Why Being Beautiful and Being a Jerk Seem to Go Hand in Hand

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Photo: Paramount Pictures

The world is full of neatly drawn divisions: cat people and dog people, brooders and blurters, people whose mental health depends on maintaining inbox zero and people who couldn’t care less. And in the dating world, unfortunately, those two categories often seem to be (a) people who are perfectly pleasant, but whom you find unattractive, and (b) the good-looking ones with terrible personalities. Everyone beautiful is also kind of a jerk.

But as this ASAP Science video (recently highlighted on Motherboard) explained, being beautiful doesn’t make you meaner (and and being mean doesn’t make you seem hotter, for that matter) — the seeming connection between the two traits has more to do with your own skewed impression than it does the actual state of the dating pool.

To understand why, assume that you can divide all your potential mates into four rough quadrants, based on your subjective preferences and impressions: People who are attractive and nice, attractive but mean, ugly but nice, or both ugly and mean. Right off the bat, you can eliminate that last quadrant. The rest, the video explains, just logically flows from there:

Now, 100 percent of the people who are left in your pool who aren’t that attractive to you are nice — they have to be, otherwise you wouldn’t be paying any attention. After all, if somebody is nice, you’re less likely to be critical of their appearance, which brings down the average of nice people’s looks. To the same token, almost half of the people that are beautiful to you are mean. Again, if somebody is really mean, you likely require that they be really attractive for you to give them any attention, which makes it seem like more attractive people are jerks.

Meanwhile, eligible residents of the most appealing quadrant — the good-looking ones with personalities to match — will be a little sparser, since presumably they’re the most in demand. Which, in turn, ups the odds that a date will fall into one of those other two categories: Either the homelier nice ones or, yes, the beautiful jerks. What seems like a cruel prank from the dating gods, in other words, really just boils down to perception. It’s not the field; it’s that you’re looking at the field a certain way.