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The Pratfall Effect: How Being Imperfect Makes You More Likeable

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 Lawrence tripping at the Oscars, 2013

Jennifer Lawrence: star Hollywood actress as Katniss Everdeen movie series The Hunger Games and Mystique in X-Men: First Class and Days of Future Past, one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of the Year 2013, and Academy and Golden Globe Award Winner.  Also known for her

Why is Lawrence described as being “down-to-earth”, “modest”, “honest”, and “relatable” by many critics and fans, whereas other actresses and celebrities are not?

The Pratfall Effect might offer some explanations.

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Lawrence tripping at the Oscars, 2014

A phenomenon in Social Psychology, the Pratfall Effect states that an individual’s perceived attractiveness increases or decrease after he or she makes a mistake– depending on the individual’s perceived competence (ability to generally perform well).  As celebrities are generally considered to be competent individuals, and often even presented as flawless or perfect in certain aspects, committing blunders will make one’s humanness endearing to others.

Basically, those who never make mistakes are perceived as being less attractive and “likable” than those who make occasional mistakes.

Perfection, or the attribution of that quality to individuals, creates a perceived distance and air of invincibility that the general public cannot relate to– making those who never make mistakes (or are never seen making mistakes) perceived as being less attractive or likable.

 

However, this can also have the opposite effect– if a perceived average/less than average competent person makes a mistake, he or she will be less attractive and likable to others.

This phenomenon was first described by social psychologist Elliot Aronson in 1966, and in the fifty-some years since then, many studies have been conducted to isolate variables and analyze their effects on the Pratfall Effect, such as gender, self-esteem. and gender.

The original experiment conducted by Aronson tested the likability of one group by other by doing a coffee-spill test.

Basically, under the pretenses that the experiment was reenacting a quiz show, participants were asked to listen to recordings of the quiz show run-through.

Some recordings included the host accidentally knocking over a cup of coffee and reacting to it.  When participants were asked to rate the different hosts by likability, with the only difference being the coffee cup blunder, the coffee-spilling hosts’ perceived likability were much higher than the control group recordings.

 

This might explain why Jennifer Lawrence, who is known for making blunders such as slips of the tongue during interviews or even tripping multiple times on the red carpet, is seen as being more likable and down-to-earth; these mistakes are seen as testaments to her “humanness”, which makes her seen as being more relatable and attractive.

So if you trip and fall on stage or in front of your friends, don’t worry– chances are, your humanness will be perceived as attractive and endearing. Not only are your occasional mistakes acceptable, but they can turn out to be beneficial for you as well!


 

Aronson, E., Willerman, B., & Floyd, J. (1966). The effect of a pratfall on increasing interpersonal attractiveness. Psychonomic Science.

Ein-Gar, D., Shiv, B., & Tormala, Z. L. (2012). When blemishing leads to blossoming: The positive effect of negative information. Journal of Consumer Research, 38(5), 846-859.

Kiesler, C. A., & Goldberg, G. N. (1968). Multi-dimensional approach to the experimental study of interpersonal attraction: Effect of a blunder on the attractiveness of a competent other. Psychological reports, 22(3), 693-705.

Mettee, D. R., & Wilkins, P. C. (1972). When similarity” hurts”: Effects of perceived ability and a humorous blunder on interpersonal attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22(2), 246.

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