How to use the attractiveness bias to your advantage in scientific publishing

attractiveness bias in science publishing

© Jürgen Fälchle –

Survival of the Prettiest

You know this one. Imagine you want to hire somebody for a job. Several candidates come in for an interview. At the end of the day your rigorous selection procedure left you with 2 perfect candidates. But you have only 1 position…

Psychology studies learn us that in most cases the job will go to the most attractive person. If all other variables are equal, attractive people are preferred in hiring decisions. But not only in hiring decisions. The same is true in elections, relations, etc.

In general we have the tendency to see attractive people as more intelligent, competent, moral and sociable than unattractive people. It is ingrained in our brains. From a evolutionary perspective it is much more favourable to mate with a healthy and well fed partner than with an unhealthy and malnourished one. Biologically speaking, health and nutrition are major attraction triggers and are even true across species.

Now, consider this knowledge of the attractiveness bias in the context of scientific publishing. This theory doesn’t only apply to people, but also to objects and visual content like figures. It is this last one that creates an opportunity for you as a publishing author. “What is beautiful is good”, wrote Karen Dion, Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Hatfield in the landmark publication on the attractiveness bias in 1972.

The challenge is to create figures and illustrations that are aesthetically appealing so that your reader will feel attracted to them. Unconsciously the link with quality, competence and excellence is made.

You probably spent months, if not years, on your research. You work hard and long to craft the best article describing the new findings and its importance. Now you have to complement it with figures that not only display these data, but are looking good too. That is exactly what most of your competitors and collaborators fail to do. Simply because they don’t realise. Remember, all other variables being equal (the data), the most attractive figure will win. Use this information wisely.

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