About Face: The Association between Facial Appearance and Status Attainment among Military Personnel

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Principal investigators:

Thomas R. Hochschild Jr.

Valdosta State University

Email: trhochschild@valdosta.edu

Homepage: http://www.valdosta.edu/colleges/arts-sciences/sacj/sociology/dr-thomas-hochschild.php

Casey Borch

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Email: caborch@uab.edu

Sample size: 51

Field period: 4/22/2008-5/5/2008


This research assesses the extent to which facial attractiveness is related to occupational status attainment. A random sample of research participants viewed Navy boot camp photographs and rated sailors across nine dimensions. Consistent with social expectancy theory and status generalization theory, sailors who were rated highly attractive were thought to be intelligent and to posses leadership qualities. Furthermore, sailors who were rated high across the nine dimensions advanced to higher ranks, and did so more rapidly, than did those rated low on these traits.While previous research examining the relationship between facial appearance and occupational outcomes has met with inconsistent results, our study more definitively establishes the significance of facial appearance in a “real-world” occupational context.


1. Those with more attractive faces will attain higher occupational status, and will do so more quickly, than those with less attractive faces.

2. Those with faces that look intelligent and like good leaders will attain higher occupational status more quickly than those who do not look intelligent or like good leaders.

3. Those with faces that look more globally attractive, intelligent, and like good leaders will attain higher occupational status more quickly than those whose faces who are rated low on these traits.

Experimental Manipulations

Our study consists of fifty participants rating boot camp photographs of unfamiliar men who served in the United States Navy within the past thirty years. Half of the sample viewed a randomly generated set of twenty photographs, while the other half viewed a second randomly generated set of twenty different photographs. Participants were asked to examine each photograph and to estimate the extent to which the sailor appears to possess each trait in question. As the photograph of each sailor was revealed on a participant’s screen, it was accompanied by the written trait, as well as a scale from 1 to 7. Appearing over number “1” was a label for the lowest measure of the trait (e.g., “not very intelligent”). Appearing over the “7” was a written label for the highest measure of the trait (e.g., “very intelligent”). After the participant recorded a judgment for the first trait, he or she was presented with the second trait for the same sailor. This process ensued until all traits for that photograph were recorded; only then were individuals presented with a photograph of the next sailor. This procedure continued until the traits for all twenty sailors in his or her specific set were recorded. The order in which the photographs were presented was randomized for every participant so as to prevent the possibility that individuals might score sailors differently based on the order in which they were viewed


The two outcome variables are 1) final rank, and 2) time to advancement.

Summary of Results

Consistent with status generalization theory’s “burden of proof” assumption and the attractiveness halo effect, we found that sailors who were rated as highly attractive were also thought to be highly intelligent and good leaders. Sailors who were rated high across these three dimensions advanced to higher ranks than sailors who were rated lower across these traits. Our results also reveal a “smiling effect” that is associated with occupational status outcomes. Sailors who smiled for their boot camp photographs, and who were rated as more attractive, intelligent, and better leaders, advanced to higher ranks more quickly than highly rated sailors who did not smile. A potential explanation for this finding is that sailors who smile for their boot camp photographs are more likely to smile in general. Since people are considered more attractive when they smile, these sailors were recipients of the positive assumptions that accompany attractiveness. These positive assumptions, in turn, likely created expectancy effects whereby sailors were more diligent in striving for higher ranks.


Thomas R. Hochschild Jr. & Casey Borch (2011). "About Face: The Association between Facial Appearance and Status Attainment among Military Personnel," Sociological Spectrum, 31:3, 369-395.