Primal Numbers – Passable Looks?

On the work front it’s known as the “halo effect.” The better looking you are, the more likely it is that you’ll get the job, get the raise, get the perks. But what about in school? Do good looks correspond to good grades? Not as much as you might think?but that doesn’t mean teachers and profs are immune from judging students on things beyond the books.

In a study from the University of Miami, researchers looked at the correlation between high school students’ appearance and their grades. As Science Daily reports, the study “is the first to demonstrate that non-cognitive traits play an important role in the assignment of grades in high school.” The three traits that researchers looked at were physical attractiveness, personality, and grooming.

Given the way the halo effect can influence job success, it’s natural to assume that physical attractiveness would be the main non-academic factor that led to a boost in GPA. But that wasn’t the case. In fact, the study found that for boys, personal grooming had “the biggest overall effect on GPA.” And for girls, the biggest non-academic boost to GPA came from a factor that had nothing to do with looks at all. For them, it was personality that had a positive correlation to grades.

In a world where we’re bombarded by endless images of physical perfection, from celebrities to shampoo ads, that’s good news.

Then again, why are profs and teachers judging students by any attributes besides their academic efforts? It should be all about the effort, about doing the work. Except it’s not and it never will be?and that has nothing to do with good or bad educators. It’s simply human nature.

The truth is, people begin to make snap judgements about you within a fraction of a second. It’s a survival strategy, and one that, for the most part, serves us well. Instantly, we gauge size, age, sex, and expression. Our instincts determine whether someone’s a threat or perhaps an ally. We do this unconsciously, every single day, no matter how much we think we’re unbiased.

And those judgements, as this UCLA article notes, affect “how or whether we interact with” other people. Teachers and profs are hardly immune, even though they might try to be as impartial as possible.

So what does all that mean to a distance education student? If tutors and professors can’t see you, it’s tempting to think that none of this applies. But it does, and maybe even more so. Because rather than having all three non-academic factors at play (appearance, grooming, and personality), distance ed limits it to one. Personality?the one factor, if you remember, that most closely correlated with female high school students’ GPA.

Whether it’s emails, phone quizzes, or Moodle discussions, your personality comes through in all those interactions and can affect your grades. That doesn’t mean you have to be a Pollyanna, constantly sunny and upbeat. If there’s a problem or you need to elevate things to a coordinator or department head, do what needs to be done.

But don’t forget that, when it comes to getting good grades, science has proven that it’s more than just academic.

S.D. Livingston is the author and creator of the Madeline M. Mystery Series for kids, as well as several books for older readers. Visit her website for information on her writing.