Daehyeon Kim and Darren Hawkins, Political Science
Gender Bias Associated with Attractiveness
According to Diven and Constantelos’s research, less than 50 percent of Americans support bilateral foreign aid (2012). This is striking, considering the fact that Europeans from countries which have comparable economic prosperity to the United States—such as Finland, Denmark, France, Netherlands, and Sweden—support bilateral foreign aid at an average of about 80 percent (Diven & Constantelos 2012). As a result, there has been abundant research into foreign aid, demonstrating how it benefits the interests of the United States, its effectiveness in achieving various aims, and the need for foreign aid in recipient countries. Without a doubt, such findings are persuasive and may yet increase support for foreign aid in the United States. But other factors may figure more prominently in persuading people to support foreign aid than the above research findings—for example, personal biases.
Melisa Commisso and Lisa Finkelstein’s discovery suggests that individuals tend to make decisions based on emotions and other biases rather than facts; one such bias is the physical appearance of the requester (2012). Their research has been corroborated by others: Joel Lefkowitz found that attractive individuals tend to be treated better (2000). Similarly, Jeff Biddle and Daniel Hamermesh found that attractive individuals tend to receive higher incomes (2000). Based on these findings, I chose to examine the role of attractiveness in shaping peoples’ opinions of foreign aid. Specifically, I hypothesized that individuals will support foreign aid more if an attractive individual presents the necessity of it. Specifically, I hypothesized that subjects who are exposed to videos presented by more attractive presenters will support foreign aid more than those subjects who are exposed to videos presented by less attractive presenters.
Independent Variable: Different Levels of Attractiveness
One of the issues that arose while designing the experiment was how to objectively measure one’s attractiveness due to its subjective nature. To resolve this issue, I decided to have each video presenter’s attractiveness rated by 50 subjects on Amazon’s mechanical Turk after making the subjects watch a video where a presenter conveys the information about the need for foreign aid. Furthermore, to exclude other confounding factors that might affect subjects’ perception of attractiveness, I hired presenters who are racially white and in between eighteen and twenty-five years old, meaning that there were thirteen presenters for each gender respectively. These restrictions were implemented to make my presenters as comparable as possible. After watching five randomly assigned videos of my presenters, subjects were asked to rate the attractiveness of the presenter that they just watched on a scale of one to ten. Upon the completion of this experiment, I selected four presenters: one most attractive presenter and one least unattractive presenter of each gender.
Experimental Design & Data
To conduct the experiment in order to test my hypothesis, 1,011 subjects (419 females and 592 males) were recruited on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The participants who took the survey where they rated the attractiveness of each information presenter were screened out from taking this survey in order to prevent possible contamination; these 1,011 subjects do not include those who were screened out. These 1,011 subjects were randomly assigned to one of the five condition groups as Figure 1 demonstrates.
|Attractive Female Presenter (video)||Unattractive Female Presenter (video)||Attractive Male Presenter (video)||Unattractive Male Presenter (video)||Control (text)|
|201 subjects||196 subjects||201 subjects||204 subjects||209 subjects|
Each group was exposed to a different video where the identical information—five different facts about the need for foreign aid in the world—was conveyed by different presenters conveyed by different presenters who vary in their attractiveness (treatments). In order to see whether the degree of attractiveness plays a role in persuading people to support foreign aid, the control group was delivered the information in written form. After receiving the treatment according to their condition, the participants were asked to answer the following question: “Would you say the current level of the United States’ foreign economic aid is too big, too small, or about right?” The subjects were then given three different choices to answer this question: “too small”, “about the right size” or “too big.” Afterwards, they were asked to provide the following demographic information: age, gender, political affiliation, education level, family income level, religiosity, life experience outside of the U.S, sense of belonging to different geographical groups, and perspective on poverty.
In the survey, the subjects’ support for U.S. foreign aid was measured by asking them the following questions: “Would you say the current level of the United States’ foreign economic aid is too big, about the right size, or too small?” “Too big” was coded as -1, “about right” was coded as 0, and “Too small” was coded as 1. The number “-1” represents skeptical perception regarding U.S. foreign aid, while “1” indicates a favorable attitude towards U.S. foreign aid. Since the dependent variable is a categorical variable, I utilized the Ordered Logistic Regression Model to analyze the data. Since 32 subjects out of 1,011 subjects chose not to reply their family income levels, the Ordered Logistic Regression Model excluded these 32 individuals from the regression analysis. Given that these individuals were almost equally distributed across different condition groups and that each condition group has almost 200 subjects, excluding these individuals should have no bearing on the results.
The hypothesis was not proved through this study. However, I was able to learn several interesting facts. First, individuals who are highly educated, politically liberal, or global-minded tend to support U.S. foreign aid more than those who are not. Furthermore, individuals who were assigned to the control group (information in written form) showed the most support for U.S. foreign aid, and this was statistically significant at 0.05 level. Furthermore, although the change was smaller than the control group, the attractive male presenter’s group also exhibited considerable support for U.S. foreign aid followed by the unattractive male presenter’s group. However, subjects who were assigned to the attractive female presenter’s group exhibited the least supportive attitudes regarding U.S. foreign aid, which was worse than the subject who were assigned to the unattractive female presenter’s group. This poses a question that requires a future investigation: Does attractiveness play a different role diametrically between males and females? What causes this divergent effect?