September 4, 2020 - Podcast

Episode 28—Generosity and beauty, plus COVID-19 in jails

It has long been known that giving can have positive effects on the person who is giving, such as an increase in happiness, confidence, and even physical health. But research from Indiana University has found there may be another potential implication of giving: physical attractiveness. A recent study by Sara Konrath, associate professor of philanthropic studies at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, found that physically attractive people are more likely to be givers, and givers are rated as more attractive. Konrath says poets and philosophers have suggested the link between moral and physical beauty for centuries, but this study confirms that people who are perceived as more attractive are more likely to give and givers are seen as more attractive. Researchers used three large studies, one that examined older adults at a single time and two that started in late adolescence and followed participants for years. Researchers asked two questions. First, are individuals who undertake more giving behaviors rated as more physically attractive? They also asked the reverse, are more physically attractive people more likely to undertake giving behaviors? When it comes to the older adults, volunteering and giving affection were related to higher attractiveness ratings. When it comes to young people, those who volunteered rated higher. Konrath says the paper is important because it disproves the perception that beautiful people are self-focused and vain. Furthermore, Konrath noted that people spend significant amounts of money on beauty products and cosmetic surgery to improve their looks, yet it is possible that doing good could help to draw inner beauty to the surface.

In other news, when COVID-19 hit the nation, many leaders across the country ordered court systems to reduce jail populations to slow the spread of the virus. Eric Grommon, with the Center for Health and Justice Research at the IU Public Policy Institute, says part of the reason for that decision was that it is impossible for jails to adhere to social distancing recommendations because they often operate near capacity. He also points out that because jail populations turn over quickly, asymptomatic and positive cases could easily flow between jails and communities as the population changes. To learn more about COVID-19’s impact on jail populations, Grommon and a team from the Public Policy Institute analyzed COVID’s effect on jails in 557 counties nationwide, including 11 in Indiana. Overall, they found that jail populations in the United States dropped nearly 17 percent from February 1 through April 14, 2020. Indiana counties mirrored a nearly 21 percent drop in jail populations seen in the Midwest. Meanwhile, researchers found that jail populations in the Northeast United States dropped 16 percent, those in the South fell 14 percent, and those in the Western region fell 22 percent. Grommon says jails are notoriously understudied in relation to other areas of the justice system, yet they are a central element of that system. A new grant will allow Grommon and his team to collect secondary data to extend their understanding of their original findings. They also plan to work with approximately 20 sheriff’s offices around Indiana to learn more about pandemic planning efforts, mitigation strategies, and the lessons learned along the way. Grommon says he hopes their work will help inform the development of statewide data collection for Indiana’s jail populations so that those in positions of power can make more informed decisions on how to manage infectious diseases and pandemics, and better understand the impact reducing jail populations has on public safety.