Hot for Teacher

Posted on August 20, 2011 by


Back when she was posting regularly, Grerp, springboarding from SDaedalus, posited on the relationship between female intelligence and attractiveness. In her post, Grerp wrote:

In my humble opinion, much of the impetus behind feminism is based on the dissatisfaction really, really smart women had with the fact that dumber, prettier women with few credentials routinely swept the man market without breaking a sweat. And anger because the reverse isn’t true for men. Men don’t have to mask their intelligence to be more datable. Brilliant men are hot, unless of course they are socially stunted. Women want to be with men who are over endowed in the brains department. With women, it’s a lot more complicated. Intelligence is attractive in women when it’s translated into wit or when it means you can hold a decent conversation or you have enough common sense to avoid making stupid mistakes. It’s not attractive when it’s used as an ego prop or a billboard to advertise how much you’ve got going on.

To this I responded:

It’s not that feminism was the angry intelligent woman’s revenge against the hot dingbat as much as it was the clever and credentialed woman’s revenge against those who offered the total package. The prettier metaphorical floor-sweeper may have been dumber in a sense, but I’m guessing she offered a level of common sense that the clever woman did not. . .

Though you wrote of ego props specifically as they relate to women, boring cockiness is boring in either sex. Moreover, being socially stunted is being socially stunted. Being stunted means not adhering to the roles which have served society pretty well. Socially stunted males and females alike use their intelligence as an ego prop and that prop is fairly equally off-putting.

Honestly, I didn’t actually speak to Grerp’s discussion of really, really smart women. Nevertheless, I don’t think she made an apples to apples comparison when she compared really smart women against Dr. House, a fictional character portrayed by an actor who was at least partially chosen based on his physical appearance. A better comparison is Marie Curie vs. David Livingstone, I presume. I have no idea if Marie Curie and Dr. Livingstone were considered hotties in their heyday or if they were prone to droning on about how awesome they respectively were, but both had spouses and kids.

As to the actual topic at hand, science shows a link between attractiveness and intelligence:

Sociologists and social psychologists, convinced (and politically predisposed to believe) that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “beauty is only skin-deep,” dismiss this widespread perception as “bias,” stereotype,” or “halo effect,” with the implicit assumption that the perception is not accurate and has no factual basis. It is a stereotype that beautiful people are more intelligent. But, as I explain in an earlier post, virtually all stereotypes are empirically true; if they were not true, they would not be stereotypes in the first place. And it turns out that this one is no exception. People believe beautiful people are more intelligent, because they in fact are.

The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), conducted by a team of researchers at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, is one of the very few social science datasets that take biological and genetic influences on human behavior seriously. As a result, Add Health routinely measures both the intelligence and physical attractiveness of its respondents.

In the Wave III of Add Health, conducted in 2000-2001, respondents take an IQ test called the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. And then their physical attractiveness is measured objectively by an interviewer, who is unaware of their IQ test scores, on a 5-point scale (1 = Very unattractive, 2 = Unattractive, 3 = About average, 4 = Attractive, and 5 = Very attractive). The following graph shows the association between Add Health respondents’ physical attractiveness and their intelligence. The data come from a large (n = 15,197) nationally representative sample of young Americans (mean age = 22).

Beauty and intelligence

As you can see, there is a clear monotonic positive association between physical attractiveness and intelligence. The more physically attractive Add Health respondents are, the more intelligent they are. The mean IQ is 94.2 for those rated “very unattractive,” 94.9 for those rated “unattractive,” 97.1 for those rated “about average,” 100.3 for those rated “attractive,” and 100.7 for those rated “very attractive.” Due partly to the large sample size, the association is highly statistically significant.

What we’re left with, then, are the stereotypes that beautiful women are unattractive and that attractive women are stupid. Feminism again rears its ugly head. Outliers – the really, really smart and heavily credentialed women – were not smart enough to overcome normal female competitiveness. Rather than accept the plain truth about themselves, i.e. they were less attractive, pleasant, or socially adjusted than their less genius sisters, they constructed a narrative which stated that men prefer stupid women. This is folly. Men do not prefer stupid women. Explaining every statement and joke and hearing endless discussions of People Magazine are attraction killers.

That does not mean that we prefer disheveled asexual geniuses or pretentious credentialed hotties either. In her post on Bernice Bobs Her Hair, SDaedalus delved into the truth of the matter:

Of course, in reality, most men find depth and integrity, unleavened by anything lighter, somewhat hard to tolerate on a constant basis even in a pretty woman. It can feel like being back at school. A little bit of superficial frivolity tends to take the pressure off a bit.

Then, in her list of recommendations:

(iii) Do not assume that men will like you for your worthy characteristics; men say that they value these characteristics in women, but usually only truly appreciate them when combined with good looks, frivolity and *sigh* an ability to cook without causing indigestion;

(iv) Be frivolous. For the more serious dames among you, this consists of a combination of flattery, wit and the ability to appear stupid silly when necessary, also, the ability to read signals and tone it down when it gets annoying;

SDaedalus suggested that women think about the personality traits men find attractive and increase those traits in themselves. She did not say that women actually be vapid or stupider than their male counterparts, just that they actually accept what other humans find attractive and seek to amplify those traits in themselves. In other words, SDaedalus suggested women use their intelligence to discern their strengths and weaknesses and then make adjustments. True, the end result is not a woman who waxes poetic on quantum physics, but one who waxes poetic on lighter and airier subjects. Women, though, aren’t generally attracted to a man who waxes poetic on the amount of torque necessary for a fine driving experience. The ladies expect us to engage in frivolous social pleasantries just as we expect the same of them.

The entirety of this discussion revolved around initial attraction. Sustained attraction is another animal. As I wrote in the comments of Grerp’s piece:

Smarts aren’t as much of an initial attractor as looks for men, but men who want long term relationships or marriage seek women whom they can actually talk to and spend non-naked time with.

Life is all about naked time, except when it is not. Men who want relationships, which is to say a large number of men, need the looks, attitude, and intelligence to cover both the naked and the non-naked times. We need a multitude of layers to appreciate. The internal augments the external and renders a more beautiful result than can be achieved independently. Beauty without brains can be nice to look at, but it’s not a beauty worthy of being a defining characteristic of a home.

Posted in: Relationships