Does Beauty Influence Behavior, Good or Bad?
Does beauty really influence our behavior in society? When it comes to what people find beautiful in themselves and others, what role does beauty really play in society, and how much influence does it have on all of us? Is low self-esteem related to aggression, antisocial behavior, and delinquency? In 2003, a man in Miami, Florida was asked why he committed robberies. “I am too ugly to get a job,” was his reply. That became the topic for a 2005 scientific paper in the Review of Economics and Statistics. In the paper, the researchers look at the statistics of appearance and crime, and what correlation, if any they had.
So is beauty really universal? Do we agree on beauty from a cultural standpoint, or from a species standpoint? A study in the journal Economics and Human Biology conducted in 2011 found that people with asymmetrical faces tended to come from more difficult and deprived childhoods than those with more symmetrical features. It appears that adversity in childhood is associated with facial features that are not perfectly aligned and matching, although there’s no proof that one of these phenomena causes the other. But the data indicates that all humans seem to agree on the preferred symmetrical facial features.
“There’s actually scientific evidence to suggest that ideas about the importance of one’s own beauty become formulated early in childhood”, says Denis Pelli, professor of psychology and neural science at New York University. “Parents give a certain level of praise to their children for their appearance, vs. the amount of effort they put into tasks and the activities they’re good at. Little girls in child beauty contests, for instance, receive the feedback that their appearance is highly valued.” You can easily imagine how much of an impact our self-image has on what we can do and even what we believe we are able to accomplish.
When taken to the extreme, obsession over a particular aspect of one’s appearance has a psychiatric diagnosis: body dysmorphic disorder. It’s the reason some people get dozens of plastic surgeries, but are never satisfied with the outcomes. The legal system may even take beauty into account. In fact a variety of studies have found effects suggesting that attractiveness helps when it comes to verdicts and sentencing. So do criminals actually look different from non-criminals? It may be that attractive people are less likely to commit crimes as serious as unattractive people, or that there is a societal view that pretty people are “good” and wouldn’t do bad things, Catherine A. Sanderson writes in the book “Social Psychology.”
Yet another study performed in Okallla prison, (officially known as the Lower Mainland Regional Correctional Center) might offer some deeper insight into this question. In operation for 77 years before its close in 1991, Okalla was the site of a now forgotten contribution to medicine and prisoner rehabilitation. In 1965, Dr. Edward Lewison published a paper in the Canadian Medical Association Journal outlining how his 10-year study found that plastic surgery on inmates helped reduce the rate of criminal recidivism. The groundbreaking work was one of a number of similar studies conducted on inmates in prisons across North America.
Lewison’s study involved 450 Oakalla prisoners who received plastic surgery between 1953 and the early 1960s. The experiment was done with the cooperation of Dr. Guy Richmond, the prison doctor, and Hugh Christie, the warden at the time. The doctor and sociologist chose patients where it was believed there was a connection between the “bodily defect” and the inmate’s behavior, the study said. The idea was that reconstructive surgery that removed deformities could provide such a boost to the prisoners’ self-esteem and confidence that they would be motivated to pursue law-abiding lives upon their release from prison.
Of the operations performed, most were for congenitally deformed or fractured noses, said Lewison’s study. The rest was for reconstruction of deformed ears, receding chins and removal of facial scars. Almost immediately after surgery, the inmates’ behavior improved, Lewison said. “Formerly hostile and incorrigible individuals became polite and gracious in their manner and an ambition developed to learn a trade and qualify for transfer to the vocational correctional center.” Indeed, when the study was published, Lewison reported that only 42 per cent of the plastic surgery patients reoffended upon their release compared to 75 per cent of the general inmate population.
Harriet Mathams, associate producer for London, U.K.-based Thinking Violets, said the company’s director, Rod Williams, came across the fascinating studies while researching another documentary on plastic surgery. It piqued the interest of the BBC prompting Thinking Violets to get the ball rolling on finding interview subjects. They have found similar studies by different doctors carried out on inmates at Kingston Penitentiary in Kingston, Ont. in the 1960s, in Illinois starting in the 1930s and in Texas in the 1980s. In all cases it appeared to have the desired result of helping many convicts go straight. She noted that Oakalla was chosen likely because its inmates, serving sentences of less than two years, were imprisoned for relatively minor types of crimes. “When you’re young you associate ugliness with evil and looking pretty with goodness. The Cinderella story and all that was very much Edward Lewison’s way of thinking. That was the psychology behind it.”
Those who were born with facial deformities would have grown up feeling like social outcasts, which fed their socially unacceptable behavior, leading to their lives of crime, she explained. Mathams says she was struck at how the studies seemed so ahead of their time. “I think it’s absolutely incredible that the rates of reoffending fell so dramatically, compared to the general prison population,” she said.
And yet, it appears the use of plastic surgery in rehabilitation of inmates is no longer evident today. “I think potentially it might have stopped because people weren’t happy with inmates getting free plastic surgery.”
Even without the scientific data provided by these studies, most people can attest to the social pressures we all feel about the amount of importance society places on physical beauty and physical ugliness. As humans we either consciously or unconsciously favor beautiful over ugly, it’s unfortunately a fact. But the answer as to why we do may be much harder to understand and explain.
If you are seeking more information on facial and body reconstruction and plastic surgery you should make an appointment with a board certified plastic surgeon like Dr Aguiar.
At Aguiar Plastic Surgery, we offer state-of-the art, safe, and effective cosmetic procedures, plastic surgery, reconstructive surgery, and Med Spa services in Tampa, Florida. We can discuss your concerns and give you an honest consultation that is designed and tailored to create an appearance on the outside that will reflect how you feel on the inside.
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