The Ugliness of Smart? An Update Foiled

The Ugliness of Smart? An Update Foiled January 19, 2012

I thought I was going to squeeze out a win for Team Non-Beauty when I saw, at Slate, that The Explainer’s 2011 Question of the Year turned out to be Why Are Smart People Usually Ugly? Woohoo! I thought. If we can’t be good, we can sure claim the intellectual high ground and devote ourselves to being evil genii. I am Mojo Jojo! You must obey! But Nooooooooo.

Turns out, some studies show a general correlation between beauty and smarts, which I should have figured out from the sheer number of Librarian Takes Off Her Glasses and Lets Down Her Sexy Hair scenes to which I have been exposed in a lifetime of sucking up popular entertainment.

Booth: All right, what I want you to do is take off your glasses, shake out your hair, and say,”Mr. Booth, do you know what the penalty is for an overdue book?”
Brennan: Why?
Booth: Never mind.
Bones, “The Passenger in the Oven”

What’s worse, The Explainer found even stronger evidence of a correlation between not-so-beautiful and not-so-smart.

Another researcher, Leslie Zebrowitz of Brandeis University, noticed that the looks-smarts relationship applies only to the ugly side of the spectrum. It’s not that beautiful people are especially smart, she says, so much as that ugly people are especially dumb.

But what about the nerd trope? What about famously unbeautiful brainiacs like Jean-Paul Sartre and Eleanor Roosevelt? What, in the name of Athena, about Socrates himself–the crooked gargoyle who came up with the Grecian Formula of Beauty = Goodness in the first place?

Exceptions. Ugly, it seems, is a U-shaped curve, with clusters on both ends. Ugly people tend to be either lots smarter than non-ugly people (rare), or lots dumber (much more common). You can say this about Team Non-Beauty: we’re never mediocre.

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