Embrace your UGLY (and the Pratfall Effect)

No matter how much you try to fight it with the latest hair tonic and skin rejuvenating cream, one of the only true realities in life is that your looks will slowly decline, as hopefully your wisdom escalates. With competence you will be forgiven for being imperfect, and from time to time f__king up.

Research illustrates a growing trend towards perfectionism. While this seems like good news, the downside is rising levels of anxiety and depression for young and not so young people in search of the impossible perfect – look, life, career et cetera. Our obsession for perfection is creating depression. Much of perfectionism comes back to a fear of failure, and with this procrastination is also increasingly.

“Increasingly, young people hold irrational ideals for themselves, ideals that manifest in unrealistic expectations for academic and professional achievement, how they should look, and what they should own. Young people are seemingly internalizing a pre-eminent contemporary myth that things, including themselves, should be perfect.”

Perfectionism Is Increasing, and That’s Not Good News HBR

Much of this perfectionism comes back to a fear of failure, and with this, to avoid such failure, procrastination increases to avoid not achieving or looking less than perfect. The is a societal emphasis on the importance of perfection and avoiding failure at all costs.

This search for perfection starts from a young age. Meaghan Ramsey’s fascinating 2014 TED talk ‘Why thinking you’re ugly is bad for you’ discusses the psychological damage of needing to look perfect, and how it is impacting people achieving their full potential.

“Six out of 10 girls are now choosing not to do something because they don’t think they look good enough. These are not trivial activities. These are fundamental activities to their development as humans and as contributors to society and to the workforce. Thirty-one percent, nearly one in three teenagers, are withdrawing from classroom debate. They’re failing to engage in classroom debate because they don’t want to draw attention to the way that they look. One in five are not showing up to class at all on days when they don’t feel good about it. And when it comes to exams, if you don’t think you look good enough, specifically if you don’t think you are thin enough, you will score a lower grade point average than your peers who are not concerned with this. And this is consistent across Finland, the U.S. and China, and is true regardless of how much you actually weight.”

Such negative self perception crosses over to boys, men and women into adulthood. Looking good enough to share a worthy #selfie is critical. Growing fitness obsession, is more about working towards trying often in vain to look good, rather than being healthy.

Sadly, the media and our leaders communicate that how you look, matters more than anything else. Political leaders go to great effort, particularly at election time to look good on political posters and marketing in order to build trust. Political leaders commission style consultants, as how they look is viewed as more important than what they have achieved.

Yet, the politicians aren’t too wrong in their strategy. Research illustrates that people put weight in a candidate’s look of competence (i.e. not beauty)—e.g. eyes with more curvature on the top than the bottom; hair that is short and parted on the side or combed back; a hairline that comes to a slight widow’s peak; a broad or round face; and a smile.

“It turns out that a candidate’s appearance — not beauty, but a look of competence—can generate a significant vote swing. Furthermore, this effect is not only powerful but also subliminal. Few of us realize that appearance determines our vote, yet for a significant number of us, it may.”

Leonard Mlodinow: How We Are Judged by Our Appearance

Beautiful people are perceived to get treated better by friends, family, workmates and strangers, and reap the financial rewards of perfection. Yet, research illustrates that you are likely more attractive than you think.

The contrast effect means that depending on who you mix with, you will feel more or less attractive. If you are in a group of people you perceive as less attractive, you will feel more attractive, and vice versa. Critical in this, is that much of the self-perception of attractiveness is negatively biased. Further to this, attractiveness has a low contribution to how others perceive you.

“In one study, psychologists videotaped people as they entered a room and introduced themselves to two people. They then asked strangers to rate the videotaped subjects on physical attractiveness, emotional expressiveness and social skills. All three qualities contributed to the subjects’ overall likability—but attractiveness was the least important factor.”

The Beguiling Truth About Beauty

Importantly, the research illustrates that people typically care far more about what they look like, than the imperfections of others. The best way to have others find you attractive, is to show interest in them, smile, and be genuinely interested.

People are judged far more on their competency and who they are, than how they appear and the escalating imperfections we all have. In reality, perfection is exactly what people do not find attractive.

Everyone makes mistakes and is imperfect.

Research has also illustrated that one barrier to the acceptance of robots into society is their lack of imperfection. It is unsettling to never make mistakes.

“Our results show that participants liked the faulty robot significantly better than the robot that interacted flawlessly.”

How Humans Assess and Act toward an Erroneous Social Robot

The research illustrated that an otherwise competent robot, suffered no negative impact on perceived, performance, and the errors actually communicated that they were more human and likable.

“ Robots that commit errors, on the other hand, could then be viewed as more human-like and, in subsequence, more likeable.”

This was said to be an illustration of the psychological theorem the Pratfall Effect: The tendency for attractiveness to increase or decrease after an individual makes a mistake, depending on the individual’s perceived ability to perform well in a general sense. A perceived highly competent individual would be, on average, more likable after committing a blunder, while the opposite would occur if a perceived average person makes a mistake.

So, when applied to humans, the pratfall effect places emphasis on an individual’s general competence, and failure by such an individual actually improves the positive impression of this individual. Success is less about perfection, than general competence rewarded by occasional failure.

As a society we should accept that our looks will inevitably decline, but what is more important in our likability is based on our general competence and willingness to try and sometimes fail.

Similarly, the Pratfull Effect, also known as Blemishing, applies to brands and other organisations. Assuming a general level of competence, the occasion F__K UP dealt with well actually helps to build sentiment, rather than deflate it.

“This research uncovers a counterintuitive effect of negative information, showing that under specifiable conditions people will be more favorably disposed to a product when a small dose of negative information is added to an otherwise positive description. This effect is moderated by processing effort and presentation order, such that the enhanced positive disposition toward the product following negative information emerges when the information is processed effortlessly rather than effortfully and when the negative information follows rather than precedes positive information.”

When Blemishing Leads to Blossoming: The Positive Effect of Negative Information Standford (need to pay to read full article)

Imperfections show that a brand is just like any human, far from infallible. A recent example, is KFC in the UK, when they did the unthinkable—‘they ran out of CHICKEN!’ Around half of the 900 outlets across the UK were unable to open. Rather than going into the blame, spin or ducking for cover game that is often the case in such situations, they quickly responded with a campaign widely endorsed as positive, they came out quickly saying ‘FCK—We’re sorry.’

More here > KFC issued a cheeky apology for running out of chicken—but now it has a gravy problem

Rather than going into meltdown, as likely was occurring behind the scenes, they stepped up and took responsibility. Given that they were generally ompetent KFC were forgiven, or at least soon will be.

Typically for government and commercial organisations dealing with ‘disasters’ the assumption is made that the community is far less forgiving and more judgmental and seeking perfection than they actually are  as a whole (from our research working with such situations), particularly if competence is generally strong. The media are often viewed as controversy stirrers, motivated by selling newspapers (or whatever), and no one listens to Facebook crazies. If disasters are dealt with in a responsive and transparent manner, all is soon forgiven.

Perfect is impossible, but if as a society we move our focus away from obsessing over seeking perfection in how we look, and turn this towards being competent and embracing occasional f__k-ups we will be rewarded.

As nobody is perfect, and that’s the way we like it.

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