Physical attractiveness (PAT), despite its allure in everyday life, has been an inconsistent predictor of happiness in past studies. In this research, we find that a lay belief about the locus of a person's “essence” moderates the PAT and happiness link. Specifically, we measured how strongly one believes in the diagnostic value of the visible (e.g., status, appearance) over the invisible (e.g., mood, thoughts) aspects of a person in understanding who s/he is. As expected, the more one believed in the value of the visible features, the more central PAT was in the person's overall life, and appearance was compared more often with others (Study 1). More importantly, PAT and well-being correlated significantly only among those who strongly endorsed the visible selfhood belief (Study 2). Compared to past studies on PAT that relied heavily on self-reports, a highly objective measure of attractiveness (waist-to-hip ratio) was employed in this research. Our research uncovers a novel individual difference factor that helps to clarify why PAT predicts the happiness of some, but not of others. Whether one thinks a person's essence can be judged by one's “cover” seems to matter in the PAT and happiness link.
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