You're not as hot as you think you are

By Megan McArdle

A late night conversation last night brought me to the inescapable conclusion that neither I, nor anyone else, is as hot as they think they are.

You hate photographs of yourself, don't you? A tiny minority of people are terribly photogenic (I recall one girl in high school who was maybe a 7 in person, but a 9.75 in an 8X10 glossy) and like having their pictures taken; everyone else in the world is convinced that they don't photograph particularly well.

A cognitive scientist at the University of Chicago explained why to me last winter. When we look at ourselves in the mirror, in any given session we tend to anchor on the time slice image that makes us look our best. That, we decide, is the "real" us.

Photographs, however, are a random sample of the various arrangements of light, angle, and facial expression that we can be found in. The median photograph of you is probably the best approximation of your physical attractiveness. But that wars with your self image, which is anchored on other, better combinations.

You're also biased by the fact that no one ever tells you you're ugly. It's not merely that people inflate what they tell you (they almost certainly do); it's also that people who think you're ugly tend to drop out of the sample. They may not cultivate an acquaintance with you, and those that do will probably not spontaneously let you know that they find you kind of repulsive.

You're stuck in a web of congitive biases and a positive feedback loop. It's a wonder anyone does get married.

Which, by the way, is probably the best gauge of how attractive you are; how attractive are the hottest people who want to go out with you? They're probably only slightly more attractive than you are.

If you're married, of course, this is not useful. But there's always the old standby. Just make sure to upload a median picture.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2007/08/you-apos-re-not-as-hot-as-you-think-you-are/1816/