Do looks matter? A social experiment - Part 1

A few years ago, I was watching a documentary about a social experiment that featured several actors placing themselves in real public situations. First, as themselves (they were all good-looking and fit), and later with modifications made to their looks. These modifications included makeup to make them look less attractive. In some instances makeup combined with body padding was used to accomplish this.

I believe it was on a public television channel. Now, it’s been a few years, and some of the details may be sketchy, but there were two experiments that I still remember because they struck a chord with me.

The first one involved a gorgeous, fit woman trying to return an item to a retail store. The item was badly damaged and was almost certainly dropped. She was to ask for a refund from the returns desk. To make it interesting, she waited for a male counter-person to help her.

As she approached the counter in the first store, she was greeted by a middle aged guy with a big dorky grin on his face. She smiled and showed him the object. After a few minutes of flirting, she was handed her refund with smile. He told her that the pleasure was his and to have a nice day (the grin didn’t leave his face the whole time).

She then repeated the process at two other stores and got another “cheery” refund and one refusal. By the way, the refusal was from a female clerk.

Now, the same woman was made-up to look very unattractive. They fitted her with foam body panels that gave the impression that she was very overweight, added a mole and some wrinkles to her face, a latex nose and a wig. Her clothes were ill-fitting and out of style. There was no way that you could tell this was the same person.

The next day, they sent her to the same store to return an item that was legitimately defective (not just dropped). She waited for the same clerk and then approached the counter. He greeted her with a very bored, business like stare. He could not tell that this was the gorgeous female he had been talking to yesterday. She looked 20 years older and 60 lbs heavier. His comments were straight to the point and on the verge of being rude.

Even though the item was obviously defective, he proceeded to grill her with questions. She was eventually given a refund (he had no choice really) and instead of telling her to have a nice day, he simply walked away.

Even though she was an actor, you could see the look of disappointment at having been “rejected” by this individual as she exited the store.

They repeated the same test at the other two stores, and she was given the same treatment – except that the female clerk treated her in the same disinterested manner that she had before. In all three cases, she was given a refund simply because it was legitimate.

The next example was of a guy in a bar. I could definitely relate to this one. I’ll talk about that in my next post.