A study shows that with some regularity we hear about the latest beauty-pageant contestant who has responded to a softball of a question with an epic fail of a mistake, a bizarre opinion or an incoherent ramble. There’s the Panamanian contestant who believed that Confucius invented the philosophy of ‘Confusion,’ the Miss Hawaii who described the U.S. only in terms of the ‘rocky shores’ and ‘sandy beaches’ of Hawaii, and the Miss South Carolina Teen USA who explained that Americans don’t know enough geography because too many people can’t afford maps.
Ridiculous. But what’s even more ridiculous is that our brains bias us toward believing such people — just because they’re good-looking.
The German poet Friedrich Schiller wrote, ‘Physical beauty is the sign of an interior beauty, a spiritual and moral beauty.’ His belief seems odd if you’ve ever seen a portrait of Schiller: His prominent schnozzola would have knocked him out of the 1788 edition of People Magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive.’
In the years since, research has shown that from an early age — in both sexes and across numerous cultures — attractive people are judged to be smarter, kinder, more honest and trustworthy. Obviously, our bias toward thinking that ‘what is beautiful is good’ makes for some bad mating decisions.
In politics, we are also more likely to believe and vote for people who are attractive. Ditto for hiring them. And when it comes to ostensibly blind justice, numerous studies from the 1970s through ’90s found that more-attractive individuals are less likely to be convicted of crimes and, if convicted, receive shorter-than-average sentences for the crime.
Why should this be? Some have suggested that since it is pleasurable to meet someone attractive and someone good and honest, we unconsciously conflate the two. But this convergence of rewarding experiences seems dubious. After all, few of us intermix the pleasure of, say, reading about the triumph of the abolitionist movement with the pleasure of taking a bubble bath and eating a box of Twinkies.
Instead, it seems that the brain confuses the metaphorical and the literal — a fairly common sort of error, because brain regions often multitask. The same region, for instance, is involved in processing physical and emotional pain and in ‘feeling’ someone else’s pain. Another brain region is central to both gustatory disgust (responding to the taste of rotten food with reflexes that make you feel sick to your stomach) and moral disgust (responding to some appalling act by making you feel sick to your stomach).
Work by Takashi Tsukiura, Japanese and Roberto Cabeza, Spanish of Duke University shows something similar with looks: The medial orbitofrontal cortex of the brain is involved in rating both the beauty of a face and the goodness of a behavior, and the level of activity in that region during one of those tasks predicts the level during the other. In other words, the brain does similar things when contemplating beautiful minds, hearts or cheekbones. And it assumes that cheekbones tell you something about minds and hearts.
It’s a discouraging finding. But there’s also some good news in this story: The brain can get confused in both directions. In other words, the same neural wiring that gives rise to ‘What is beautiful is good’ also generates ‘What is good is beautiful.’
In studies by Sampo Paunonen of the University of Western Ontario, heterosexual subjects of both genders viewed pictures of people of the opposite sex, described as having varying degrees of intelligence, independence and honesty. Degrees of independence and intelligence had no effect on their ratings of attractiveness. But people who were described as being more honest were rated as more likable, and the more likable, the more physically attractive.
It seems that things even out in the end. On the one hand, we’re more likely to believe that the earth is flat just because a beauty queen says so. But on the other hand, people are more likely to see that the goodness of Mother Teresa or Gandhi is beautiful.
德国诗人弗里德里希·席勒(Friedrich Schiller)曾写道：“外表美是内在美、精神美和道德美的标志。”他的这个观点显得有些奇怪——如果你看过他的肖像的话：如果1788年有《人物杂志》(People Magazine)“在世最性感男人”榜单，他那显眼的大鼻子应该会让他落选。
美国杜克大学(Duke University)的月浦崇(Takashi Tsukiura)与罗伯托·卡韦萨(Roberto Cabeza)对外貌的研究获得了类似的发现：大脑的内侧眶额皮层既参与评判脸蛋的美丽程度，又评判行为的好与坏，从该区域处理其中一项任务时的活跃程度可预测出它处理另一项任务时的活跃程度。换句话说，在思考一个人有没有出色的头脑、善良的心灵或好看的脸蛋时，大脑的运作机制是类似的。它假定脸蛋就能让你了解一个人的头脑与心灵。
在西安大略大学(University of Western Ontario)桑波·保诺宁(Sampo Paunonen)的研究中，异性恋的男女受试者观看了一些异性的照片，照片上的人被描述为智力、独立性和诚实度各有不同。研究发现，独立性及智力的高低程度未影响他们对长相迷人程度的评判，不过被形容为较诚实的人也会被认为更讨人喜欢，而越讨人喜欢的人，外貌也就更具吸引力。