Sep 19 2011
Florida Times-Union (Florida) - by Terry Dickson
If you wonder, as I often do, why your hard work, high IQ and dedication haven’t paid off, look in the mirror.
Scientific research has shown that looks can take you far or hold you back. A recent study shows it applies even to the military.
Sociology professors Thomas R. Hochschild of Valdosta State and Casey Borch of the University of Alabama at Birmingham published their findings under the title, “About Face: The Association Between Facial Appearance and Status Attainment Among Military Personnel.”
Anyone who’s ever marched in formation knows “About Face” is a great double entendre.
Unfortunately, the study hangs another unflattering picture of our society.
Hochschild, who holds a Ph.D, said he and other sociologists routinely research issues of prejudice, why some people are treated differently because of race, gender and other things they can’t control.
Previous research has shown that people “in task-oriented groups” judge others on traits that have nothing to do with the tasks: Facial appearance, race and gender sometimes count for more than ability, Hochschild said.
Hochschild and Borch used a National Science Foundation grant to determine if looks affect military advancement as they do among us civilians.
To eliminate other biases — such as race and sex — the study was limited to white males. They used sailors because it was the only group for which information was available.
Two diverse groups each looked at groups of 20 boot camp photos and rated them on perceived appearance, leadership ability, competency and trustworthiness. In the end, those who looked good rated highly in the other categories.
Finally, Hochschild and Borch used the database to find out how far the sailors in the study had advanced. They learned that the better the sailors looked, the higher their rank.
In other words, Chief Petty Officer Hottie had Seaman Plainvisage swabbing decks.
It also seemed to matter if they smiled.
Keep in mind this is the Navy. It would probably be hard to find a boot camp photo of a smiling soldier or Marine.
Hochschild found the study and others somewhat disquieting.
“Most people would like to think that we live in a meritocratic society where attributes like hard work, skill, intelligence and creativity are what get you ahead,” he said.
Instead, people get ahead on “non-relevant or non-essential characteristics, such as the way they look,” he said.
Is it any wonder, then, that John Edwards, widely regarded now as a liar with great hair, got as far as he did?
We love our stars. Why else would U.S. House and Senate committees nod respectfully as movie stars speak on serious subjects, stars whose lives are typically simmering messes?
But with the people who fight our wars, you would think looks wouldn’t matter.
The test subjects were in the Navy. Maybe it’s different in the Army. After all, I made buck sergeant pretty quickly in spite of my obvious handicap.