Some may go through life making decisions about themselves or others using their head (rational thought), their heart (sentimental, emotional feelings), shooting from the hip (making decisions without thinking or empathy for what those decisions may mean for themselves or others), their gut (if the action hits them in the gut in an uncomfortable way and takes them out of their comfort zone, they steer clear of it), or they fly by the seat of their pants (their butt), in matters that should be taken more seriously. I will refer to this phenomenon as the H-H-H-G-B rule for the remainder of this series of columns.

In relationships some people use the H-H-H-G-B rule and fail miserably. This next series of three columns is my attempt to pull back the curtain on the way we make decisions about relationships.

Although it may seem petty and shallow, I’m going to start with the phenomenon of attractiveness in relationships. Not that I believe it’s the most important, but based on the H-H-H-G-B rule, we are unconsciously prejudiced by what we see, before we ever get to know the deeper, more meaningful aspects of a person’s true identity. It would be impossible to cover all of the components of attractiveness, so I’m going to start by approaching how we are influenced by someone else’s attractiveness when it comes to the people we relate to in everyday life and even in the forensic realm.

In the two future columns I will deal with how we reckon with decision making about who we choose as our significant other and the prospect of marriage.

I will also talk about divorce. What are some of the statistics we have on why relationships end on such a sour note?

If you are so inclined, send in your thoughts and comments as you read along and tell me your stories so I can include them with my research and comments.

Attractiveness is one of those traits we can probably agree on but to come up with what makes someone attractive may be more challenging. Is it their jaw line? Is their hair style or the color of their eyes?

Marilyn Monroe once said, “Boys think girls are like books. If the cover doesn’t catch their eye they won’t bother to read what’s inside.”

Culture also plays an important part in the law of attraction. Some, but not all, cultures have a leaning towards size, whereas others find facial features to be more of an attractive quality.

According to Christian Crandall, Angela Merman & Michele Hebl in their 2009 book “Handbook of Prejudice,” stereotyping and discrimination found an anti-fat prejudice. They found “Prejudice against heavyweight people is prevalent, powerful, and potent. As with many other prejudices, stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination aimed at people on the basis of their weight can have a powerful effect on their lives.” Crandall, Merman and Hebl reviewed evidence “revealing that differential treatment on the basis of weight occurs in all the major domains of heavyweight people’s lives, with strong consequences for achievement, self-esteem, career opportunities, friendships, and physical and mental health. Prejudice against heavyweight people is much like other prejudices — it limits opportunities; and is associated with a negative stereotype… In many ways, however, prejudice against heavyweight people is different, special, and relatively unusual when compared to the more commonly discussed and researched prejudices of race and gender.”

Decision makers who base their opinions about a person’s true abilities on a cursory or limited perspective because of their prejudice about weight are naïve at best and discriminatory at worst. As the description of Crandall, Merman and Hebl’s book points out, basing a decision on a person’s weight involves the “domination of powerful, unstigmatized individuals or groups over stigmatized, less powerful individuals or groups.”

Does attractiveness really matter? In the world of forensics, it can and does. Don’t take me wrong, I am not agreeing with attractiveness as a factor to consider in someone’s trustworthiness or their guilt or innocence, but victims of unscrupulous villains will tell you the perpetrator “looked trustworthy” or the defendant didn’t look like the guilty type and a jury found them innocent even though the evidence suggested otherwise.

Kevin Beaver, Cashen Boccio, and Sven Smith, in their Psychiatry, Psychology and Law article in 2019 found that women who were considered more attractive were less likely to be arrested and convicted than less attractive persons.

Ted Bundy was considered good looking. He committed terrible crimes. He abducted and killed women. He eventually was caught after he became a suspect when some women came forward and told the story about being approached by an attractive young man with his arm in a sling who had tried and failed to lure them to his car and the name he gave them was Ted.

The list of the advantages that “supposedly” more attractive persons have over the rest of the world is amazing. It includes unfair advantage in competing for marital partners, procreation success and getting a job. Even though it’s unfair, it’s also statistically factual. By the way, it is also prejudicial and embarrassing about what it says about persons who are making decisions based on someone else’s looks.

Not to minimize the problem, the humorist Mark Twain makes a point when he said, “The average woman would rather have beauty than brains, because the average man can see better than he can think.”

Markus Jokela in 2009 found in his article on Physical attractiveness and reproductive success in Evolution and Human Behavior that when compared to less attractive persons, the “alleged” more attractive are more successful reproductively. He found that, “in women, attractiveness predicted higher reproductive success. In men, who were found to be less attractive had 13% fewer children.”

Joseph Nedelec and Kevin Beaver in their article in Evolution and Human Behavior in 2014 on physical attractiveness as a phenotypic marker of health, found “more attractive persons report being healthier.” But he found some problems in studying attractiveness. His study points out what troubles me about the term “attractiveness.”

Nedelec and Beaver pointed out that in the research in the area of attraction there is a reliance on artificial social interactions in assessing physical attractiveness. There was also a problem with the people they used in their studies. In other words, the studies are flawed because they are not reproducible. Not everyone agrees with what is attractive and the people they are choosing to use are confusing their studies!

Martie Haselton and David Buss lay out the problems with human decision making (see H-H-H-G-B in the beginning of this column) clearly when they say in their 2003 work, “Biases in Social Judgement: Design Flaws or Design Features,” “Humans appear to fail miserably when it comes to rational decision making. They ignore base rates (the likelihood of success) when estimating probabilities, commit the cost fallacy (the cost of making one decision over another is underestimated), people are biased towards confirming their (own) theories, they are naively mystic, they take undue credit for lucky accomplishments, and they fail to recognize their self-inflicted failures. Moreover, people in general overestimate the number of others who share their beliefs, they believe in hindsight bias (I told you so), they have a poor perception of chance (they think what happened was their hard work and not a lucky outcome), they perceive illusionary relationships between noncontributing events (thinking that A follows B when there was no way that A and B were even related to each other), and have an exaggerated sense of control (they think they have control when it’s obvious that no one was in control of the outcome).” Haselton and Buss say “failures at rationality do not end there. Humans use external appearances (attractiveness) as an erroneous gauge of internal character, falsely believe in events that never occurred (magical thinking) and systematically misperceive the intentions of the opposite sex.” Not too dissimilar to my H-H-H-G-B rule of decision making.

Attractiveness plays a role in candidate selection for jobs. Persons with the exact same credentials are not given the same job opportunities. Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle published a seminal work in 1994, “Beauty and the Labor Market,” where they found “the impact of looks on earnings using interviewers’ ratings of respondents’ physical appearance. Plain people earn less than average-looking people, who earn less than the good-looking. The plainness penalty is 5 to 10 percent, slightly larger than the beauty premium. Effects for men are at least as great as for women. Unattractive women have lower labor-force participation rates and marry men with less human capital. Better-looking people sort into occupations where beauty may be more productive, but the impact of individuals’ looks is mostly independent of occupation, suggesting the existence of pure employer discrimination.”

Overall, we are prejudiced in favor of what we subjectively find attractive. We may know what we believe is attractive and act counterintuitively, that is we decide before we have all the facts because it fits our H-H-H-G-B model. Not a problem, just know that you have that prejudice and understand it as a weakness so you can adjust accordingly. Change takes time.

Suzuki Roshi, the founder of the San Francisco Zen Center, once looked out a group of his students meditating and said to them “Each of you is perfect the way you are, and you can use a little improvement.”

Thanks for reading the column. Please go to the AI website and post a comment. Questions? Suggestions? Send me an email at Be well. Stay safe. See you here next month.