The Situation of Hair Color
Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 22, 2008
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”
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Men’s intelligence switches down a notch when blond women are around, says new psychology research. The study, [in press at] the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, examines people’s ability to answer Trivial Pursuit game questions after viewing photos of women with different hair colors. [For a summary of the research by the lead author, click here.]
Guess what: Otherwise intelligent men performed below par . . . after viewing photos of blond women.
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 Self-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.
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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, 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.
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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.
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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.”
This entry was posted on January 22, 2008 at 12:01 am and is filed under Entertainment, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.