Attractive female college students get better grades, according to MSU-Denver study

DENVER - Skip the all-nighter studying if you're a college coed. You might be better off just applying more eye-liner.

A new study reveals the ugly truth about attractive young women and academic performance. It turns out, good looking girls get better grades than their less-attractive counterparts.
          
The study was conducted by two economics professors at Metro State University of Denver, and it’s grabbing national headlines.

"There is a penalty for having below average appearance for female students," said MSU-Denver associate professor of Economics, Dr. Christina Peters.

Peters and her colleague and co-author, Rey Hernández-Julián, conducted the study from 2006-2011, but only revealed their findings at a conference in San Francisco this week.

"Our interest was spiked by the literature that's out there on attractiveness,” said Peters.

Researchers took student ID photos from 6,700 students at MSU and showed them to a random, anonymous group of raters unaffiliated with the university.

The students were rated on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the most attractive and 1 being the least attractive.

“The pictures would flash up on a screen and participants would just rate them on a 1-10 scale,” said Peters.

Researchers then took 168,000 course grades from those 6,700 students and ran comparisons.
          
Those most attractive girls saw about a half-percent increase in grades. So, for example, a B+ may have gone to an A-, said Peters.

“We're not talking about an A student falling to a D because they were unattractive. Or a D student jumping to an A because they were attractive,” said Peters. “But there was a small effect.”

Students rated “below average” on the attractiveness scale earned, on average, grades that were 0.067 grade points lower than those considered of “average” attractiveness. For women, that difference was even more: 0.14 grade points lower.

For female students, an increase of one standard deviation in attractiveness was associated with a 0.024 increase in grade (on a 4.0 scale).

Researchers divided the women into three groups -- average, more attractive and less attractive.

Taking it a step further, the study also revealed that attractive students taking online courses got lower grades than they did in in-person classes.

“So that suggests that it really is your physical appearance giving you an edge in the classroom,” said Peters. “In an online course, the professor doesn’t know what you look like.”

For male students, the data shows attractiveness matters much less.

The study builds off previous research in the job market and labor force, which has shown for years that attractive people get paid more than people who aren't as good looking.

"This is really a larger conversation about discrimination," said Peters.

On the MSU campus Thursday night, there were a variety of opinions about the study.

“I went to Metro, I got good grades," said one woman. “I guess it would be upsetting if that’s the case."

"Better looking people have better opportunities," said another woman. “I think it's a common theme going on right now in today’s society that attractive women get more attention."

What the study can't quantify is whether this is all just related to confidence, motivation and social skills.

"The same individual that is motivated to get a better haircut and have better grooming, might also be more motivated in the classroom or in the labor force," said Peters.

Whatever the case, the study comes as troubling news to some.

“It’s horrible,” said another woman on campus.

“Appearance does matter,” said Peters. “It's a small margin, but it does matter."

Both male and female professors tended to reward attractiveness.

Dr. Peters points out this is not limited to professors, but an inherent, subconscious bias that we might all be guilty of.

“I don't want people to come out of this thinking professors are discriminatory jerks,” she said. “It’s all of us. It fits in line with what I think we see in all areas of life.”

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