Nobel Beauty: Why is physical attractiveness valued over intelligence?
Friday, 08 June, 2018

It is well-known (and, indeed, something of a staple of modern society) that physical attractiveness affects individual well-being and behavior in many different ways… but productivity in economic research would not often be considered one of them.

On June 8, Jan Fidrmuc, a Professor of Brunel University London, delivered a presentation at ISET entitled “Beautiful Minds: Physical Attractiveness and Research Productivity in Economics”. In his speech, Mr. Fidrmuc emphasized that physically attractive people usually receive significant benefits in their social lives, the labor market, and, most importantly, in the marriage market. Surprisingly enough, Mr. Fidrmuc also mentioned that academic achievements are also influenced by physical appearance; for instance, attractive female undergraduate students attending classes in person often better in college, as opposed to those who participate in online courses and are therefore unable to benefit from their appearance (Hernández-Julián and Peters, 2015).

In the second half of his presentation, Mr. Fidrmuc presented an exciting piece of research, which was conducted together with a former Ph.D. student of his own, Boontarika Paphawasit. The authors aimed at finding out whether attractive scientists had an advantage, and in contrast to the prior findings in the literature (which all found in favor of beauty), the authors discovered that attractiveness is negatively correlated with the probability of being awarded a Nobel Prize, and moreover, that effect is non-negligible. The authors suggested an explanation for their finding: “discrimination, whereby the nominators and/or the selection committee (subconsciously) consider attractive scientists as less serious and not fitting the expectations that they have about what a top scientist looks like.”