Attractiveness and Athletic Performance

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Attractiveness represents one diversity dimension that receives little scholarly attention. This is especially the case when it comes to potential links with sports performance. After all, why would someone’s looks have any impact on how well they play a sport? Interestingly, there is research in this area, with somewhat surprising findings.

Most of this research has focused on men. The underlying rationale is as follows: testosterone is an important hormone influencing strength and athleticism. In men, that hormone is also related to desired facial features, such as a strong jaw line and a prominent brow. Applying the principles of transitive properties, it is then possible that attractive and athleticism are linked with each other. 

Justin Park, of the University of Bristol, and his colleagues have conducted a number of studies examining these possibilities.

In one series of studies, the researchers looked at female ratings of athlete attractiveness, and whether such ratings were linked to positions played. This was indeed the case. In both hockey and soccer, attractive athletes were more likely to play positions requiring considerable athleticism.

In another study, the researchers examined the association between attractiveness and performance of NFL quarterbacks. Using the NFL’s quarterback rating system as the measure of performance, the research group found that attractiveness was linked with better play.

Do these findings mean that attractive men will automatically be sports stars? No. Neither do they suggest that less attractive men are doomed for life on the bench. What they do suggest, though, is that some characteristics we might not associated with athletic performance, actually are.