Maxim 4: Everything is Judged by its Appearance; What is Unseen counts for Nothing.

Everything is judged by its appearance; what is unseen counts for nothing. Never let yourself get lost in the crowd, then, or buried in oblivion. Stand out. Be conspicuous, at all cost. Make yourself a magnet of attention by appearing larger, more colorful, more mysterious than the bland and timid masses.

~ Robert Greene (48 Laws of Power)

Appearance is everything. It is what it is. It is how people instinctively and naturally behave. You may have seen it when people judge the value and worth of a product or services merely by what they can just see rather than fully evaluating it. This could be through presentation, packaging, advertisements, events, spokesperson and more.

“People care much more for how things look than how things are.”
― Donna Lynn Hope

Have you ever wondered, why is appearance or the illusion or perception of appearance so important to people even though appearances can be misleading or even deceiving?

There is one possibility from reading about a branch of psychology  called “Evolutionary  Psychology” that I think and feel is relevant here.

Science Daily defines it as:

“A theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain useful mental and psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as adaptations, i.e., as the functional products of natural selection.”

The basis of evolutionary psychology lies with our ancestors. During humanity’s earliest societies, one might ask, how would early humans judge something or someone? Through our five senses and in my opinion, the most important sense is sight.

For instance, say two groups from two different tribes met each other. At the time, humans did not have verbal or written languages. So, how would early humans know if the other group had cordial or hostile intentions? Through observing body language and whatever else they can see. This can also include the clothes worn and how ornamental it was. This may seem overly obvious to most of us, but we always need reminding time and time again, appearance counts for nearly everything.

Based on the above,  one group could denote who the leader of the other group was and vice-versa. They could also denote the difference between a tribal leader or a tribal shaman. As this trait become evermore valuable, evolution allowed this trait to be retained till today. However, while evolution may have encouraged humanity’s survival, it can also have adverse and harmful side effects.

One example is the Coolidge Effect whereby humans would feel more arousal for new mates rather than old mates. The Coolidge Effect can be seen when males watch pornography. Due to the never ending images of different and beautiful women, its no wonder addiction in men can happen. While this trait may have been useful in ensuring men procreate with women before the Internet, this trait can be abused too.

Its the same with appearance, as judging the situation, person or item as they are based on what we actually see can be plain deceptive. Packaging on products can make a sub-standard product seem like a premium product. Clothes can make an ordinary man appear to be larger than life. Promotions and ads can make a service seem so much more valuable, thus making us perceive it has higher value.

Three more reasons we’re susceptible to our perceptions of appearance are due to:

  • The theory of bounded rationality states that humans are incapable of processing all the information needed to make well-informed decisions and instead take the most important information from what is available at the time to inform their decision.
  • Inclination towards emotions whereby most people would rather behave emotionally than think logically or rationally as it is instinctive and easier to do.
  • Cognitive bias whereby whenever something interferes with our belief system or ego, people would rather be blind and ignore whatever it is that tries to disrupt our internal frame of mind than to be objective about it and think clearly.

“Appearances are often deceiving.”
~ Aesop

Considering the above, thus we must balance the duality of using appearances to our advantage and to be careful with appearances to avoid being exploited or deceived. Create yourself to seem larger than life and you will have the world at your fingertips. Meanwhile, by being objective and remember that appearances must be a reflection of substance and value, we can avoid deception and trickery. Only then can we determine is valuable and what isn’t.

Till next time.