D: Hey, Yaël.
Y: Whoa, Don. I didn’t recognize you. Why are you wearing that crazy mask? Are you on your way to rob a bank?
D: No, I’m not about to rob a bank. I thought this mask would encourage the public to take my work more seriously.
Y: What are you talking about?
D: A group of researchers looked at the relationship between a scientist’s appearance and how the public responds to their work. What they found was pretty interesting.
Y: Where do the masks come in?
D: No masks involved, actually. One aspect of this experiment considered whether a scientist’s facial appearance would affect public interest in their work. The answer seems to be yes. Participants were more interested in learning about scientific research that was presented as the work of an attractive-looking scientist, for example. But – and here’s the kicker, the reason I put on my mask – the participants’ judgements of whether a scientist did high-quality work, based on face alone, were lower if the scientist appeared attractive or sociable. That made me realize I’d better cover my face from now on.
Y: (LAUGHS) Ok, Don. Do they know why the participants seemed to be slightly biased against attractive and sociable-looking scientists?
D: One idea is that we have preconceived notions about what a good scientist should look like, based on stereotypes. We expect scientists to be solitary and socially awkward, for example. And even though the assumptions we make based on a person’s facial appearance can be incorrect, our biases still influence our decisions. In this case: the selection and evaluation of scientific news.