Blonde hair is light in color because it lacks a pigment called eumelanin. Somehow, blonde hair has also become associated with the lack of another component--intelligence.
This "dumb blonde" stereotype doesn't just exist in the world of teen movies and humor (How do you get a one-armed blonde out of a tree?). It's quite real.
In one study, researchers showed a picture of a women wearing
a platinum blonde, natural blonde, red, or brown wig. Subjects rated
the platinum blonde as less intelligent. In another study a model was seen as more approachable when her hair was blonde but more intelligent when her hair was brunette.
The stereotype isn't just limited to
study analyzed the hair color of 500 UK CEOs and found that blondes were
study, subjects read resumes that included head-shots of the supposed
applicants. Although all the resumes were identical, the blonde applicants
were rated as less competent.
When you look at the "dumb blonde" stereotype a little closer, it's actually quite puzzling. Let me explain.
In popular culture, there seems to be an idea that blonde people
are more attractive than people with other hair colors. Men are
especially thought to desire flaxen-haired women. This trend is reflected in a study where researchers surveyed photos from several different
magazine across four decades. The researchers found that there was a higher
percentage of blonde women in the magazines compared to the normal
population of white women.
evolutionary reasons why blonde hair is associated with sexual attractiveness. In prehistoric northern Europe,
women could not gather their own food because of the frigid climate, so
they had to rely on meat hunted by men. However, because of the
dangerous hunting conditions, there were not enough men to go around.
This environment created sexual competition between women,
of which blonde women had an advantage because they stood out from their dark-haired peers. Now, some men continue to favor blonde women for the same reason.
Also, because children are often born with fair locks that darken as they get older, blondness is associated with youth and vivaciousness. Therefore, adults who retain their light hair into adulthood (or dye it with chemicals) are seen as physically fit. Blonde women
also have more estrogen than normal, which can also contribute to
All of these factors contribute to why people may find (dumb) blondes attractive. But the funny thing is that attractiveness and intelligence usually go hand-in-hand. Not only are good-looking people perceived to be smarter than less-good-looking people, but studies have shown that they actually are smarter.
One study compared the IQs of attractive children and unattractive children from a large set of data. The researcher found that the cute kids had a 12 point higher IQ than the less-cute kids. This trend may be explained by considering that smart men are usually more successful, so they will attract beautiful women. Because these
traits are inheritable, children of such a couple will likely be both brainy and
Let's sum up: blonde people are often found to be attractive, and attractive people are more intelligent, but blondes are considered to be dumb. Clearly the "dumb blonde" idea isn't founded in science, but then where did it come from?
The most obvious answer is popular culture. When movies and TV shows began featuring airheaded blonde bombshells, no one looked at blondes the same way again.
Another reason might be because adult women often need to use artificial means to keep their hair blonde. Because most people know it isn't natural, this practice may be seen as vain and naive. This may be why in the study mentioned above platinum blondes were labeled as less intelligent but natural blondes were not.
But no matter its origin, platinum-prejudice is silly and unfounded.
Photo by Peter Schäfermeier via Wikimedia Commons