A second-year BCom Accounting Sciences student, who prefers to stay anonymous, says, “If a lecturer is good-looking then one is more likely to pay attention. At least for a while.” Trainee chartered accountant Oliver Nouwens from UP’s Department of Financial Management believes that the ability to teach is not limited to good looks alone. Nouwens says, “I definitely think it [looks] has an impact, but I think it’s a bit broader than that as well. It [students’ performance] certainly is attributable to the way [lecturers] look but also how they come across. If they are very confident and they are just very interesting and eccentric then [students] also get caught up into it. Maybe the person gets the confidence from the way they look and how they present themselves.”

In an article published in Journal of Psychiatry, Psychology and Mental Health titled “The relationship between physical attractiveness of professors and students’ ratings of professor quality”, Jennifer Bonds- Raacke and John D Raacke say that, “Because a professor is perceived as “hot”, the students are more likely to pay more attention to the professor during class increasing their understanding of the material, achieving clarity, and seek help from those professors they perceive as attractive thereby increasing their perceptions of helpfulness.” This conclusion was drawn from research conducted on RateMyProfessors.com.

Do people feel the same in South Africa? Nouwens says that, “People are inherently in that respect [making assumptions about others based on looks] the same. I don’t think it’s different from country to country. If anything, students are more expressive nowadays. Maybe that correlation would be even higher now.”

When asked whether it is fair that students make certain assumptions about a professor’s teaching ability based on their looks, Nouwens says, “Everyone does that. Your first impression is formed within the first 15 seconds when meeting somebody. Obviously you can’t say much in 15 seconds, so it’s actually just a fact. In the professional world they say first impressions are very important and that that is how you set the first foot for that relationship. Whether it is fair or unfair is another debate, but that’s human nature.”

According to the report “In school, good looks help and good looks hurt (but they mostly help)” by sociologists Rachel Gordon and Robert Crosnoe on ContemporaryFamilies. org, such assumptions of intelligence are not limited to educators alone. Gordon and Crosnoe highlight findings that prom kings and queens will be regarded as more intelligent on the basis that they are attractive and approachable.

Gordon and Crosnoe believe that good looks in high school are not limited to high school itself, but that there is a far-reaching effect. The boost in self-esteem gained in high school will be carried forward into college and possibly for a lifetime, improving one’s ability to come forth as confident which is “an extraordinary tool to use in adult life”.

The connection between attractiveness and perceived intelligence levels is getting stronger as time passes. Those of us with a less-gifted gene pool have the option to invest in better cosmetics, but doesn’t intelligence and wisdom count more?

Illustration: Monrique Henning

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