Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Friday, February 5, 2016

More than just a pretty face...

Nobody can deny that David Beckham and Kevin Hart are very good-looking celebrities, adored pretty much nationwide. I also don’t think anyone can deny that the above advert made them smile (even if it was just a little bit). But have you ever considered how different this advert would be if they didn't have the attractive personalities to match the bods?

‘What is beautiful is good,’ (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977), is a widely accepted concept in the advertising and marketing business sectors, and is frequently exploited amongst the trade through the use of attractive models. The use of physically attractive models take advantage of a phenomenon, known as the ‘Halo Effect,’ which occurs when one positive attribute of a person dominates the way they are perceived by others. However, physical attractiveness may not actually be the only successful ‘Halo Effect’ in terms of increasing sales. A study by Brumbaugh, (1973) proved exactly that; a person’s perception of an advert is significantly affected by the personality inferences viewers make about the models.

In this study, 90 male and 88 female undergraduates were asked to evaluate from photos, a model’s clothing, physical attractiveness, and personalities. Each participant was shown 20 photos of different advertisements containing male and female models, three times each. The first time the photos were viewed they were asked to rate the model’s clothing, the second time the model’s physical attractiveness, and the third time subjects were asked to make judgements about the model’s personalities.

The list of personality traits was based on inventories used in previous studies, involving 22 different scales. The results given by participants were then factor analysed, and 4 main characteristics were produced; sociable, capable, poised and friendly.

Figure 1.

Results of the ratings given by the students, show that there are significant interactions between the formation of the 4 personality inferences, and how attractive the models were rated as. The table above also displays that model attractiveness rating, and the interaction between gender and model attractiveness both contribute to the formation of 3 out of 4 personality factors, (‘poised’ is insignificantly influenced by the interaction). This supports the idea that when making judgements about a source, people use not only physical appearance, but also their spontaneous impressions of the model’s personality. Results from this study displayed that in particular, if a female model appeared capable, subjects would make more positive evaluations of her clothing.

These results imply that the personality inferences viewers make about models in advertisements, directly influence how physically attractive they are perceived to be, and and consequently how effective the advertisement is. In conclusion, by displaying Beckham & Hart’s fun, sociable personalities, viewers are likely to evaluate them as a lot more physically attractive, (not that they need any help!) And therefore, form a more positive opinion towards the product being advertised.

So… maybe the saying ‘nice guys finish last’ really isn't true after all.


Brumbaugh, A. M. (1993). Physical attractiveness and personality in advertising: more than just a pretty face?. Advances in consumer research, 20, 159-164.

Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson T. D., (1977). The halo effect: Evidence for unconscious alteration of judgements. Journal of personality and social psychology, 35, 250.

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