Thursday, June 5, 2014

Why the good-looking prospects in your dating pool are more likely to be jerks

Suppose you’re a person who dates men. You may have noticed that, among the men in your dating pool, the handsome ones tend not to be nice, and the nice ones tend not to be handsome. Is that because having a symmetrical face makes you cruel? Does it mean that being nice to people makes you ugly? Well, it could be. But it doesn’t have to be.

Behold the Great Square of Men. ...

Now, let’s take as a working hypothesis that men are in fact equidistributed all over this square. In particular, there are nice handsome ones, nice ugly ones, mean handsome ones, and mean ugly ones, in roughly equal numbers.

But niceness and handsomeness have a common effect: They put these men in the group of people that you notice. Be honest—the mean uglies are the ones you never even consider. So inside the Great Square is a Smaller Triangle of Acceptable Men:

Now the source of the phenomenon is clear. The handsomest men in your triangle, over on the far right, run the gamut of personalities, from kindest to (almost) cruelest. On average, they are about as nice as the average person in the whole population, which, let’s face it, is not that nice. And by the same token, the nicest men are only averagely handsome. The ugly guys you like, though—they make up a tiny corner of the triangle, and they are pretty darn nice. They have to be, or they wouldn’t be visible to you at all. The negative correlation between looks and personality in your dating pool is absolutely real. But the relation isn’t causal. If you try to improve your boyfriend’s complexion by training him to act mean, you’ve fallen victim to Berkson’s fallacy.
--Jordan Ellenberg, Slate, on selection bias at work