Do people react differently to information from those who are attractive vs. those who have expertise?
March 26, 2008 7:56 PM   Subscribe

Prettygirlfilter: Is my roommate treating me differently than he treats my boyfriend because of looks? If so, how common is this? Women, does this happen to you?

I want to post this anonymously so we don't get into a discussion of whether I am pretty or not or attractiveness in general (it's fairly subjective, symmetrical features notwithstanding). My roommate, "John", is 10 years younger than me and 5 years younger than my boyfriend. He is a single straight male and something of a know-it-all. He has not had a girlfriend for any time period since I've known him, going on 7 years. When asking a question that has a definite answer (example: How can I find the static IP address for my computer? or How can I make macaroni and cheese if we are out of milk?), he appears thoughtful and listens to my suggestions or answers.

Also, when I correct him if he's wrong, he acknowledges it. When my boyfriend does the same, he is often dismissive, sometimes laughs or questions me for verification of the boyfriend's answer. It's not a personality clash; he is overly nice to both of us on most occasions and has gone out of his way to do nice things for the boyfriend, like set up a shared music server, picks up movies he knows the boyfriend wants to see when he rents, and offers us both his leftovers when he cooks. So, in confusion, I ask of the men of metafilter: Do you listen more carefully to answers from a woman you find attractive? (Roommate has gotten drunk and told me in past years he finds me attractive).

Why would my answer be more valuable than, say, the boyfriend's if boyfriend is an expert in the field being questioned? An example would be a cooking question. My boyfriend is a cook in a restaurant but roommate acts embarrassed when discussing cooking with the boyfriend, but not me. Also, all three of us live together, if that makes any difference, but we work opposite schedules and are in different areas of the home, so I see the roommate maybe 3 times a week, at most.

Don't think I need a throwaway email because I don't think it's a huge deal that will require more clarification. I'm looking for anecdotal evidence as well as any studies that show people react differently to others based on attraction alone vs. level of expertise.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Couldn't both gender and age be more important than looks in this case? Really hard to tell from your description why exactly it's looks that make the difference, save for a drunken throw-away comment.
posted by AwkwardPause at 8:18 PM on March 26, 2008

Sounds like you're overthinking it with all the attractiveness stuff and the roommate really just has a crush on you. He's overtly nice to the boyfriend so he doesn't look like the bad guy when boyfriend figures out what is going on and says something about it ("Obviously I can't have a crush on you, look how nice I am to your boyfriend! He's just imagining things.") The "we got drunk and he told me how attractive he thinks I am" is pretty much a dead giveaway in my opinion. He is dismissive to your boyfriend when boyfriend answers a question because roommate wants to give off a "we're better than your boyfriend" vibe to you/show up the boyfriend passive aggressively/etc.

This is my opinion, but it is based on experience from having been every person in this situation at one time or another.
posted by nzero at 8:19 PM on March 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

I think you are massively overthinking this. People we are attracted to tend to become magically more interesting and intelligent. It isn't logical and it's really irrelevant what you are talking about, you know he's harboring a massive crush on you, so of course he hangs on your every word.
posted by whoaali at 8:19 PM on March 26, 2008

One of my philosophy professors once divided self-knowledge into 4 parts:
1 - Things that you can notice about yourself that others can also notice
2 - Things that you can't notice about yourself that others can notice
3 - Things that you can notice about yourself that others can't notice
4 - Things about yourself that no one can notice

Paying more attention to a pretty roommate than a pretty roommate's boyfriend likely falls into category 2, especially for internet-dudes with no dating prospects. At least he's nice.

Alternatively, cue ladder theory ;)
posted by sandking at 8:22 PM on March 26, 2008 [6 favorites]

Anecdotal: Sometimes it's easier to ask a question of a non-expert because they know they don't know everything over an expert who might look down on you for not knowing everything. Your roommate might be embarrassed to ask a question of your boyfriend in cooking for fear of being seen as stupid because his question is so "obvious." Not saying that's how your boyfriend will react, but it's how your roommate might think he will.

On preview: nzero's got it. The roommate's more attentive to you because he's got a crush on you and wants to show off/draw attention to himself/make you appreciate him/whatever, not because people are inherently more receptive to attractive people.
posted by lilac girl at 8:23 PM on March 26, 2008

There are a lot of people of both sex who find it easier to be mellow with members of the opposite sex. (don't know how this works with gays)
I always think that's because they tend to be very competitive with members of their own sex but not with members of the other sex.
posted by jouke at 8:27 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm looking for anecdotal evidence as well as any studies that show people react differently to others based on attraction alone vs. level of expertise

There is economic evidence for the existence of a beauty premium. This easy-to-read article (PDF) from the Federal Reserve of Bank St. Louis is a good summary of the economic research (Also, at the end of the article is a works cited list). The evidence seems to indicate that beautiful people (men and women) earn more than average-or-below-average-looking people, even after controlling for factors like work experience (work experience could be thought of as a measure of expertise). There is also evidence for a height premium and a weight penalty.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 9:00 PM on March 26, 2008

Maybe he just thinks your boyfriend is stupid/ignorant/an unreliable narrator? Or maybe he takes more care not to offend you, because he's known you longer?
posted by orthogonality at 9:15 PM on March 26, 2008

He probably is just comfortable with you and sees you as an ally, maybe is even slightly protective of you. In every trio there's an uneven dynamic. You're overthinking it.
posted by loiseau at 9:30 PM on March 26, 2008

Also, just because he has in the past told you he thinks you're attractive does not mean you should filter every interaction with him through that prism. It's condescending and kind of arrogant when people do that. He sounds like a nice person so give him a little credit.
posted by loiseau at 9:32 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

People we are attracted to tend to become magically more interesting and intelligent.

Conversely, we also tend to be attracted to those who are more interesting and intelligent. And magical.
posted by rokusan at 10:02 PM on March 26, 2008

Another possibility: some guys just don't like other guys. A competitive alpha male thing. Or their dads were jerks.

Another possibility: some guys relate to other guys through the Beavis & Butthead "don't be a pussy" "two for flinching!" type of language (explaining the dismissiveness).

Another possibility: some guys feel like they should be "gentleman" toward women in certain ways and so he's taking it easy on you (doesn't sound like it's just politeness, so maybe not this one)

Another possibility: he just doesn't like or respect your boyfriend.

Another possibility: he's known you longer and so he trusts you more, while the boyfriend feels like a transitory person or questionable interloper.

But it sounds like you think he has a crush on you, and you may be right. I guess I'm not sure where this is going. Two data points: a) he finds you attractive, b) he respects your opinion more. So the goal is to rule out other potential reasons for (b) and prove the reason is (a)?
posted by salvia at 10:26 PM on March 26, 2008

It could also be that you're his friend and he actually cares what you think, while he's merely courteous to your boyfriend because he's your boyfriend.

More likely it's subconscious though, because he has a crush on you.
posted by ctmf at 1:45 AM on March 27, 2008

Sounds like pretty typical male/female dynamic.

He can relate easily to your BF, has difficulty relating to women- 7 year no gf? that's a hint.

Sounds like you like him though ;)
posted by mattoxic at 4:14 AM on March 27, 2008

Possibility 1
As some people said, he is just a nice guy who, in this case, talks to males differently than he talks to females.

I think people treat the opposite sex differently, perhaps more kindly, but without actually realizing it - male waiters will dote over my wife and completely ignore me (except when it is time for me to pay the bill); female waiters will pay more attention to me.

guys will talk to other guys with a different tone of voice (i.e. tough-guy) than that used when they speak to women (i.e. Rico Suave) . My wife tells me that she can tell when I am talking to a guy-friend and when I am talking to a girl-friend.

Possibility 2
Like others said, maybe he does like you and is trying to be nice to the b/f to make a good impression on you. That being said, just b/c he finds you attractive doesn't mean he wants to jump your bones or ruin your relationship, but I digress.

The true test would be how he treats the b/f when both of them are alone together, without you around to potentially impress - is he just as nice or a jerk? - I remember when working at a front desk at a gym, I would deal with male clients that were super nice to me when they saw that I would be working next to an attractive female. If I would be working alone, these same clients would be total dickwads.

To this day it amazes me as to how oblivious people are (myself included!) of how they act in public.
posted by bitteroldman at 6:24 AM on March 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Another thing to try would be to help him get a girlfriend and see how he reacts around her. Or just other female friends in general and other male friends in general. But I recommend the girlfriend route because it sounds like he's been single for quite some time.
posted by Green With You at 6:58 AM on March 27, 2008

I agree with the possibility of the crush, but I'm not sure that's it. First and foremost: in regards to the stated question at the start, yes: I (and generally people) react differently to info from those who are attractive. The 'just-so' story behind it is that attractive people seem more trustworthy (I'd find the studies but it's early), and clearly you weight trustworthy people over the alternative.

That being said, there are other possibilities. Everyone who's suggested that he's just more friendly with females has nailed me, personally, to a T. Beyond that - he's closer to you than your boyfriend just on a 'time-known' scale.

One thing to point out: You comment that it is not a personality clash because he's quite nice (polite?) to your boyfriend. But clashes don't prevent being nice, which I tend to think is a good marker of maturity: There are people that I wouldn't spend 10 minutes with if there didn't exist an unchangeable reason - like they were my roomate's SO. It happens, and nothing can or should be done about it.

Finally, a comment about the crush: Personally, I've never lost attraction to someone faster than by living with them. I devolve very quickly into the protective/older-brother stage. Finding someone attractive is not the same as being attracted to them, if that makes sense.
posted by Lemurrhea at 7:02 AM on March 27, 2008

It's entirely possible your boyfriend is just...stupid. I think you'd know that, though.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 8:26 AM on March 27, 2008

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