That Face / You are so beautiful to me / Art G.

December 1, 2016; phys.org

This article may be slightly nauseating to read; frankly, we apologize, but it passes as being based on eight research studies about fundraising, so maybe you can help us make some sense of the whole thing.

Cynthia Cryder, Simona Botti, and Yvetta Simonyan of Washington University in St. Louis studied the behavior of thousands of participants who were shown photos correlated with nonprofit causes and asked to decide which one to sponsor. Regarding the data, Cryder says, “There seems to be a very basic automatic preference for beauty. If you’re asking people to make quick decisions based on intuition, then a preference for beautiful recipients emerges. However, visual judgments of neediness and beauty are negatively correlated, which means when donors are choosing the beautiful recipients, they are overlooking the needy ones, who are the ones they should give to.”

Okay – this is our first point of contention. The choice is between beauty and neediness? Since when are beauty and neediness mutually exclusive? It is a strange choice point that only the most dysfunctional make in their day-to-day relationships.

But when the participants were asked to stop and think about their gifts and who would best benefit from them, they chose to give to the needier group. This evidence appears to demonstrate that impulsive donors give based on appearance; however, when gifts are given after thoughtful consideration, needier groups benefit regardless of appearance.

Why are we still so incredibly uncomfortable with all of this? Maybe because many worthy causes involve neither super cute people/creatures, nor “neediness”? Maybe because beauty is in the eye of the beholder? Witness one of their experiments, where they pitted giraffes and zebras against penguins and orangutans to test on which ones’ behalf donors would choose to intervene in an endangerment scenario. Inexplicably, they categorized the penguins and orangutans as less lovely. What? On impulse, the researchers found, donors chose the two more equine creatures over the others even though the penguins and orangutans were understood to be the most endangered. Again, you’ve lost us—were these particularly hideous penguins?

Luckily, charity beauty pageants don’t bring in the big, lasting bucks for the most part. After all, beauty is fleeting, and since beauty-giving is apparently built on sudden impulses, it reinforces that we must create real long-term relationships with donors if we don’t have a relevant winsomely cute puppy at hand at all times.—Sheela Nimishakavi and Ruth McCambridge