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Are You Hot or Not?

Let’s face it. Some of us are physically attractive. Others are…well…not so much. Logic tells us that we can’t all be above average in attractiveness. So how do you know if you are physically attractive or not? Who should you ask? Well, the answer to that question lies in the kind of answer you want. Do you want the truth, or would you rather just feel good about yourself? (Unfortunately, these aren’t always the same thing.)

Here at SofR, we have discussed the power of positive illusions in fostering more satisfying romantic relationships and assisting in the maintenance of long-distance relationships. It turns out evaluations of your “hotness” are no different. A group of researchers examined whether romantic partners have a more positive (biased?) view of how attractive their sweeties and honeys and schnookums are.1 Romantic couples rated their own physical attractiveness as well as their partner’s. Perhaps not entirely surprising, women rated their boyfriends/fiancés/husbands as more attractive than the men viewed themselves, and men rated their girlfriends/fiancés/wives as more attractive than the women viewed themselves. Essentially, our partners see us as more attractive than we see ourselves. Maybe love really is blind, or at least needs new glasses.

But hold on, there’s more. They photographed each member of the couple and later showed these photos to a group of independent raters who indicated the physical attractiveness of each member of the couple. (So we’re clear, this is the equivalent of me having a group of random strangers view pictures of you and your partner and tell me how hot each of you are). Somewhat discouragingly, the group of observers rated individuals as less attractive than the partners did, and even less attractive than individuals rated themselves!  

Let’s get this straight. My wife thinks I look like Brad Pitt (“hot”), I think I look like Daniel Stern (average, I guess…), but the rest of the world thinks I look like Clint Howard (“not”). Yikes! That’s a buzz-kill. But take comfort in this: your partner thinks you are hotter than the rest of world does, and by a huge margin. So perhaps you should think twice about uploading your picture to HotOrNot. If you’d rather feel good about yourself than hear the truth, ask for your partner’s opinion and wrap yourself up in a great big blanket of positive illusions.

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1Barelds, D. P. H., Dijkstra, P., Koudenburg, N., & Swami, V. (2011). An assessment of positive illusions of the physical attractiveness of romantic partners. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28, 706-719.

Dr. Brent Mattingly - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Mattingly's research, broadly conceptualized, focuses on the intersection of romantic relationships and the self. His specific lines of research all examine how individual-level constructs (e.g., motivation, attachment, self-regulation) are associated with various relational processes.

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