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The Eye of the Beholder

Alex Colao

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Some undergraduate research is done best out of the lab.

It's a scientific study that would make Mr. Potato Head proud.

Senior economics major Alex Colao decided to do a study to see if he could discover what impact small changes in appearance have on the overall attractiveness of a man or a woman.

He was awarded a summer undergraduate research fund and worked with Doug Walker, associate professor of economics, and Carrie Blair, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship.

Unlike Mr. Potato Head, whose mouth, eyes and ears can be switched out, Colao used subtle changes like holding a glass of wine or beer, having a tattoo, wearing sunglasses, smoking a cigarette, wearing different clothing items and dozens of other minor alterations to measure how even small changes may impact what people think about you.

"The main point was to see what these variables do to your attractiveness," Colao says.

Using the website, Colao posted various photos of 18 men and 19 women with these subtle changes. He made sure that the models had the same pose and facial expressions in each photo. The only difference was the addition of the one item or clothing used to make one photo different than the others. Viewers of the website were asked to judge the "hotness" of the photos.

Colao admits that the results were not too surprising.

The number-one-rated item that made a woman attractive to a man is when the woman was shown in photos wearing a low-cut shirt. On the other hand, the number-one photo rated highest for guys by women is the one where the man wore a coat and tie. "That's in line with the research I have read that states that men are attracted to physical beauty and women are more attracted to intelligence and resources," Colao notes.

The item that was deemed the least attractive? Smoking. "If you're smoking cigarettes," Colao observes, "you will be perceived as less attractive. This is universal for both guys and girls, according to my results."

Maybe Mr. Potato Head should think about that the next time he has a pipe in his mouth.