Debunking the Blackpill Part Two: "Looks matter more than anything"
This is part two of an ongoing series in which I engage with what the incel community calls the "scientific evidence for the blackpill". If you're new to incels and have never heard the term "blackpill" before, I'd suggest that you start with my Definitive Guide to Incels series, beginning with Part One (which looks at the current state of the incel community) or Part Two (which gives a glossary of the main terms you're likely to come across in the community).
This series is made possible by the kind patrons over at Patreon. If you like my work, and you'd like to see it continue (and expand into more media), I'd be very grateful if you would consider supporting it through this means.
Second up in the Debunking the Blackpill series, we’re going to be looking at the claim that “looks matter most, and women have a minimum level of attractiveness required before they’ll date a man”. This is the headline claim from another Blackpill 101 infographic, which reads:
“Looks Matter Most and Minimum Level of Attractiveness: Researchers led by Madeleine Fugere, a professor of social psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University, asked young women (ages 15 to 29) to choose potential dates from a series of photographs and descriptions, while the women’s mothers were asked to select possible boyfriends for their daughters using the same information. Results showed that a man’s looks influenced both groups of women more strongly than his personality profile.
The study suggests that women value physical attractiveness in a potential mate far more than they say they do.
In one experiment, each woman was shown colour photographs of three men. The men were either considered attractive, moderately attractive or unattractive as determined based on data from previous research. After looking at the three photographs and personality profiles, the women were asked to rate how attractive they found each man, how favourable they thought his personal description was and how desirable he was as a date.
The results showed that as long as a man was considered attractive or moderately attractive, both mothers and daughters would pick the guy who had the most desirable personality traits. But when an unattractive male was paired with the most highly desirable personality profile, neither daughters nor mothers rated him as favourably as a potential romantic partner, compared with better-looking men with less desirable personalities.”
Let’s drill down into it.
The profile of the highly desirable traits contained three qualities: respectful, trustworthy, and honest. The desirable traits were dependable and mature, while the moderately desirable traits describe the man as having a pleasing disposition and being ambitious and intelligent.
The academic who conducted the study had this to say: “a moderate level of attractiveness is a necessity to young women and to their moms, and are not willing to give that up in favour of personality”. Physical attractiveness, then, acts as a “gatekeeper for potential mates”. She says that these findings, combined with previous research in which women have reported that personality is more important to them, suggest that women tend to underestimate the true importance they place on a man’s physical attractiveness. Conversely, this is supposedly not true of men, who are “more consciously aware - or more willing to admit - that good looks in a woman are more important to them than personality”. She goes on to conclude that “men’s emphasis on looks in a mate choice may have a biological basis, because men may associate a woman’s physical attractiveness with her fertility”.
There’s a lot to unpack here.
First, let’s dig in to the study itself. If you have an institutional login, you can find it here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40806-017-0092-x
Essentially, the article points out that a lot of research suggests that women report valuing characteristics other than physical attractiveness most strongly, but that this is based on self-reporting.
They draw on some literature to argue that this is unreliable: one paper finds that women believed that physical attractiveness was less important than earning potential, but that in experimental scenarios they were strongly influenced by bother. Research in speed-dating found that women’s dating preferences are strongly impacted by men’s physical attractiveness.
They assessed preferences amongst 80 women and their mothers. They were primarily Caucasian, with small minorities of Hispanic, African American, Asian American, and other ethnic backgrounds. The women came from psychology courses for class credit.
Looking at the findings that matter:
The differences between the attractive and unattractive targets, as well as between the moderately attractive an unattractive targets, in terms of how they self-assessed the likelihood they would date them, were significant (p<0.031, meaning there’s less than a 1 in 20 chance that you would see this outcome if everything were simply random). Note, this tells us nothing about the strength of the association: we know nothing of just how big an impact attractiveness had upon the likelihood they would want them as a partner.
Women rated the moderately attractive man as the most desirable mate, followed by the attractive man, and then the unattractive man. Note from the table below that the effect size is larger in some instances than others, though it is apparent that women tended to rate the moderately attractive and attractive men as more desirable than the unattractive man, regardless of which set of desirable traits they were paired with.
They note that the limitations of the study include the small sample size, the lack of ethnic diversity, and the lack of cultural diversity. The study deign was also “within-subject”, meaning that the same research participants did each part of the experiment, rather than using different subjects for different parts. That means that their responses may have been influenced by order effects or contrast effects - that is, in what order they did things matters, as does the contrast between being shown one thing and then another, in terms of how people make subjective assessments of things like desirability.
What can we actually conclude, based on the study?
In a small sample (80) of primarily white American women, all of whom were undergraduates and many of whom were psychology students, there was a tendency for the women, when asked to rate three colour photographs of men for “dating desirability”, to say that the more physically attractive men were more desirable than the less physically attractive men, regardless of whether or not they were told the less attractive men had the most desirable personality traits. This was in spite of the fact that they had said, before this part of the experiment, that they would rate personality as more important to them than physical attractiveness when considering whether they would like to date someone.
What’s wrong with this?
This study, as you might expect, says some interesting things. However, it simply can’t be used to support the strength or type of conclusions that incels want it to.
The sample size is tiny, and it’s WEIRD (white, educated, industrialised, rich, and from democratic countries). It’s also from one specific place with one set of cultural norms. In addition, it’s a single study, not replicated, and it has a within-subject design that makes it very susceptible to order effects and contrast effects.
The experimental design is an issue. They gave their subjects photos of men, and then told them that those men were being paired with particular personality traits. They had a very strong visual stimulus in front of them, and then a very weak narrative stimulus: that is, they knew precisely what dating that person would entail from an aesthetic perspective, but extremely little about what their personality traits would mean in practical terms. Of course they’re going to prioritise physical attractiveness over what are relatively nebulous descriptions of someone’s character, when the images are right in front of them.
It’s a lab experiment. That means that there’s no way in which we can extrapolate the results out from this one paper to actual real life scenarios. Tinder and other dating sites notwithstanding, most people don’t make a decision about who they’re going to date by lining up a set of photographs paired with vague descriptions of a person and then being forced to say yes to one (and only one) of them. Yes, there might be an advantage to physical attractiveness, particularly when that’s the most obvious thing in front of you, but romance and dating are messy. You never know who you’re going to meet, under what circumstances, how they might talk to you, and so on. This is, in short, an incredibly artificial environment which shouldn’t be relied upon to produce robust results which indicate people’s real preferences.
Yes, we can probably conclude that looks were more important to the women in this study than they thought they would be. But the issue here is that they were first asked whether looks or personality were more important, without anything in front of them, and then they were given the photos and descriptions. That’s an issue for the reasons stated above: you simply can’t extrapolate this out to say that women in general underestimate how important looks are to them in general.
Blackpill Corroboration Rating: 5/10. It’s probably fair to say that some women have some semblance of a “minimum level of attractiveness” that means that they are more willing to date someone with a “worse” personality if they happen to be more attractive than a nicer - but less attractive - prospect. What that doesn’t allow us to infer is that many (or all) women are like that, or that they are like that in situations outside of this kind of contrived experiment, or that there aren’t circumstances in which personality might be more important (particularly when that’s the most salient feature, rather than the image in front of you). I’m giving this one a 5: close, but no potato.
What does this mean for the blackpill?
In order for the blackpill to be correct here, all women in all circumstances would have to judge all men primarily by their looks, and in particular they would have to have a minimum threshold for attractiveness, below which they will not consider dating a man. Whilst I don’t want to become par of the brigade that tells incels to take a shower, get some dress sense, and go to the gym, it does bear repeating that attractiveness is not something that is set in stone. There are a lot of things one can do to play up to existing societal standards for attractiveness that can compensate for features that might, unfortunately, be discriminated against.
Now, a blackpilled response to this would say: no, Tim, you’re wrong (and probably a cuck). Facial attractiveness is objective and universal, and moreover it dominates all other forms of attractiveness. If you don’t have a good face, it’s over.
Well, my dear incel friend, that’s an argument that will have to wait until another day. Until then: it’s not over.
If you enjoyed this piece (or just found it interesting or helpful), you might like to read some of the rest of the articles I've written about incels: