of interest of our work.”

Alan S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, authors of the book Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, go out on what seems (to us) like a flimsy limb to provide an evolutionary solution to the mystery of the “blonde bombshell”:

Long before TV—in 15th- and 16th- century Italy, and possibly two millennia ago—women were dying their hair blond. Women’s desire to look like Barbie—young with small waist, large breasts, long blond hair, and blue eyes—is a direct, realistic, and sensible response to the desire of men to mate with women who look like her. There is evolutionary logic behind each of these features.

* * *

Blond hair is unique in that it changes dramatically with age. Typically, young girls with light blond hair become women with brown hair. Thus, men who prefer to mate with blond women are unconsciously attempting to mate with younger (and hence,Anna Nicole Smith on average, healthier and more fecund) women. It is no coincidence that blond hair evolved in Scandinavia and northern Europe, probably as an alternative means for women to advertise their youth, as their bodies were concealed under heavy clothing.

* * *

Women with blue eyes should not be any different from those with green or brown eyes. Yet preference for blue eyes seems both universal and undeniable—in males as well as females. One explanation is that the human pupil dilates when an individual is exposed to something that she likes. For instance, the pupils of women and infants (but not men) spontaneously dilate when they see babies. Pupil dilation is an honest indicator of interest and attraction. And the size of the pupil is easiest to determine in blue eyes. Blue-eyed people are considered attractive as potential mates because it is easiest to determine whether they are interested in us or not.

* * *

The irony is that none of the above is true any longer. Through face-lifts, wigs, liposuction, surgical breast augmentation, hair dye, and color contact lenses, any woman, regardless of age, can have many of the key features that define ideal female beauty. And men fall for them. Men can cognitively understand that many blond women with firm, large breasts are not actually 15 years old, but they still find them attractive because their evolved psychological mechanisms are fooled by modern inventions that did not exist in the ancestral environment.

* * *

For a sample of previous posts discussing the role of unconscious and automatic causes of behavior, see Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of the series titled “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness,” “The Situation of Reason,” “The Situation of Ideology – Part I,” “The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” and “The Unconscious Genius of Baseball Players.”

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5 Responses to “The Situation of Hair Color”

  1. T said

    I too think the rationale offered by Miller and Kanazawa is somewhat flimsy, but I do think there’s a germ of truth in there worthy of exploring further.

  2. […] S. Miller and Satoshi Kanazawa, and an excerpt was featured in a Psychology Today article in 2007. Here is part of the excerpt: Blond hair is unique in that it changes dramatically with age. Typically, young girls with light […]

  3. […] here.  For related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Body Image,” “The Situation of Hair Color,” “The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” “Survival of the Cutest,” “Spas and […]

  4. Othello Cat said

    If it is true that men are biologically programed to look for the physical indicators of fertility (and that is questionable) then it would be arguable that they would actually eschew blonde hair (memo to the author: “blonde” refers to female. “Blond” — without the “e”, refers to the male). Caucasian women who are born blonde usually find that their hair darkens at puberty due to the presence of eostrogen. Eostrogen is responsible for other secondary sexual characteristics that provide visual indicators that a human female is now pregnable such as the development of breasts, body hair and broadening hips. Eostrogen is also responsible for ovulation.

    IOW, if — and only IF — heterosexual men are driven by visual cues to indicate fertility, then DARKENING hair would be the attractor.

    The biggest refutation is that if there really is some kind of universal male attraction to youthful blondeness, it fails to explain the fecundity of the non-Caucasian persons of this planet.

    Truth is, blonde hair in this day and age has been MARKETED as “beautiful” because it is the most expensive (and profitable) hair colour to maintain.

  5. pinna said

    Actually, red hair, it might be argued, is the most demanding and expensive to maintain. The red pigment fades out the fastest. I can go get blonde color highlights, (not bleach,) and it lasts 2 months. For red, I am back in the salon every 3 weeks.
    Not that I don’t agree with your overall point. It’s the same reason they try to sell Brazilian blowouts when you have gorgeous curls. Staying the way you are naturally doesn’t sell their beauty products and services.

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