Fairy tales: Influences on children’s perceptions of physical attractiveness as displayed through social perceptions and social preferences
By: Colette M. Salvas
Thank you for visiting my web page. The following information is a accumulation of two semesters in Experimental Psychology I and Experimental Psychology II at Saint Anselm College.I hope that you enjoy reading about my thesis, and if you have any questions or would like more information about my research, please feel free to contact me via email.
First and foremost, I would like to thank my family, especially my parents, for providing me with the opportunity to attend Saint Anselm College and supporting my decision to become a psychology major.If it was not for their love and support, I would not be at this point today.Thank you for giving me the privilege and the opportunity to be as happy as I am here.I always knew that I had your support, and that you were there for me, even if it meant a random two-hour drive from Rhode Island to New Hampshire.I do not know what I would have ever done without your support over the past four years.Thank you for everything, but most of all for never giving up on me and always encouraging me.And to my sister, for listening to me complain about how stressed I was, and more importantly, just providing a listening ear no matter what was going on.I love you all.
Secondly, I would like to thank Chris, for his unending love and support, even on my worst of days.From the very beginning of our relationship you have supported me in my efforts with my thesis.Your encouragement, regardless of my frustrations and disappointments, has pulled me through this process.As nervous and tense as I was on the first day of my data collection, you helped me through it by surprising me and becoming my “research assistant” for the afternoon.Even though we may not have been together for that long, you have demonstrated the true meaning of love through the way that you listen and never cease to be there for me, even if it means hours of your time.I do not know what I would ever do without you.I love you.
What would life be without my crazy roomies?Andrea, Erica, and Nicole- thank you so much for the laughs and the tears.You are all part of the reason I am where I am today.Your support and understanding has been so important to me through all that I have faced this semester.Thank you for reminding me the of the importance of laughing and relaxing, especially when I seemed to forget the meaning of both of those two words.My life would not be the same without any one of you.
To my fellow psychology majors and my professors- namely Katie G., Christine, Meagan, Katie L., Professor Finn, and Professor Ossoff as “the fam” and of course my roomie Erica- having your support and knowing that we were in this together helped to get me through it.From words of empathy to reminders that we could and would get through this, you have made me feel like part of a community, and have truly helped me to find my niche here at Saint A.’s.Life in the psychology department has proven to never have a dull moment- especially not with any of you around.Through all of you, Saint A.’s has become my home away from home.Thank you for all of you love and support.
And last, but certainly not least, to Professor McKenna and Professor Ossoff, who have both helped me to arrive at the finished product.Thank you for understanding my frustrations regarding field research, and for always somehow convincing me that it would be okay.I greatly appreciate all the time and support that you have given me, especially when it made your days crazier than what they already were.Thank you for being the great professors that you are.
While there has been a great deal of research done regarding how physical attractiveness influences the psychological development of children, there has not been a great deal of research conducted that examines the influence of fairy tales on their social behavior.Fairy tales often vividly portray physical attractiveness through characters such as Snow White, Cinderella, and Sleeping Beauty.While the presence of the concept of physical attractiveness is evident in fairy tales, there is not much research regarding the interaction of physical attractiveness as depicted in fairy tales and children’s social behavior.The goal of the present study was to examine whether a relationship exists between the physical attractiveness portrayed in fairy tales and the social perceptions and social preferences of children.It was hypothesized that children will be influenced by the beauty-is-good stereotype in their social perceptions and social preferences based upon their experiences with fairy tales.
Children were divided into two groups by random assignment, one of which was exposed to a fairy tale that demonstrated the beauty-is-good stereotype, Sleeping Beauty; and a second group which was exposed to the modern day children’s movie, Shrek, a satire of other fairy tales that portrays notions opposite of the beauty-is-good stereotype.After viewing the movies, children were asked to fill out a survey rating selected characters on their physical attractiveness, as well as how nice or mean they perceived the characters to be.Children were then asked to fill out a survey which asked them to rate six different photographs for physical attractiveness, and traits revealing their social perceptions and social preference for the photographs.
A 2 (Sleeping Beauty, Shrek) x 2 (attractive photograph, unattractive photograph) repeated measures ANOVA and 2 (Sleeping Beauty, Shrek) x 3 (attractive photograph, unattractive photograph, moderately attractive photograph) repeated measures ANOVA were used to analyze the results.2 x 2 analyses revealed that while there was no significant difference between groups with regards to exposure to fairy-tale type, the beauty-is-good stereotype prevailed among how children perceived the attractive versus the unattractive female photos and also with regards to how nice, and how much fun to be with the female was perceived to be.In terms of the male photographs, attractive males were thought to be more nice, fun to be with, and outgoing.Gender differences among the participant responses were only found with regards to how much they would like to have the attractive female as their teacher.No overall effects were found for age.
Results of the present study seem to indicate that brief exposure to messages that contradict the beauty-is-good stereotype is not enough to influence the social perceptions and social preferences of children.Findings will provide psychologists with further insight into the role that fairy tales, as well as outside influences, play in the social behavior of children and will hopefully lead to further research within this particular subject area in the field of developmental psychology.Perhaps further research should seek to provide more extended exposure to notions that negate the beauty-is-good stereotype in order to determine the extent to which it influences social behavior.
Physical attractiveness has become a very popular topic in the realm of psychology.Numerous studies have been done evaluating the way that physical attractiveness influences behavior, perceptions, self-esteem, social preference, and even academic performance (Adams & Crane, 1980; Dion & Berscheid, 1974; Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Dushenko, Perry, Schilling, & Smolarski, 1978; Hoffner & Cantor, 1985; Hunsberger & Cavanagh, 1988; Krantz, 1987; Langlois & Styczynski, 1979; Vaughn & Langlois, 1983).Through this research, psychologists have been able to draw some important conclusions regarding the influence of physical appearance on attributions and perceptions.While many studies have focused on adult responses to physical appearance, more and more studies have come to focus on child perceptions of physical appearance and its implications (Adams & Crane, 1980; Dion & Berscheid, 1974; Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Dushenko, Perry, Schilling, & Smolarski, 1978; Hoffner & Cantor, 1985; Hunsberger & Cavanagh, 1988; Krantz, 1987; Langlois & Styczynski, 1979; Vaughn & Langlois, 1983).
In addition to physical attractiveness, one of the other popular topics within the field of psychology is the role of fairy tales in the lives of children.Studies have examined the symbols, meaning, and influences of fairy tales on behavior (Crain, D’Alessio, McIntyre, & Smoke, 1983; Danilewitz, 1991; Walker & Lunz, 1976).Researchers have also examined the importance of fairy tales as a means of communication of important norms and values (Danilewitz, 1991; Thompson, 2000; Walker & Lunz, 1976; Whyte, 1987).
While there has been a great deal of research done regarding how physical attractiveness influences the psychological development of children, there has not been a great deal of research conducted that examines the influence of fairy tales on the social behavior of children.Research examining the interaction of physical attractiveness and fairy tales is also lacking.Physical attractiveness is often portrayed vividly to children in stories such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.Despite this apparent connection, many psychologists have not yet ventured into examining whether physical attractiveness depicted in fairy tales has an effect on children’s social perceptions and social preferences.This study proposes to fill that gap and examine the role of physical attractiveness in fairy tales’ influence on children.
Influences of physical attractiveness on cognition and behavior
One of the first studies conducted to examine the influence of physical appearance on social perceptions in adults was conducted by Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972).These researchers asked college students enrolled in introductory psychology courses to evaluate personality traits based upon three pictures that they were given.Half of the participants received pictures of males, and the other half of females.They received three envelopes that each contained one picture- either of a highly attractive person, a person of average attractiveness, or a non-attractive person.Participants were asked to rate each of the photographs, one at a time, on twenty-seven different personality traits as they opened each envelope.Following this task, participants were then asked to decide from the three photographs who would be most likely to possess certain quality of life characteristics (i.e. marital happiness, social and professional happiness, etc.)Finally, the experimenter asked the students to decide who they thought would be most likely to enter into each of twenty-seven different professions.Results indicated that favorable personality traits and most of the quality of life traits were more likely to be attributed to the highly attractive person than the non-attractive person.The exception was that highly attractive people were not assumed to make better parents.These effects proved to be true regardless of the sex of the rater and the sex of the person evaluated.Based on the research of Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972), the phrase “what is beautiful is good” (p. 285) has been commonly used to describe these effects.
Researchers Dushenko, Perry, Schilling, and Smolarski (1978) used the findings of Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972) to conduct further research on physical attractiveness as it relates to age and sex.They tested two groups of participants- one of children between the ages of 10-12 years, and the other of adults between the ages of 55-75 years to determine whether or not differences existed between the strength of the beauty-is-good stereotype among varying ages.Participants were presented with a picture of an attractive and an unattractive female person, and asked to decide which would display each of nine different personality traits, and then each of five quality of life elements.This task was used to measure social attributions.Results indicated that an intact beauty-is-good stereotype existed, especially among the child participants, who were more likely to attribute positive characteristics and quality of life elements to the attractive people than were the adults.Girls were much more likely than female adults to advocate the beauty-is-good stereotype, and boys were more likely than adult males to do the same thing.In general, however, no significance was found for the quality of life measure in terms of both the child and adult responses.In other words, physically attractive people were no more likely to be attributed to have positive qualities of life than physically unattractive people.The non-significance of the quality of life dimensions contradicts the findings of Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972).The finding that the men were more likely to favor the beauty-is-good stereotype than women also slightly contradicts the findings of Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972) who suggested that the sex of the rater did not have an affect on the attributions made about physical attractiveness of the photographs of the men and women.The findings of this study suggest that children only base judgments on physical attractiveness in terms of personality traits.These results also indicate that boys will be slightly more likely than girls to make attributions based on the beauty-is-good stereotype.Both of these factors are important to take into consideration when evaluating the effects of the beauty-is-good stereotype on children’s attributions.
Further expanding on the research conducted by Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972), Langlois and Styczynski (1979) tested the concept of the beauty-is-good stereotype with preschool, second, and fourth grade age children where the participants were shown previously rated pictures of attractive and unattractive classmates and asked to decide which classmates they liked, and then which of the classmates would be most likely to demonstrate pro-social, antisocial, and socially competent behaviors.Results showed that attractive girl classmates became increasingly popular as the age of the rater increased, while attractive boys became decreasingly popular when the age of the rater was over 5 years.Unattractive boys were found to be more popular than attractive boys, while the reverse was true for the girls.However, by age 8, attractive peers were more liked than unattractive peers.In terms of behavior, Langlois and Styczinski (1979) discovered that children rated attractive peers as demonstrating more pro-social behavior than unattractive peers.There was an interaction with age, however.Attractive girls were associated with pro-social behaviors until age 8, while unattractive girls were associated with pro-social behaviors at age 10.In terms of the boys, the reverse was found to be true.These findings further suggest the importance of considering the age of the rater in terms of the beauty-is-good stereotype, as the influences of physical attractiveness varies as a function of the age of the rater.
The discovery that attractive females were found to be more popular than attractive males (Langlois & Styczinski, 1979) was further supported by Vaughn and Langlois (1983).They asked children between the ages of 4-5 years to choose three of their classmates that they “especially liked” from a board of previously rated photographs.Results indicated that children were more likely to choose attractive peers versus unattractive peers, especially when the attractive peers were females.While the researchers noted that physical attractiveness was not an accurate predictor of popularity among the boys, the researchers did note that at the beginning of the school year when the children were assessed, physical attractiveness was found to be related to popularity among the boys.However, by the end of the school year, this no longer appeared to be true.Physical attractiveness was still an accurate predictor of popularity among the girls, however.This research suggests that initial social perceptions and preferences of children are based upon physical attractiveness.Thus, if children look at a series of unfamiliar photographs, their social perceptions and social preferences of the people pictured may prove to be a function of physical attractiveness.The more physically attractive the person pictured is, the more likely the child will associate positive traits to them, and perhaps even like them.
In addition to this study conducted by Langlois and Styczynski (1979), Krantz (1987) examined the role that physical attractiveness played in the social choices of boy and girls who were entering kindergarten.Photographs of the children were taken preceding the beginning of the school year.Children were shown the pictures of their classmates and asked to pick the classmates that they would like to make friends with.Mothers were asked to predict the classmates that they thought their child would like to become friends with.Five weeks into the beginning of the school year, sociometric tests were given in which the children were asked to nominate three best friends who were of the same sex, and then rate the rest of their same-sex peers.Results indicated that physical attractiveness was an accurate predictor of choice of friends among same-sex peers.Mothers and daughters were found to be more likely to use physical attractiveness in choosing friends.Boys, however, were not found to place any emphasis on physical attractiveness when choosing same-sex friends.While this study further supports the findings of Vaughn and Langlois (1983), it does not take into account what the children’s preferences would have been before the school year began.Perhaps, as Vaughn and Langlois found, even though physical attractiveness was not important in boys’ decisions of friends, it would have played an important role if the decisions were made before being allowed to get to know their classmates.The findings of Vaughn and Langlois (1983), are still crucial and relevant to the present study, because they suggest that children make prior decisions of friends based upon physical attractiveness.Krantz (1987) suggests that parents play an important role in the development of their children’s perceptions.
The possibility that parents influence children’s perceptions through their development leads one to question if there are any other factors that important in the children’s social development.Perhaps these other factors even influence and formulate children’s concepts of what is physically attractive and what is physically unattractive.According to Bandura’s social learning theory (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2002), social behaviors are learned through observing and imitating others.Children observe demonstrations of social behaviors not only through their parents, but also through their teachers, and even television programs.If a child watches a program where a person they perceive as physically attractive is associated with goodness and treated better than a person who is unattractive, according to social learning theory, the child would observe this behavior and make it his own.The importance of Bandura’s social learning theory is that it takes into account the many factors that influence social development.In children, these influences come in the form of the behaviors that they observe most frequently, which is often that of their parents, teachers, and television programs.
To follow up on previous research conducted regarding the social perceptions of adults and children as a result of physical attractiveness, Adams and Crane (1980) decided to conduct a study that combined the perceptions of parents, teachers, and their children of the beauty-is-good stereotype.Researchers showed the children and their parents sets of photographs of other children, as well as middle-aged people.Results indicated that parents and teachers expected their children to make positive attributions and have preferences for the attractive as opposed to the unattractive male children.The only exception to this prediction was that the parents did not expect that the photographs of the girls would be judged on the basis of physical attractiveness.However, children made their assessments based on the beauty-is-good stereotype with no regards for the gender of the photographs.These findings are important because they support the suggestions made by Dion and Berscheid (1974) who suggest that children are influenced in making attributions on the basis of physical attractiveness because they are predisposed to expect certain behaviors from attractive versus unattractive peers.If, in accordance with Bandura’s social learning theory (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2002), parents and teachers could be the possible cause for this predisposition because they play such an important role in children’s lives, then perhaps there are other factors, such ideas portrayed through stories, that can lead children to make decisions on the basis of physical attractiveness.
While the research of Adams and Crane (1980) is important, especially since it further suggests that other factors, namely parents and teachers, influence children’s social development, their research contradicts the findings of previous studies with regards to the social preferences.Children have been found to select their same-sex peer friends on the basis of physical attractiveness; and this holds true especially amongst girls (Krantz, 1987).Further contributing to differences between their study and those prior to them, was the lack of age consideration.Age has been found to play an important role in how children are influenced by the physical attractiveness of their peers (Dion & Berscheid, 1974; Langlois & Styczynski, 1979).Even though Adams and Crane found support for the beauty-is-good stereotype, their findings cannot be applied across age, especially since they only studied pre-school age children.
In addition to considering age, gender is also an important factor to be considered, as there is conflicting research with regards to whether an interaction exists between gender and the beauty-is-good stereotype. According to Dushenko, Perry, Schilling, and Smolarski (1978), boys were found to be more likely to use physical attractiveness as a means of making social attributions.This conflicts with the previous research of Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972), who claim that the sex of the rater did not affect the attributions made regarding the photographs participants saw.Findings of Dion, Berscheid, and Walster (1972) indicate that no difference exists between boys and girls regarding the values of physical appearance.Further research by Vaughn and Langlois (1983), revealed that while girls and boys both made attributions based on physical appearance before the school year began, only girls continued to be influenced by these attributions as the year progressed.Krantz (1987) further supported this research as he found that girls were more likely to make attributions based on physical appearance than were the boys.In addition to making more attributions, girls were also found to be most likely to be the subject of these attributions as Langlois and Styczinski (1979), discovered when they found that attractive girls were more popular than attractive boys.These conflicting findings suggest that the implications of gender in terms of the beauty-is-good stereotype are not clear.In order to clarify these findings, further studies should be done regarding gender differences with regards to the beauty-is-good stereotype.
While many studies consider gender in the study of physical attractiveness in social perception and social preferences, Hunsberger and Cavanagh (1988) took a different approach to studying the beauty-is-good stereotype.Their approach focused more on the age differences of school age children.They researched the influence of physical attractiveness on the expectations children may have of potential teachers.They tested first grade children who were between the ages of 6-7 and sixth grade children who were between the ages of 11-13.Children were shown twenty black and white photographs of female university students, which had been previously rated by both adults and children for physical attractiveness.They were then instructed by the experimenter to pretend that they were opening a new school and needed to select teachers for the grade in which they were currently enrolled.Children were asked questions regarding who they thought would be the nicest, who they thought would punish the students more when they were bad or when they misbehaved, who they thought the students would learn the most from, who they thought would be the happiest and most fun to be around, who they would like to have as a new teacher if they were to go to this school, and which teacher was the prettiest.Results supported the expectations of the beauty-is-good stereotype with regards to social perceptions and social preferences- the attractive female was rated as the nicest, most likely to be learned from, happiest, and the teacher they would select.Unattractive females were rated as the most likely to punish their students.No significance was found for age or sex of the child, indicating the neither age nor gender influenced the way that the children answered the questions that were posed to them. The exception was that the older students were less likely to base their opinions of who they would learn the most from using the beauty-is-good stereotype.
Based on the knowledge acquired from previous studies, (Adams & Crane, 1980; Dion & Berscheid, 1974; Dion Berscheid, & Walster, 1972;Dushenko, Perry, Schilling, & Smolarski, 1978; Krantz, 1987; Hunsberger and Cavanaugh, 1988; Langlois & Styczynski, 1979; & Vaughn & Langlois, 1983) it is evident that physical attractiveness plays a role in the social perceptions and social preferences of children.While there is conflicting information regarding the role effects that gender and age play in the effect physical attractiveness has on children’s judgments, both gender and age are considerations that must be made when evaluating the influence of this construct has on children’s social perceptions and preferences.Yet another consideration that must be made is the fact that children may be predisposed to make certain judgments on the basis of physical attractiveness as the result of outside influences which they learn from (Adams & Crane, 1980; Dion & Berscheid, 1974) in accordance with Bandura’s social learning theory (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2002).
One of the many outside factors that influences children is that of the media.Through media, children perceive and interpret information.While much of the previous research mentioned has dealt with perceptions of physical attractiveness through photographs, the work of Hoffner and Cantor (1985) looked at children’s perceptions of attractiveness through not only a depiction, but also through a behavioral depiction.Hoffner and Cantor presented the child participants with an attractive woman conducting a nice act, an attractive woman conducting a mean act, an unattractive woman conducting a nice act, and lastly an unattractive woman conducting a mean act.The results from the study indicated main effects for both the attractiveness and behavior of the woman.Results indicated, that especially among the 3-5 year olds, the attractive woman, even when she performed a mean act, was rated as nicer than the mean woman when she performed a nice act.As age increased, the children were more likely to focus on the behavior than the attractiveness of the woman that was depicted.The 6-7 and 9-10 year olds were found to rely on the behavior differences in their decisions.In a second study, in which no information was given regarding the behavior of the woman, but instead only the pictures were presented, the children across all ages relied on physical attractiveness in making their decisions.This finding further supported the prediction that presentation of the stimuli in media format would influence the responses given by the children.The importance of the consideration of the influence of outside sources leads to the discussion of the next area of literature- how fairy tales influence children.
Fairy tales and children
A fairy tale can be defined as “a biography told for the purpose of educating” (Danilewitz, 1991, p. 88).The research conducted by Danilewitz described fairy tales as a means of revealing and handling real-life situations and conflicts in a fantasy world that the child can come to comprehend and not fear.Parents surveyed by Danilewitz felt that fairy tales were of great importance to the growth and development of their child, especially in terms of their imaginations and verbal abilities. Danilewitz found that most parents read fairy tales to their children, but she stated that the telling of the fairy tale was still considered to be the best means of communicating it.
The statement made by Danilewitz (1991) regarding the telling of fairy tales supports earlier research on this topic conducted by Walker and Lunz (1976).Walker and Lunz evaluated the differences between the telling and reading of fairy tales.Their conclusion indicated that telling the tales had greater impact because the child perceives more of the symbols and archetypes that are present within the story when it is verbally presented.This is an important factor to consider, especially in terms of the present study.The fairy tales must be communicated to the children in order for them to be most effective.Presentation of the fairy tales through video format will thus be utilized, so that the story can be communicated to the children in the same format, without any differences, each time they are exposed to it.The video will present a live rendition of the tale, which may prove to be a better means of communication, but the children will be hearing the voices of live actors and actresses who are portraying the parts of characters.
Strayer (1995) also found that hearing fairy-tales was important to the children.He found that whether the child perceived the fairy tale visually did not play a role in how much they liked the tale, however, listening to the tale influenced how much they liked it.Children in the study rated Cinderella, Goldilocks, Sleeping Beauty, and Beauty and the Beast as the fairy tales that they liked the most.The more often the children heard a fairy tale, the more they liked it.Based on this knowledge, the present study will consider presenting more popular fairy-tales, through video format.Even though viewing the fairy tale has been perceived to have no impact on how much the children like it, they will still be able to hear the tale as portrayedby the voices of actors and actresses.
Further evaluating the importance of the auditory presentation of fairy tales, research conducted by Crain, D’Alessio, McIntyre, and Smoke (1983) demonstrated hearing fairy-tales causes children to be more self-absorbed.The researchers studied children between the ages of 9-11 years, of both genders.The participants were exposed to one of three different conditions: one in which they heard a fairy-tale, one in which they watched a film, and the other in which they heard a meaningless story.Observers coded the children’s play after they were exposed to each condition.When children were verbally exposed to fairy tales as opposed to films or meaningless stories, their behavior was affected.These children tended to be quieter, and not as anxious to arrive at the play table that was provided for them.When they played, it was in a quiet manner, where they did not pay much attention to the other children or the adults that were present in the room.A second experiment was also conducted, with the only differences in procedure being small modifications to assure the reliability of the first study.Results once again indicated that after hearing fairy tales, children tended to be quieter and less likely to engage in pro-social behavior than their peers who watched a film or heard a pointless story.These children were also observed to be more self-absorbed when engaged in play with others.The researchers suggested that the reason the children were not as likely to engage in pro-social behavior was that they were still lost in thought, processing the information with which they were presented.This study suggests that fairy tales affect the behaviors of the children who listen to them.This finding supports the idea that children are influenced by the concepts presented to them within fairy-tales.
Among the concepts that are presented to children through fairy-tales is that of beauty.Thompson (2000) evaluated the presentation of beauty through the five different versions of Cinderella.Her research commented on the fact that beauty, especially of females, is presented not only as a quality, but also a moral absolute in fairy tales.Since so many fairy tales contain the element of beauty within their narratives, beauty becomes constant and unchanging.Beauty then becomes a characteristic that is equivalent to the virtues of the characters, including how good the character is.Thompson also notes that fairy tales are a part of culture and socialization.
Research preceding that of Thompson (2000) has also provided support for the fact that fairy tales are a component of culture and socialization.Whyte (1987) discussed the fairy tales as teaching tools. He states that both the implicit and the explicit content of fairy tales, cultural ideas and concepts are communicated, along with their importance.Recognizing both Thompson (2000) and Whyte (1987), it can thus be expected that fairy tales play an important role in the what children learn and how they think.
The Present Study
The purpose of the present study is to determine whether a connection exists between the influence that physical attractiveness has on children’s social perceptions and social preferences and their conception of physical attractiveness as depicted through fairy-tales.While previous research has made some important findings about physical attractiveness (Adams & Crane, 1980; Dion & Berscheid, 1974; Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Dushenko, Perry, Schilling, & Smolarski 1978; Hunsberger & Cavanagh, 1988; Krantz, 1987; Langlois & Styczynski, 1979; Vaughn & Langlois, 1983) and fairy tales (Crain, D’Alessio, McIntyre, and Smoke, 1983; Danilewitz, 1991; Strayer, 1995; Thompson, 2000; Walker & Lunz, 1976; Whyte, 1987), there were several factors outside of physical attractiveness, namely age and gender, that may have influenced findings.Previous research has revealed that these factors must be taken into consideration when conducting research on this topic.
In research regarding how physical attractiveness influences social perceptions and social preferences, previous studies have revealed the importance of clearly defining the variables of social perceptions and social preferences.Perhaps the best examples of this fact were demonstrated in experiments conducted by Adams and Crane (1980) and Hunsberger and Cavanagh (1988).Adams and Crane (1980) asked participants which person they would most like to play with as a measure of social preference, and who would be most likely to possess certain characteristics, as a means of measuring social perceptions.Hunsberger and Cavanagh (1988) asked children four questions regarding the personality traits to measure social perceptions, and who they would prefer to have as a teacher in order to measure social preferences.The present study will therefore define social perceptions through the means of assessing traits, and social preferences will be defined through decisions the children make as to who they would like to have as a teacher.
In addition to clearly defining social perceptions and social preferences, the present study will also seek to control for gender and age, since previous research conflicts on the existence and description of the interaction between each and the beauty-is-good stereotype (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Dushenko, Perry, Schilling, & Smolarski, 1978; and Dion & Berscheid,1974; & Langlois & Styczynski, 1979; respectively).
Lastly, another factor that cannot be ignored in conducting this study is the popularity of certain fairy tales.Strayer (1995) noted that the more children heard certain fairy-tales, the more they liked them.The present study will take care to ensure that the fairy tales in the movies that are selected for the children to view are equally well known, so that there is no confounding factor in their judgments of the characters (i.e. perceiving some characters more favorably than others on a basis of familiarity with them).
The purpose of the present study is to determine whether or not a relationship exists between the perception that children have of physical attractiveness in fairy tales and their social perceptions and social preferences.Research on this topic will expand on the knowledge of psychologists and researchers who have evaluated each topic individually.This study will also allow psychologists to gain a further understanding of how fairy tales influence children and their perceptions of the world around them in an empirical manner.It is hypothesized that children will be more influenced by the beauty-is-good stereotype in their social perceptions and social preferences based upon their experiences with Sleeping Beauty (a movie version of the fairy tale that depicts messages supporting the beauty-is-good stereotype), as opposed to Shrek (a movie that satirizes fairy tales and portrays messages that negate the beauty-is-good stereotype, as Shrek and Princess are still good characters even though they are portrayed as ugly ogres).
Materials: Before the actual experimentation began, consent letters were sent home to parents informing them of the study and asking their permission for their child’s participation (See Appendix A).Once these permission slips were returned, a second letter was sent home thanking the parents for allowing their child to participate, and informing them of the day and time of the study.
The main stimuli for this experiment included excerpts totaling approximately 20 minutes from two videos, Sleeping Beauty and Shrek, as well as a series of six previously rated photographs.Clips shown from Sleeping Beauty supported the concept of the beauty-is-good stereotype, while clips from Shrek promoted ideas that were opposite that of the beauty-is-good stereotype.Sleeping Beauty clips included scenes of the fairies bestowing gifts on Sleeping Beauty, the meeting between the Prince and Sleeping Beauty, the Prince’s escape from Maleficent (the evil fairy), and the concluding scene of the Prince and Sleeping Beauty dancing.From Shrek, the children were shown clips that included the meeting of Shrek and Donkey, Shrek and Donkey talking at their campsite, the Princess talking to Donkey after she turned into an ogre, and the closing scene between Shrek and the Princess.
Following the videos, three surveys that were created by the experimenter were used to measure the children’s social perceptions and social preferences.The first two surveys were forms of one survey that were used to assess the children’s perceptions of what they saw in the video they viewed.They were asked to rate each of five characters on physical attractiveness and dispositions using a five-point Likert scale.The Sleeping Beauty survey presented the characters of Maleficent, Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent’s workers, Flora (a good fairy), and the Prince.The Shrek survey presented the characters of Shrek, Donkey, Lord Farquard, Princess Fiona before sunset, and Princess Fiona after sunset.Next, the children were asked to describe the physical appearance of each of the five characters in their own words.Lastly, the survey asked them whether or not they were familiar with the story that was presented in the movie.This question was used to ensure that children were equally familiar with Sleeping Beauty and Shrek (See Appendix C).A third survey was used which measured children’s social perceptions and preferences for six different, previously rated photographs based on a series of six questions which used a 5 point Likert scale.The first of the six questions was a manipulation check, as it asked children to rate how attractive they perceived each photograph to be.The next four questions served as a measure of social perceptions asking children to rate how nice, how much fun to be with, how shy, and how likely to punish the person pictured in the photograph would be. The last question served as a measure of social preference, asking the children to rate how much they would like to have the person pictured as their teacher (See Appendix D).
Participants:Participants were 12 boys- 3 of age six, 2 age seven, 3 age eight, 2 age nine, and 2 age eleven; and 5 girls- 1 age six, 1 age seven, 1 age eight, and 2 age nine; for whom parental consent was obtained.All participants were from two local Y.M.C.A. after-school sites, one for children ages 5-8, and the other children ages 8-11, where parents were paying for or receiving some financial assistance for their child’s participation within the program.
The children were divided into two groups by random assignment, while the siblings at each site were paired in the same group to accommodate parents.Conditions included the Sleeping Beauty and Shrek groups, with the Sleeping Beauty condition containing 6 participants: 5 boys (1 six year old, 1 seven year old, 2 eight year olds, and 1 nine year old) and 1 girl (seven year old); and the Shrek condition containing 11 participants: 7 boys (2 six year olds, 1 seven year old, 1 eight year old, 1 nine year old, and 2 eleven year olds) and 4 girls (1 six year old, 1 seven year old, and 2 nine year olds).
Procedure: Before the actual experimentation began, the experimenter obtained permission from a local summer camp program to conduct her study.After obtaining parental consent, the experimenter piloted the present study to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the experimental design.Eleven children were used to pre-rate the photographs, and fifteen children were enlisted to go through the actual study.After conducting this pilot, changes were made to improve the content of the experimental design so that it could be presented formally to another site for experimentation.A few months prior to the experiment, the experimenter contacted a local after-school program to obtain permission to conduct her research project within the program.Once approval was obtained, informed consent letters sent home to parents of program participants between the ages of 6 and 11 years of age.Once permission slips were returned, another letter was sent home to parents telling them the day that their child had been selected to participate in the study.Children who were given their parents’ written consent were asked for verbal assent at the beginning of the experiment.
Children were divided into two groups by random assignment.They were told that they would be watching parts of a movie and answering some questions regarding what they saw because the experimenter was interested in knowing their opinions and reactions to what they viewed.The first group was shown clips from the movie Sleeping Beauty.The second group of children was exposed to the same procedure, with the exception that they were exposed to clips from the movie Shrek.After the children viewed the clips, they were asked to fill out the Post-movie survey regarding their perceptions of the video.Each of the surveys was numbered, so that when the children completed them, they could come and receive the corresponding photograph-rating survey.For example, if the first survey the child completed was numbered 1, he received the photograph rating survey with the number 1 as well.The surveys were corresponding in number so that later it could be determined whether the movie that the children watched, and their perceptions of the characters in the movie influenced the outcome of their perceptions and preferences on the photograph rating survey.
Upon the completion of the photograph-rating questionnaire, the children were debriefed about their participation.A letter regarding the full intent of the experiment was sent home to the parents, in the event that their child did not understand the experiment, and so that the parent could be remain fully informed about the nature and purpose of the experimentation (See Appendix E).Parents were given contact information along with the debriefing in the event that they have any questions, concerns, or would like to know the findings of the experiment.
Results indicated that the manipulation was overall successful although the female ratings were somewhat higher than the male ratings.
Mean ratings of photographs across both conditions for manipulation check
*note. Ratings based on Likert 1-5 scale (1 being very ugly, 5 being very pretty).
Ten 2(Sleeping Beauty, Shrek) x 2 (attractive photograph, unattractive photograph) repeated measures Analysis of Variance were used to determine whether differences existed between the groups with regards to their social perceptions and social preferences.The analyses revealed that there was no effect for type of fairy tale for each of the four social perception questions regarding the attractive and unattractive female photographs: how nice F(1, 15)= 1.193, p> .05; how much fun to be with F(1, 15)= .765, p>.05; how outgoing F(1, 15)= .035, p> .05; how likely to punish F(1, 14)= .064, p> .05; and the social preference question: how much they would like to have the person as their teacher F(1, 15)= .090, p> .05.The tests also revealed no significance in terms of the type of fairy tale with regards to the male photographs on the same four social perception questions: how nice F(1, 15)= .447, p> .05; how much fun to be with F(1, 15)= .011, p>.05; how outgoing F(1, 15)= 2.424, p> .05; how likely to punish F(1, 15)= 1.272, p> .05; and the social preference question: how much they would like to have the person as their teacher F(1, 15)= .845, p> .05.
Mean ratings and standard errors for the 2 (Sleeping Beauty, Shrek) x 2 (attractive photograph, unattractive photograph) repeated measures for social perceptions and social preferences
While there was no significance among the between the subjects factor in terms of the social perception and social preference questions, there was significance within subjects among some of the questions in terms of the attractiveness variable.With regards to the female photographs significance was found among the following social perception questions: how nice F(1, 15)= 9.787, p<.05; how much fun to be with F(1, 15)= 11.053, p< .05; and the social preference question: how much they would like to have the person as their teacher F(1, 15)= 16.791, p< .05.There was no significance for perceptions of how outgoing F(1, 15)= 4.179, p>.05, or how likely the person would be to punish them F(1, 14)= 1.238, p> .05; though the outgoing characteristic was approaching significance.The means for these effects indicate that the perceived physical attractiveness of both the attractive and unattractive photographs is consistent with that of the ratings for how nice and how much fun the people pictured are perceived to be, as well as how much they would like to have the person as their teacher (See Table 1 and Table 2).
regards to the male photographs, significance was found among the following
social perception questions: how nice F(1, 15)= 9.743, p<.05;
how much fun to be with F(1, 15)= 5.680, p< .05; and finally,
how outgoing F(1, 15)= 5.089, p< .05.There
was no significance found among how likely to punish F(1, 15)= 4.055, p>
.05 or how much they would like to have the person as their teacher F(1,
15)= 4.306, p> .05; though both of these numbers were approaching
significance.The means here indicate
that in terms of the attractive and unattractive male, how attractive the
photographed person was perceived to be is consistent with how nice, how
much fun to be with, and how outgoing they were perceived to be (See Table
1 and Table 2).The consistency between
ratings for physical attractiveness, social perceptions, and social preference
are in accord with the hypothesis
Following the 2x2 repeated measure ANOVAs, a series of ten 2 (Sleeping Beauty, Shrek) x 3 (attractive photograph, unattractive photograph, moderately attractive photograph) repeated measure ANOVAs were run using the same between subjects factors, but instead of just evaluating differences between the attractive and unattractive photographs, the moderately attractive photographs were added to the within subjects factors.The measures revealed that there was no significance, once again, for the between conditions factor of fairy tale type among any of the social perception or social preference questions for both the male and the female photographs, however.There was some significance among the within subjects factor in terms of both the female and male photographs.Among the female photographs, as with the 2x2 repeated measures ANOVAs, there was significance among how nice F(2, 14)= 11.484, p<.05; how much fun to be with the person was perceived to be F(2, 14)= 8.872, p< .05; and how much they would like to have the person as their teacher F(2, 14)= 8.415, p<.05.In terms of the male photographs, significance was only found with how nice F(2,14)= 6.385, p<.05 and was approaching on how much fun to be with F(2, 14)= 3.373, p<.05.The means for these effects reveal that among the females, ratings for physical attractiveness were consistent with that of how nice and how much fun to be with they were perceived to be, as well as how much the children would like to have the female in the photograph as their teacher.Means for questions regarding the males reveal that their perceived physical attractiveness is consistent with how nice and how much fun they were perceived to be (See Table 1 and Table 3)These findings were consistent with the hypothesis.
Mean ratings and standard errors for the 2 (Sleeping Beauty, Shrek) x 3 (attractive photograph, unattractive photograph, moderately attractive photograph) repeated measures for social perceptions and social preferences
In addition to using independent samples t-test to evaluate the perceptions of the fairy tale characters, paired samples t-tests were used to determine whether differences existed between how attractive and how nice each character was perceived to be.Within the Sleeping Beauty condition, evaluations of attractiveness were found to be related to perceptions of how nice the respective character was, as there were no significant differences between the means.The only exception to this finding was with regards to Flora, who children perceived to be nicer than attractive (t(5)= -5.715, p< .05).Findings with regard to the Sleeping Beauty condition are in accord with the predicted outcome.The only exception to this would be with regards to Flora, who even though the children perceived her as neither attractive nor unattractive, they were rated her as being nice.Within the Shrek condition, there were a few differences found between how attractive and how nice the characters were perceived to be.Differences were found with regards to Shrek, t(10)= -3.614, p< .05; Donkey, t(10)= -3.545, p< .05; and Princess Fiona after sunset, t(10)= -5.787, p< .05.In each of these cases, the character was found to be nicer than what they were attractive, which the experimenter expected to happen (see Table 4).
Mean ratings and standard deviations of T-tests for how attractive and how nice characters in Sleeping Beauty and Shrek were perceived to be
note. *Statistically significant p< .05
purpose of this research was to determine the effects of exposure to fairy
tales on the beauty-is-good stereotype.It
was hypothesized that children who were exposed to Sleeping Beauty,
a fairy tale that presents ideas consistent with the beauty-is-good stereotype,
would be more likely to use the beauty-is-good stereotype in making decisions
regarding their social perceptions and their social preferences than would
children who were exposed to Shrek, a movie that presents ideas
that contradict that of the beauty-is-good stereotype.As
revealed in the results section, findings indicated that the movie that
the children were exposed to had no bearing on whether they would be more
likely to use the beauty-is-good stereotype in making decisions regarding
their social perceptions and their social preferences.Perhaps
the manipulation of the fairy-tale variable did not affect the dependent
variable in the way predicted because the social development of children
is not due merely to one or two factors.While
the children were exposed to Shrek, which presents ideas that contradict
that of the beauty-is-good stereotype, children are bombarded by many other
elements of culture (i.e. media) that support stereotypes such as the beauty-is-good
stereotype.The results of the
within groups measures reveal that the beauty-is-good stereotype prevailed
in how children determined some of their social perceptions and social
preferences, indicating, that as revealed by the research of Vaughn and
Langlois (1983), the social perceptions and social preferences of children
are influenced by physical attractiveness when viewing unknown photographs.Perhaps
a more extensive manipulation would be needed to overcome the influence
of the beauty-is-good stereotype in relation to the actual social development
of the children.A more extensive
manipulation might include presenting children at a young age with messages
that negate the beauty-is-good stereotype, and comparing their social development
to those children who were not subject to these messages.Further
research then, might seek to complete a longitudinal study on this topic.
effects might not have been found in terms of the influence that ideas
presented in fairy-tales have on children in their social perceptions and
social preferences, this is none the less an important topic to consider
for further study.Children grow
up reading fairy-tales.In fact,
fairy-tales are often used as educational tools as supported by the research
of Whyte (1987), especially among younger children.They
must have some influence on the way that children think, and perhaps even
perceive the world.Even though
the present study did not support the fact that physical attractiveness
as depicted in fairy tales influences social cognition, this is merely
one study of a small population.Research
must continue regarding this topic, especially since a review of the literature
reveals alack of empirical research
that evaluates the influences that fairy tales have on children.Extending
and expanding on the research of this study could provide people within
the educational field with pertinent information regarding how ideas communicated
through stories influence the thoughts of children. Further research should
seek to evaluate the extent to which children conceptualize and use themes
presented in fairy tales within their everyday logic and reasoning.Perhaps
research should be conducted regarding the extent to which fairy-tales
are a part of the every-day lives of children, both in and out of the classroom.Further
findings can only lead to a greater understanding of how children learn
Adams, G.R. & Crane, P.(1980).An assessment of parents’ and teachers’ expectations
ofpreschool children’s social preference for attractive or unattractive children
and adults.Child Development, 51, 224-231.
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Akert, R. M.(2002).Social Psychology.Upper Saddle
River: Prentice Hall.
Crain, W. C., D’Alessio, E., McIntyre, B., & Smoke, L.(1983).The impact of hearing a
fairy tale on children’s immediate behavior.Journal of Genetic Psychology, 143,
Danilewitz, D.(1991).Once upon a time… The meaning and importance of fairy tales.
Early Childhood Development and Care, 75, 97-98.
Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E.(1972).What is beautiful is good.Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.
Dion, K., & Berscheid, E.(1974).Physical attractiveness and peer perception among
children.Sociometry, 37, 1, 1-12.
Dushenko, T.W., Perry, R.P., Schilling, J., & Smolarski, S.(1978).Generality of the
physical attractiveness stereotype for age and sex.Journal of Social Psychology,
Hoffner, C. & Cantor, J.(1985).Developmental differences in responses to a television
character’s appearance and behavior.Developmental Psychology, 21, 6, 1065-
Hunsberger, B. & Cavanagh, B.(1988).Physical attractiveness and children’s
expectations of potential teachers.Psychology in Schools, 25, 70-74.
Krantz, M.(1987).Physical attractiveness and popularity: A predictive study.
Psychological Reports, 60, 723-726.
Langlois, J.H., & Styczynski, L.E.(1979).The effects of physical attractiveness on the
behavioral attributions and peer preferences of acquainted children.
International Journal of Behavioral Development, 2, 325-341.
Strayer, J.(1995).Children’s and adults’ responses to fairy tales.Early Child
Development and Care, 113, 1-17.
Thompson, M. C.(2000).If the shoe fits; Virtue and absolute beauty in fairy-tale drama.
Youth Theatre Journal, 14, 114-122.
Walker, V., & Lunz, M. E.(1976).Symbols, fairy tales, and school-age children.The
Elementary School Journal, 77, 94-100.
Whyte, D.A.(1987).Stories, fairy tales, and fables as teaching tools.Human Service
Education: A journal of the National Organization for Human Service
Education, 15, 1, 43-46.
Vaughn, B. E., & Langlois, J. H.(1983).Physical attractiveness as a correlate of peer
status and social competence in preschool children.Developmental Psychology,
19, 4, 561-567.
Letter to Parents
Dear Parent/ Guardians,
My name is Colette Salvas and I am a part-time childcare employee for the Y.M.C.A. of Manchester, New Hampshire. While I work for the Y.M.C.A. part-time in the pre-school program, I attend Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire full time.I major in psychology, but I am hoping to pursue my masters in elementary education following graduation next spring.
As a psychology major entering my senior year, I am required to complete a thesis in order to graduate.The thesis is a course requirement for my Experimental Psychology II class, which is under the direction of Dr. Elizabeth Ossoff, Ph. D.Our thesis involves conducting a research project using the scientific method of experimentation.For my thesis topic, I have chosen the topic “Fairy Tales: Influences on Children’s Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness as Displayed through Social Perceptions and Social Preferences”.My topic involves examining how physical attractiveness, as depicted through fairy tales, affects children’s social perceptions and social preferences.In order to complete this project, I will be showing children between the ages of 6 and 10 years clips from Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (rated G for General Audiences) and Shrek (rated PG for mild language and some crude humor).The children will be shown one of the two movies, following which they will be asked to complete a short survey regarding their perceptions of characters and situations from selected clips.After this survey is completed, children will then be asked to rate a series of photographs based on their perceptions and preferences.
All psychological research at Saint Anselm College is conducted according to strict ethical principles outlined by the American Psychological Association and is in full compliance with federal law. The Department of Health and Human Services, for example, specifies that informed consent must be given prior to research studies, that is, "...the knowing consent of an individual or his legally authorized representative so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice without undue inducement or any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, or other form of constraint or coercion."
Participation in this research project is completely voluntary.Parental consent is required first for children to be allowed to participate, and then the children’s verbal assent is required.In other words, if a child does not want to participate, they do not have to.I am hoping to conduct the project during the after-school hours between 3:30 and 6:00 when the children arrive to the School’s Out Program.
If you are interested or would allow your child to participate in my research project, please return the form below as soon as possible.Responses are due no later than Wednesday, October 2, 2002.Thank you for your time and for your cooperation.
Colette M. Salvas
I ___________________________, give my child ____________________________, permission to participate in the research study “Fairy Tales: Influences on Children’s Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness as Displayed through Social Perceptions and Social Preferences” that will be conducted by Colette M. Salvas.
Dear Parent/ Guardian,
Thank you for allowing your child to participate in my research study “Fairy Tales: Influences on Children’s Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness as Displayed through Social Perceptions and Social Preferences.”This letter is to inform you that I will be conducting my study on Wednesday and Friday of next week with the children during after school program hours.I am dividing the children up by the movie that they will be assigned to see.I am hoping to begin the project by 4:00 at the latest, and I am estimating that the project will probably take roughly about an hour to an hour and a half to do. The younger children will probably take longer to complete the project because they will require assistance with reading the surveys and following the directions.I am estimating that you can pick up your child around 5:30.If for any reason there is a problem, please feel free to talk to me.On the bottom of this letter the day that your child has been assigned to participate in the study is circled.
I greatly appreciate your time, effort, and cooperation with me on this project.If you are interested in learning about the results of this study and their implications, feel free to approach me and give me your name and address.I can mail you a copy of my findings once the project has been completed.My thesis is to be finished for Thanksgiving, so you can expect to hear from me around that time.If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the Y.M.C.A. of Manchester.Once again, thank you so much for your support. =)
Colette M. Salvas
Your child _________________________ has been selected to participate in the research study on Wednesday, October ___/ Friday, October ___ of next week.
Sample Movie Surveys
Circle One: Male Female Age:______
Very UglyUglyNeitherPrettyVery Pretty
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being extremely mean and 5 being the extremely nice, rate the following characters from the movie.
Very MeanMeanNeitherNiceVery Nice
How would you describe the physical appearance of the following characters?
Maleficent (the dark fairy)_______________________________________
Sleeping Beauty _______________________________________
Flora (the red fairy)_______________________________________
Did you know the story of Sleeping Beauty before watching this movie?
Circle One: Male Female Age:_____
Very UglyUglyNeitherPrettyVery Pretty
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being very mean and 5 being very nice, rate the following characters from the movie.
Very MeanMeanNeitherNiceVery Nice
How would you describe the physical appearances of the following characters?
Princess Fiona (before sunset)_______________________________________
Princess Fiona (after sunset)_______________________________________
Have you seen the movie Shrek before today?Circle one:YESNO
Photograph Rating Survey
Sample Page from Photograph Rating Survey
Look at photograph A and then answer the questions.
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being very ugly and 5 being very pretty, rate photograph A.
Very UglyUglyNeitherPrettyVery Pretty
A. 1 2 3 4 5
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being very mean and 5 being very nice, rate photograph A.
Very meanMeanNeitherNiceVery nice
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the least fun to be with, and 5 being the most fun to be with, rate photograph A.
No fun at allNo funNeitherFunVery fun
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being extremely shy and 5 being the most outgoing, rate
Very shyShyNeitherOutgoingVery outgoing
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being the most likely to punish you when you do something wrong and 5 being the least likely to punish you, rate photograph A.
Very likelyLikelyNeitherUnlikelyVery unlikely
On a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being very much dislike, and 5 being very much like, rate
photograph A on how much you would like to have the person as your teacher.
Very much dislikeDislikeNeitherLikeVery much like
Fairy Tales: Influences on Children’s Perceptions of Physical Attractiveness as Displayed through Social Perceptions and Social Preferences
Thank you for allowing your child to participate in my study!!!While there has been a great deal of research done regarding how physical attractiveness influences the psychological development of children (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster 1972; Hunsberger & Cavanagh, 1988; Langlois & Styczynski 1979; Vaughn & Langlois, 1983), there has not been a great deal of research conducted that examines the influence of fairy tales on their social behavior.Physical attractiveness is often portrayed vividly to children in stories such as Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.Research examining whether an interaction between physical attractiveness and fairy tales exists is also lacking.Despite this apparent connection, many psychologists have not yet ventured into examining whether physical attractiveness depicted in fairy tales has an effect on children’s social perceptions and preferences.The goal of my study was to evaluate whether such a relationship exists.It is hypothesized that children will be influenced by the beauty-is-good stereotype (beautiful objects are perceived as good and ugly objects as bad) in their social perceptions and social preferences based upon their experiences with fairy tales.
The children were divided into two groups by random assignment.The first group was shown various clips from the well-known fairy tale movie, Sleeping Beauty, rated G, for general audiences.Sleeping Beauty portrayed the beauty-is-good stereotype- good characters were presented as physically attractive (i.e., Sleeping Beauty and the Prince) and bad characters as ugly (Maleficent and her workers).After the children viewed the clips, they were asked to fill out a short survey regarding their thoughts about the characters, as well as whether or not they had any particular preference for some characters versus others.After this activity, the children were then asked to rate the attractiveness of previously rated photographs of various people that are presented to them.Following this exercise, they used these pictures to make decisions about who they thought would be most likely to have certain characteristics, as well as who they would prefer to spend time with, and be their teacher/ counselor.
The second group of children was exposed to the same procedure, except that they were exposed to a clip from the movie Shrek, rated PG for mild language and some crude humor.Shrek is a satire of other fairy tales and presents ideas that are opposite that of the beauty-is-good stereotype.Even though Shrek is presented as ugly, he is still presented as good, while characters such as Lord Farquard are presented as bad.
The study may show the beauty-is-good stereotype as evident among the responses regarding social perceptions and social preferences from the Sleeping Beauty group, as opposed to the Shrek group.It is important to note, though, that there are not right or wrong answers here.Children react in different ways, I am only attempting to address one influence possible.
Responses and data were collected as a group, and they again in no way reflect or indicate anything about your child personally.Your child’s response will remain anonymous, the only way their data is reported is collectively.After the experiment is conducted, I will have no way of knowing your child’s individual response.However, if you are interested in finding out the overall findings of the study, you can contact me via email or through the Y.M.C.A. in Manchester.
The results of this study will help psychologists to further understand the role that fairy tales play in the lives of children, especially in terms of whether ideas portrayed in fairy tales influence their social perceptions and their social preferences.Findings will hopefully lead to further studies in this field; especially since there has not been much research conducted examining the beauty-is-good stereotype in children’s fairy tales.
Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E.(1972).What is beautiful is good.Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.
Hunsberger, B. & Cavanagh, B.(1988).Physical attractiveness and children’s
expectations ofpotential teachers.Psychology in Schools, 25, 70-74.
Langlois, J.H., & Styczynski, L.E.(1979).The effects of physical attractiveness on the
behavioral attributions and peer preferences of acquainted children.International Journal of Behavioral Development, 2, 325-341.
Vaughn, B. E., & Langlois, J. H.(1983).Physical attractiveness as a correlate of peer
status and social competence in preschool children.Developmental Psychology,
19, 4, 561-567.
Key words: Physical attractiveness, fairy tales, beauty-is-good stereotype, social perceptions, social preferences, child psychology, social cognition, social learning theory.