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Pratfall Effect: Why Imperfections Can Be Attractive

She face-planted herself on her way to accept the 2013 Academy Awards / Photo by Celebrityabc via Flickr

 

When people witness how a talented person makes mistakes from time to time, they tend to find them more charming, social psychologist Elliot Aronson discovered. After performing an experiment in 1966, he introduced the concept called the Pratfall Effect.

Psych2go defines the Pratfall Effect as a phenomenon wherein “an individual’s perceived attractiveness increases after he or she makes a mistake--depending on the individual’s perceived competence.”

Experiment and Conceptualization

Forty-eight college-age men were recruited for Aronson’s study, Brescia University says. He separated the participants into four groups. Then, he made them listen to a tape recording of some superior and average individuals answering questions meant for a quiz show’s audition. The groups listened to one of the scenes happening: an instance when an average person was responding to questions, a superior individual replying to questions, someone average who replied to questions and made a pratfall, and someone superior who answered questions and made a pratfall.

Aronson emphasized the idea of someone being “average” or “superior” by making the ones answering questions in the tape recording disclose some personal information. The superior individual revealed that during his high school years he was a yearbook editor, an honor student and part of the track team. Meanwhile, the average person narrated that he auditioned for the track team but failed, was a proofreader of the yearbook and that his grades were average. The average person was shown to have correct answers to only 30% of questions, while the superior one had answered 90% of them correctly. The tapes that had pratfalls in them ended with clanging sounds while a person would exclaim, “Oh my goodness, I’ve spilled coffee all over my suit.”

When they had finished listening to the tapes, the participants of the experiment were asked to answer questionnaires referring to the impression they had on the person they listened to. Just as Aronson had predicted, people became fonder of an individual who was deemed superior when they make pratfalls, like the ones in tape who had spilled their coffee. On the other hand, average people who committed mistakes became less likable.

Celebrities Who Demonstrated the Pratfall Effect

Here are examples of celebrities who have experienced the Pratfall Effect:

Jennifer Lawrence

Jennifer Lawrence is a well-known Hollywood actress who is admired not only for her talent and beauty, but for being down-to-earth. She starred as Mystique in X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past. She also took the role of Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games. She has also received a number of awards such as being listed as one of the 100 of the Most Influential People in Time Magazine, Academy Award Winner and Golden Globe Award Winner.

However, for all the movies she has been in and for all the awards she has won, what has made her more endearing to her fans and critics are her occasional blunders. She has been seen tripping countless times on the red carpet. The Washington Post even said that she had face-planted herself into her gown as she was on her way to accepting the 2013 Academy Award. When she stood back up and finally received it, the audience gave her a standing ovation. In front of the crowd, she jokingly remarked, “You guys are just standing up ‘cause you feel bad that I fell, and that’s really embarrassing. But thank you.”

In interviews, she has also been known for making slip-ups and answering in a goofy, candid manner.

Anna Kendrick

Anna Kendrick is also a world-renowned actress who has starred in several films including Twilight, Into the Woods, Up In the Air and Pitch Perfect. To add, she also performs on Broadway. She is not only praised for being an excellent actress, but also loved by fans for being, in the words of the website The Things, “adorably relatable” because of her funny tweets, snaps, and responses in her interviews.

In her autobiography Scrappy Little Nobody, she describes in detail her how she jumpstarted her career by spending her teenage years performing on Broadway. From living as an unglamorous teenage Broadway star, she has become an actress worthy of walking down the red carpet. She also writes about her embarrassing experiences and anecdotes in her book, which is basically how she exposes how uncool she thinks she is and how much of a dork she considers herself.   

 

Spending her teenager years performing on Broadway / Photo by Buzzfuss via 123RF

 

It Works the Opposite Way for Less Competent People

It may give competent people more of an advantage, but for the less competent, the Pratfall Effect works against them. If incompetent people commit a blunder, their likability decreases. Curiosity states that this may be due to the mistake making them seem even more incompetent.

When someone is viewed as flawless or invincible, most people tend to dislike them because they could not relate to them. This perceived perfection distances them from others because it makes them seem unreachable and inhuman. In contrast, when someone who is viewed as competent, such as a famous actress, singer, scientist or politician, exposes their imperfections and commit blunders, others tend to find them more attractive because they are more relatable and, as stated by Lifehack, more human.

 

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