Receiving a gift or unexpected present is always a fun experience, but giving is also quite rewarding in a different way. Being generous has long been linked to improvements in the giver’s mood, confidence, and overall health. Simply put, it feels good to do good.
Now, a new study from Indiana University has uncovered yet another reason why we should all be going out of our way to be generous toward others. Researchers conclude that people who are “givers” are usually rated as more physically attractive by their peers. Moreover, attractive people are more likely to be generous in the first place.
Let’s unpack all that for a moment. For decades the prevailing stereotype toward especially attractive people (models, celebrities, etc.) is that these types of individuals are naturally vain, self-centered, and unconcerned about other people. This study challenges that belief mightily.
On the other hand, it’s no secret that countless people end up spending thousands of dollars (in many cases even more) in pursuit of attractiveness. Between plastic surgery, intense dieting and workout regimens and equipment, the latest fashion trends, and any number of other “shortcuts,” beauty is a booming industry. Perhaps the vast majority of all that time and money would be better spent aimed at more altruistic and generous endeavors.
“Our findings suggest that beauty products and procedures may not be the only way to enhance an individual’s attractiveness,” comments study co-author Sara Konrath, an associate professor of philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, in a university release. “Perhaps being generous could be the next beauty trend.”
“Poets and philosophers have suggested the link between moral and physical beauty for centuries,” professor Konrath adds. “This study confirms that people who are perceived as more attractive are more likely to give and givers are seen as more attractive.”
Objectively speaking, it’s hard to put a precise definition on “beauty.” Each person on this planet has a different idea of ideal beauty, and attraction is often predicated on more than just one’s outward appearance. That being said, an individual’s choices and actions can influence how other people view them in terms of attractiveness.
A man or woman may be very attractive on a pure appearance level, but if you see that person actively being nasty toward someone else, chances are you aren’t going to consider that individual as attractive as you may have before. Similarly, seeing someone else perform a selfless act of kindness will probably help others see them in a more attractive light.
The scenario described above is a perfect encapsulation of the “Halo Effect.” This term refers to the natural human tendency of allowing a positive impression in one area to influence perceptions in another. More specifically, seeing someone do something nice for another person often helps us see that person as more attractive.
The Halo Effect is well documented in modern science. Astoundingly, however, this study’s findings suggest that generous behavior leads to attractiveness even in the absence of the Halo Effect.
To come to these conclusions professor Konrath and her co-author Femida Handy from the University of Pennsylvania analyzed three previous research projects. One of those projects focused on a group of older-adults at one point in time. The other two prior initiatives tracked a group of participants from late adolescence through adulthood.
Throughout their research, the study’s authors focused on answering two nagging questions. Are people who engage in more “giving behaviors” considered more physically attractive? Are attractive people more likely to be generous in the first place?
Across these prior projects, participants’ attractiveness was rated by a group of other people. However, none of these people were privy to participants’ giving habits. This factor is important because it essentially neutralized the Halo Effect.
All in all, older adults who made a habit of volunteering and giving affection were rated as being more attractive. Also, younger adults who often volunteer were rated as more attractive.
“Although we cannot fully explain why the link between giving behaviors and attractiveness exists, we find remarkable consistency across the three studies, despite being conducted at different times, using different participants, and using different methods and measures,” Handy explains.
Generosity is all about prioritizing another person over oneself. So, it’s somewhat ironic that selfless behavior can also benefit the giver. In summation, this study gives new meaning to the phrase “it’s better to give than to receive.”
The full study can be found here, published in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly.