Study examines relationship between grades and appearance

With apps like “Hot or Not,” that allow peers to rate one another based on looks alone, it should be no surprise how much emphasis is placed on a person’s appearance.

Does this extend into the college classroom? According to one study, it does.

Metropolitan State University of Denver Associate professor Christina Peters and co-author Rey Hernandez-Julian conducted a study asking individuals over 18, who did not work at or attend the university, to rate identity card photos of students on a scale of 1 – 10.

Peters and Hernandez-Julian also examined 168,000 course grades awarded to those same students, using ACT scores to show academic ability. The study found young women considered pretty had a 0.024 increase in grades on a 4.0 scale, earning grades that are 0.005 higher than average-looking students.

However, in online classes, where students cannot be seen, more attractive students perform relatively worse than in traditional environments.

While the results are related, it is unknown what is causing the group of attractive students to have higher grades, said professor of sociology Alex Takeuchi. Many different factors can be contributing to the results.

“Many studies indicate people who are better looking tend to have better treatment in society, and they tend to have slightly better opportunities,” he said. “They are more likely to succeed, perhaps because they have better opportunities, and they are treated probably more positively because of their looks.”

The study cannot be described as scientific research, said Vice President of Academic Affairs John Thornell.

“For example, it said (the authors) examined photo ID cards. That is going to be pretty unscientific. I know lots of students who don’t put too much effort into their ID cards.”

Thornell said this seems to be more of a societal issue with its objectification of women and its elevation of appearance.

“I think this really is more of a question for society in general than it is for UNA and grades of students based upon appearance,” he said. “I think it does raise the whole issue of how our society puts value on appearance in things such as job interviews or how you get waited on in a restaurant maybe.”

Rating peers on a physically attractive level starts at a young age, Takeuchi said.

“The entire social psychological study on physical attractiveness was actually by accident,” he said. “Child psychologists found those kids in preschool that have higher adjustment tend to have a higher physical attractiveness level rated by their peer kids.”

Cross-cultural and cross-racial studies, using photos of the same people, indicate people will consistently rank those people in similar order of appearance, Takeuchi said.

“The implication is humans can tell who is good looking and who is not good looking,” he said. “We tend to have some kind of standard, which can dynamically change depending on popular culture and popular trends.”

Studies show people who are in better positions in terms of financial and other social resources tend to perform better in school, Takeuchi said.

Students whose parents pay for school tend to perform better than students who juggle two or three part-time jobs, school and studying, he said.

The name for the concept of how people form an impression of someone just on their physical appearance is called the halo effect, said Merchandising instructor Laura McKee.

“The halo effect is actually a term in psychology, but we talk about it in our professional dress class,” she said. “It talks about (how) the first time you meet someone, you sum up their talents and traits just by the way they look.”

It occurs with both males and females, she said.

Senior Steven Webber said this holds true for his job at Longhorn Steak House.

“How I look reflects the tips I receive,” he said. “A three-day scruff receives the best tips, even more than being clean-shaven.”

McKee said she asks her students if they make assumptions about their instructors on the first day of class as to what kind of teacher they will be based on their physical appearance. The answer is yes.

Thornell said the university should do all it can to help students feel equal in the classroom.

“(This study) does raise an interesting question and that is just simply making sure when a student is sitting in a class that they feel that they’re being treated just like any other student in that class,” he said. “That faculty member is judging students based purely on their performance in class, and I believe that the faculty at UNA are very good about that.”

Senior Avery King said she does not think there is any relation between looks and grades.

“I personally don’t agree with it. I think in order to get a grade you have to work hard to get a grade.”

Thornell said this issue plays into how women are seen, and the change from this viewpoint should begin here at the university.

“We can’t help but treat people certain ways based on how they look, and I think that is unfortunate,” Thornell said.