College Students Give New Meaning to Judging a Book by its Cover

Weren’t these girls ever taught not to judge a book by its cover? Apparently not, according to what sorority members base their choice on who to accept into their house. A study conducted by Krendel et al. of Tufts University suggested that appearance plays a major role in whether girls are offered bids or not (2011). Specifically, Krendel et al. compared the attractiveness of girls with the status of the sorority houses they were accepted into.

It stands true that first impressions are not often swayed, even if this interaction is extremely brief. Previous studies have shown that these initial judgments can actually be quite accurate in predicting the success or competency based solely on appearance (Todorov et al., 2000). This theory speaks to the seemingly superficial ways in which sorority recruitment is conducted.

Membership in a group of high-social status is highly sought due to its exclusivity and ability to increase one’s self-esteem just by belonging to the group. Because past studies have shown us that attractive people are better liked and more socially desirable and perceived to be more intelligent, Krendel et al. expected to find that attractiveness plays a large role in acceptance into high-status sororities.

To conduct their study, the researchers sent e-mails out to all sophomore women in the summer asking if they planned on participating in sorority recruitment and how badly they wanted to be in each of the school’s six sorority houses. Those who replied and gave their consent were then entered into the study. Their pictures were then shown to current members of the six sororities who rated the girls based on how likely they would receive a bid from their sorority and how much they would like the girl (on a scale of 1-4). The current members were then given a questionnaire in which they rated each of the sororities on three items: how much they would personally like to be in that sorority, how much others would like to be in that sorority, and how desirable the men on campus found women of that sorority to be. That fall, the women arrived on campus and rushed the sororities. The PanHellenic Council provided the researchers with data on who received invitations to which sororities after each night of the three nights rushing.

The data was analyzed by assigning the “top three” houses with a “high status ranking” and the “bottom three” houses with a “low status” ranking. The study found that the prospective members that were rated as attractive were more likely to be rated as friendly and as likely to be given a bid for the rater’s sorority in the first round of the study for those in high-status houses. Interestingly, those in low-status houses gave high-expectancy ratings to women who were given low expectancy ratings by those in high-status sororities. This suggests that sorority members in low-status houses may specifically target the girls who they expect will not be given a bid to the high-status houses. Overall, those girls selected by the high-status houses were rated as more attractive than those offered a bid in the low-status houses, suggesting sorority recruitment is highly based on appearance.

Krendel, A.C., Magoon, N.S., Hull, J.G., & Heatherton, T.F. (2011). Judging a book by its cover: the differential impact of attractiveness on predicting one’s acceptance to high- or low-status social groups. Journal of Applied Psychology, 41, 2538-2550.

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