The Science of Success

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Can You Be Too Good-Looking For Your Own Good? Yes.

Most of us assume that the beautiful people have it made - that being attractive gives you advantages across the board. But recent research has shown how the advantages of being beautiful don't always translate into greater successes. In fact, being good-looking can cost you opportunities - jobs, scholarships, promotions - depending on the gender and attractiveness of your evaluator. Read More

A Book By It's Cover

Being slightly less than neuro-typcial but still appearing normal, I've always felt that I was expected to act normal and have always gotten strange reactions when people begin to realize that my thinking is just a little too off beat.

I've also suspected that being attractive played into this.

Yes, I feel a pressure to live up to the expectations that my appearance generates.

I am expected to be both normal and privileged; and yet, I am subtly penalized for failing to be as normal as I appear, which leaves me subtly less privileged than I appear.

Sexual competition? While this is clearly not the only area affected, the assumptions are so excessively over exaggerated that it is simpler to avoid dating, which just increases the gulf between reality and those assumptions.

It seems to me that

It seems to me that high-functioning autistic men tend to be taller and better looking than average. I wonder if it's a kind of selective breeding thing. It's not that the genes for autism are related to the genes for "good looks" and height, but that the short autistic men don't ever get a chance to have children, but a woman will put up with the odd qualities of a very good looking, tall man.

It also seems to me that autism spectrum women are shorter than average, but I don't know if it's ever been surveyed carefully.

For the record... I am a tall woman who is also on the high functioning end of the autism spectrum, and somewhat attractive (high cheekbones, wide-set eyes), but now after reading this article I'm glad I'm not gorgeous like I always wanted to be.

Male Autistic Attractiveness

Well, that would seem to be confirmed if we were to go by the men in my lineage. Some the key traits that place me so close to being aspergian were almost certainly inherited from my father and his father, and both are/were quite hansom.

And, it does complicate relationships. Most of the women that interest me act as if I'm slumming if I ask them out. And, the attractive NT women have their own set of expectations.

I realize that it's a "grass is greener" view, but average looks would seem to be more conducive to a comfortably less competitive social environment.

America's next top model is America's next but one depressive

There has been some social psychological research on the downside of physical attractiveness:

Women who looked beautiful in their early twenties were more unhappy in their fifties.

Their husbands were more dissatisfied with their wife's looks and they were more unfaithful than other husbands.

Women are generally more happy than men before 45 and more unhappy after this date, supposedly because their good looks wane.

People have generally heightened expectations of good looking people and are disappointed when this expectations fail to materialize. Good looking women are therefore more strongly sanctioned in economic games.

If good looking women are successful, their success is often devalued by onlookers who think "it is only because of their looks".

Good looking people raise a lot more envy in other people, and that does not feel nice.


From personal experience, this article is so true!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I've been discriminated against my whole life by other women for the unfair reason of looks. And frankly, I am sick of it. I'm tired of the bitchiness, the flat-out rejection, and the back-stabbing. I'm tired of being made to feel I'm "less than" or not friend-worthy because of their own petty insecurities. You know what, after all these years I finally wised up and recently decided that I'm going to just be myself (which is a very nice person -- too nice actually), since there's a certain element of women who are going to dislike me regardless. So now I say screw it, if you're that cold-hearted and shallow then hate me then. I've suffered too many years of being picked on and frankly I'm tired of it and I'm tired of caring what they think.

Good for you! No need to

Good for you! No need to apologize for being who you are!

Go girl! I feel the exact

Go girl! I feel the exact same way. I've learned to just not care about what other people think because I was born like this. I get my advice and looks from my grandmother, she speaks from experience.



Interesting reported study. There also is evidence that when people focus solely on a woman's looks, that she is perceived as less competent, and even less human (e.g., Goldenberg & Heflick, 2009). We also have some stuff under review showing that people rate women as less likeabile and warmth, and as lower in morality (trustworthiness, sincerity, honesty) when focused solely on their looks. (well, at least when the women are newscasters, famous politicians and weather people).

Of course, solely focusing on a woman's looks can occur regardless of attractiveness in a lab setting. But in real-life, it is likely that being unusually hot or unattractive increases other's focus on your appearance, which can have negative effects.

Thanks for your comments!

Thank you all for your comments - it's obvious that this is a kind of bias that a lot of people cope with that goes largely unacknowledged. No one wants to hear anyone complain about how hard it is to be attractive, but the truth is it can be hard - and can have real negative consequences that cause real pain.

Many of you wrote about the burden of expectations as well, and I'm glad you brought this up. By assuming that attractive people have lots of other amazing qualities, expectations are created that very few people, if any, could actually live up to. Thank you for sharing your difficult experiences and your perspective.

More Regarding Expectations

While much is made of women's unfairness toward more attractive women, I think there is too little discussion of how men treat attractive women unfairly. This study, like others, supports the idea that men view attractive women more positively in the short term, but it doesn't address issues in the longer term. My experience has been that men often punish beautiful women more harshly than what other women do. While women may attempt to dismiss or remove someone they see as a potential rival at first meeting, men are more likely to punish a woman they saw as a potential mate when their expectations are dashed.

Like others here, I've experienced punishment for not living up to the ridiculous expectations imposed by others. But I've found that men typically impose much more unrealistic standards upon me than women do; and are much more likely to react harshly when I don't meet those expectations. A friend refers to it as "Perfect Girl Syndrome"--this projection of idealized standards onto me, followed by the backlash of bitterness when I fail to comply. This is far less likely to be observable in an interview-type setting than in actual workplace encounters over the course of weeks or months.

You cannot apply this to a business setting

The only two studies mentioned (from what I can tell) are dealing with an educational setting. This, however, cannot be linked to corporate business. Both my father and step-mother are college professors so I have been around high level academia my entire life. The cultures are so dissimilar that it would be leaping to conclusions and writing this for shock value to assume such. I am not saying that it doesnt exist within corporate culture (it is run by humans after all) but these studies show nothing to prove it.
All this article seems to be doing is providing people with more excuses to not move on. Yes, bias exists in everything we do. Whether you like it or not, you are judged by your race, sex, and age. You are also judged by where you grew up, where you went to school, the clothes you wear and how you speak. You are dealing with two human beings in this setting so there is no control.
I wish psychologists would stop putting studies out like these. You are making the problem worse rather than better. This just feeds into the 'world is out to get me' mentality that people are adopting and why they feel they should just give up rather than just accept that they were dealing with a particularly biased person in that interview and that it wont be so later on. This is why, in most corporate settings, applicants are interviewed by multiple individuals before a consensus is reached about their potential. This negates the possibility of bias in the selection process.

Please stop with the shock studies. It just comes off like the Jerry Springer of Psychology.

I disagree

Dear Anonymous - You are perfectly entitled to your opinion, but I have to respectfully disagree with several of the points you made.

First, the participants in Agthe's studies are college undergraduates - nearly 2000 of them. These are the very people who go on to populate the corporate world, so it is strange to argue that the biases that influence their beliefs about who is scholarship-worthy are unrelated to their later judgments about who is job-worthy or promotion-worthy.

Second, I wish it were true that making such decisions by group, as is often the case in the corporate world, "negates the possibility of bias in the selection process," but sadly an abundance of research evidence (conducted in business settings as well as educational settings) suggests that this is not the case. Groups can often end up making more extreme, more biased decisions than any of the individuals who make up the group would have made on their own (this is called group polarization). Also, most of the groups making decisions in corporate settings are made up of members who are not all on equal footing - some members may be more powerful, or more persuasive. So the "consensus" often reflects the opinion of a subset of group members, or even just a single member.

Finally, I disagree wholeheartedly with the idea that these studies, and others like them that explore the various strengths and weaknesses in human decision making, are conducted for their "shock value." I finished my post by pointing out how biases can be overcome when we know about them, and when we probe our own thinking to reveal them. The idea that there is "no control" over bias, as you seem to suggest, is factually false. As research deepens our understanding of these processes, we are better equipped to make fair, unbiased decisions. A big part of the problem lies in the fact that most of us don't see our decisions as biased in the first place, which is why research like Agthe's is so valuable. Only by acknowledging our biases can we overcome them, and that is the driving motivation for every psychologist I have ever known who does this kind of research.

You say these studies make the problem worse, but if the alternative is believing that bias is everywhere and there is nothing we can do about it, it's hard for me personally to imagine what could be worse than that.

I disagree

Business and academic cultures are different. Conclusions from one setting do not necessarily apply to the other.

Attractive people earn more, according to some surveys. Obese people earn less, if memory serves.

And I believe there are differences in taste: not everyone defines beauty or attractiveness the same way. (I know there have been studies on babies, but not all observers are babies.) My guess is that age, sex, and sexuality are factors in determining attractiveness. I know I find most fashion models weird and repulsive; I assume that some people find them attractive.

There is a difference between being well-dressed and being over-dressed. And there is a difference between a beautiful woman and one wearing too much makeup or gaudy clothes.

So we have to be careful about drawing conclusions based on your experiences, experiments, and opinions.

It's perfectly true that

It's perfectly true that conclusions obtained in one setting don't necessarily apply in another, but when that's true there is a principled reason for the difference. Just saying "business and academic cultures are different" isn't really an argument for why a particular kind of anti-beauty bias wouldn't exist across these cultures. Do "business people" not care about their appearance, not want to be seen as attractive, not feel threatened by the good-looks of their same-sex colleagues? Why would a bias like that only exist in an academic environment? Why would undergraduates show this bias in college, but not four years later at work? We don't stop being human beings when we walk in the office door. And there is plenty of evidence for all kinds of bias in hiring and promotion in the workplace.

As I mentioned in the article, attractiveness is generally a good thing, and comes with a ton of benefits both socially and professionally. More attractive people are often assumed to be smarter. What I'm talking about in this article is a very, very specific kind of negative bias, that will occur only in a particular set of circumstances (i.e., with a same-sex, heterosexual, relatively unattractive employer).

As for what constitutes attractiveness, there are obviously individual differences in what we find attractive. That said, cross-cultural perceptions of beauty tend to be very highly correlated, so it's not as if there aren't people who are generally regarded as attractive.

Other ways.

It's not just sexual relations; I've done shows with another guy who's kind of lumpy and sad-sack looking. He can get away with all sorts of insulting and derogatory jokes that I, a bit above average looking guy, cannot.

People aren't as offended by an ugly or short person, probably not as threatened.

Doctor – Thank you for

Doctor – Thank you for responding to my post and keeping this within a good natured debate focus. I would first like the qualify that I am not trying to attack you but, rather, simply bring up some possible skews that could be dangerous.
Point 1 - You are assuming that there is no change in behavior once these people are brought into a different culture and as they grow. As a researcher, you know that findings can only be applied to the base being researched. In this case, it would be college undergraduates with the demographic ranges of those studied. Making any type of correlation to how they behave as they develop from there is subjective. Again, I am not saying that it might not be true but the findings cannot be applied to it.
Point 2 – Yes, there is a level of group think involved in scenarios such as this. I would actually be interested to see this research for my own means if you have access to the studies that you are speaking of. I have seen companies that do require those conducting the interviews to qualify their recommendations which are reviewed by HR on a regular basis. Their recommendations must be purely based on skill sets needed in performing job functions. The interviewers go in one at a time and are tasked with writing up their recommendations prior to any type of interaction with the other interviewers.
Point 3 – The issue I have with this is that while the studies themselves might have well meaning reasoning and are designed to challenge peoples’ own beliefs in whether they are biased or not but when it comes to publishing this becomes a completely different animal. It’s the difference between publishing research findings and an article to entice reading from the general public. The simple fact that the headline of your article is “Can you be too good looking for your own good” suggests that it is geared towards the interviewee rather than the interviewer (Though the article itself is geared towards both). As you stated, the bias is on the interviewer’s side and not the interviewee. The interviewee cannot change much on their size other than deemphasizing their looks while it should be the interviewer’s job to make sure that s/he is not letting their own biases effect their decision making. The reason I brought this up is that you can see the same tactic used by local news shows to encourage viewership “Is there something in your house that could be killing you? Tune in at 7”. The researchers doing these tests have the same good intentions that you mention but the way it is presented is designed to instill panic in the viewers to make sure that they watch the report. While this is an extreme point and I am not accusing you of such blatant acts, I just wanted to bring up the point of how even a simple headline can skew things.
Point 4 – I do not suggest the alternative is doing nothing but rather examining the audience. In a society of sound bytes and blurbs, people will read a headline and determine whether it is applicable to them or not. The headline of this article is most definitely directed towards one specific base, the interviewee. Clearly the article itself is designed to reach both audiences but are you reaching both of them? Your advice is sound in dealing with both sides of the equation but there is just so much more that needs to be explored.
I am not saying all of this to completely refute your claims or say that the study is in some way flawed. I would actually like to see follow ups to this but maybe with a more positive slant to it. Humans are humans and we will always be biased in some ways or another. It is better to show how to possible decrease negative bias and increase positive. There is a long standing saying “The clothes make the man” which is somewhat of an offshoot of what you are mentioning. I can tell you from multiple personal experiences that I have seen points to this. A person in well tailored, situation specific clothing will come off as more confident and business oriented than someone in ill fitting or inappropriate attire. A positive aspect of this is that a potential interviewee can use these biases to the advantage to keep the interview in a business reference. Its all about the cues for situation that the parties involved are giving off.

Just want to be treated fairly

I'm an attractive female who has experienced similar situations as those described in the article. Even lost a much-needed job once solely because the boss's wife came in one day and decided she didn't want me working there.

To those who would say that this isn't a "real" problem to have, I'd just like to say that no one likes to be unfairly rejected for superficial reasons like appearance. And rejection is rejection, whether it's due to being too ugly, old, fat, beautiful, whatever.

All I've ever wanted was to be given a fair shake. And sadly, there are some people who, due to their own biases, won't give that.

I just wanted to add that....

I always dress professionally and work-appropriately, work very hard, am smart, well-qualified in my field, maintain a professional and pleasant demeanor, and get along well with others. So I feel confident there is no legitimate "other" reason for an employer or colleague to reject me.


Sorry that you had to go through that. It's called hatred of the good for being the good. You have (are) what she wants and she hates you for it. Can you imagine an emotion more toxic than that? But there's something even more pathetic, and that's your boss. Imagine that guy's life. He gets rid of a competent, valuable employee because his wife feels threatened.

Please tell me about the research on overcoming biases


I liked your article and in it you mentioned that research shows if we probe our own thoughts we can overcome our biases. Can you give me some links to some research papers on that? I'd really appreciate it.

Thanks in advance,


I wish I was average

This article is very true, however in my situation at this time, the opposite is true. I have given my employer so many opportunities to fire me, but the men are enjoying having me around and several women told me to give up, because they are not going to even consider. Why am I behaving this way? These men are flirting with me every chance they get and several of the women try to get me fired. It's not an ideal position to be in, but this is what I have dealt with all my life. I am told a lot that I am very attractive even in professional settings, which always shocked me. There are advantages to being beautiful, but people will never believe, see, or understand the disadvantages we have. Loneliness,lack of support, and lack of understanding is some of the problems I have dealt with all my life. I have no girlfriends, nobody wants to take a risk losing their men to me (so I am told). I have no guy friends, because the ones I had, eventualy wanted to be more than friends. Can't win in my personal or professional life. Our lives are not as rosy as others think. The only thing I have ever wanted was to be average and fit in, but I know that will never happen.


Don't worry, time will rob your looks from you. Then you will easily be average and fit in.

In the meantime, I suggest minimizing your beauty instead of maximizing it. Wear colors that aren't right for you. Wear boxy clothes that don't show off your shape. Don't wear makeup. Get a mousey haircolor and stay away from a gifted stylist's hand; wear it in a severe bun or super short.

When weighing competing priorities, you must determine what is more important to you; making friends and keeping gainful employment, or being vain and putting a lot of effort into trying to look as gorgeous as you can all the time.

For example, instead of trying to make sure every photo taken of you is "from your best side", put some photos on your desk, Facebook, and in your home of you having a good time, but not looking like a supermodel ready for the catwalk.

We have all seen internet pictures of the most beautiful actresses looking not so great when caught by the paparazzi. If not, try googling it. I know for a fact you don't wake up in the morning looking like Marilyn Monroe on her best day, because even she didn't.

Just to clarify, I don't hate you, think you should be in authentic about who you are, or be ashamed of your beauty. You are the one stating you have a problem with it. If an ugly woman was saying she missed out on opportunities because of being unattractive, I would be giving her the exact same advice, only opposite.

okay, what a ridiculous response

i am sorry, but this is just a terrible solution to her problem "wear boxy clothes that don't fit, get an ugly haircut?"--there is nothing wrong with HER, it is the other people who are judgemental/insecure with themselves..and although these 'unfair' situations she finds herself in might happen frequently, there are surely jobs and friends who will look deeper than her beauty and see the true person inside (assuming its a good one)--be confident in yourself as a person, looks and all- you are the total package (looks are only one part of yourself)--i think the key is, for EVERYONE, beautiful, ugly, somewhere in between, to be our best possible selves-- so if looking and feeling beautiful makes someone feel good, by god dont let anyone stop you!! we are all given different lots in life (some smarter, some richer, some more attractive), the key is, to own it --own yourself, dont dim it down, for anyone ever..THAT is true psychological health..

The New Science of Human Attraction

How is this behavior explained alongside the theories of David Perrett.

Why are we attracted to some faces more than others? 'In Your Face' is an engaging and authoritative tour of the science of facial beauty and face perception.

In our daily lives, in our memories and fantasies, our mental worlds overflow with faces. But what do we really know about this most remarkable feature of the human body? Why do we have faces at all, and brains that are good at reading them? What do our looks say – and not say – about our personalities?
David Perrett, the pre-eminent scholar in the field, reveals and interprets the most remarkable findings and in the process demolishes many popular myths, setting the record straight on what neuroscience and evolutionary psychology are teaching us about beauty. The record is more surprising and often more unsettling than you might think.

'Let's face it. David Perrett has written a truly compelling book. Chock full of science, but reader-friendly and entertaining. Now I have a new perspective on my own crooked smile and have learned many other fascinating things related to faces. Highly recommended.' Professor Joseph LeDoux, author of The Emotional Brain and Synaptic Self.

'An engaging revelation of the biology and psychology behind facial beauty, but be warned: In Your Face may reveal some surprising truths about why we are attracted to others.' Bruce Hood, author of SuperSense and Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol.

1 Fish face: A brief tour of the face and its origins
2 Seeing faces: How we recognize faces and why we like them
3 A baby's bias: How we are attracted to faces from birth
4 Beauty in balance: The proportions that really are universally attractive
5 His and hers: How sex hormones influence our looks and our attraction to others
6 The point of beauty: Why facial attractiveness matters in the long run
7 Fit face: How our health is reflected in our faces
8 Wither the face: On the cuteness of babies and the effects of time
9 Faces with attitude: How the personality we seek in a partner guides our face tastes
10 All in the family: How parents and peers shape our attraction to faces
11 Love potions: Transforming attraction to love

DAVID PERRETT is Professor of Psychology at the University of St Andrews and currently holds a British Academy Wolfson Research Professorship to work on the perception of health in faces. He received the 'Golden Brain' award for his discoveries about the way the brain processes faces and pioneered the use of computer graphics to study the perception of facial attributes such as beauty, health and personality. He is the editor of Processing the Facial Image and Brain Mechanisms for Perception and Memory: From Neuron to Behaviour.


My husband is upset because people don't take him seriously and it getting to a point where his currently good job is making him feel like he wants to quit. But this has been going on his whole life... He won't see a therapist, what should I do?

Why was there a study about

Why was there a study about this? I could've told you this. I am good looking, intelligent, educated, and as a previous good looking woman mentioned, "too nice." People wonder why I'm single. What they don't know is that men have either told me straight out that they feel that I am too good for them, or that they just want to have sex with me. I haven't been on a date in a few years now. I give up for now. In terms of jobs...I used to temp once upon a time. There were a few jobs that weren't offered to me because the guys in the office seemed a bit too excited when I was around. As another poster previously mentioned, most people think that there are only pros to being good looking. It's not true. There are pros and cons to everything.

Deeper than Skin

The beauty paradox has always fascinated and distressed me. I wonder how much is Ego, cultural and/or lack of evolution and how much is behavioral science or soul. A person who takes good care of themselves and feels well inside, values themselves and has developed character qualities will appear 'beautiful'...I believe the thoughts we think, the actions we take which develop into positive habits and how we've chosen to live our lives will influence our appearance a great deal(miracle creams and face lifts don't work on our soul). There have been numerous studies about the facial characteristics of criminals...and while some criminals are less easy to detect(ponzi schemers, frat rapists; narcissists basically) the study uncovered that essentially, we are pretty good at judging books by their covers. (I also think of the Little Mermaid; ariel was 'beautiful' bc she had inner beauty, the vixen squid lady was 'sexy' but a villen...sums it up right there...and the idiot prince was fooled by a push-up bra...shocking.)
In my work as a therapist I have also come to notice simillarities among the physical and facial characteristsics of groups with certain diagnosis (which has me doing more and more research into how much of mental illness is actually biological vs environmental..I still believe it is a combination of the two which produces illness, but maybe there is more of a genetic basis than we previously thought)
Some very attractive, or high maintenence (I cannot spell. I don't care.) men and women have a tendancy to lose their luster once you get to know them. As we've all seen from plastic surgery and make-over shows, a little shading and shaving goes a long way...but underneath the nice clothes and layers of face paint are, in sad ways, ugly people. I do not feel threatened by (especially, that kind of superficial) beauty and I don't believe it holds much value beyond free drinks and men who like to stare at 'boobies'.
Sincere beauty, the kind that comes through a persons demeanor, eyes, essence, may have favor both in our instinctual parts as well as our cultural atmosphere...meaning we respond to it and recognize it on all levels. (emotional intelligence helps...a drunk guy at a bar is easy to trick with a short skirt and well placed bronzer. I've even seen CEO's be dazzled by a pair of pointy shoes and forget what the entire meeting was even about...fools.) BUt that kind of beauty is fleeting.
Women or men, who feel threatened by any kind of beauty are simply lacking in their own. Seeing through beauty facades to the hideous soul beneath (Dorian Grey, anyone?) takes only a small amount of insight, which sadly seems to be lacking in the shallow cultural puddle we seem to be drowning in. I have a tendancy to hope that sincere beauty, which does not rely upon itself for validation, is less threatening and less hated...but when we are talking about Americans...this is probably not the case.
Learn to honor the sincere beauty in others and you may discover it in yourself. The less we subject ourselves to the ruthless and deadly media images of women and men with regard to appearance, the less we are in danger of selling ourselves short and the greater value we may finally place on developing our intrinsic values and character qualities.

Why was there a study about

I would like to let you know what I did. I am a very attractive woman, when I walk in somewhere, heads turn, even women. I know exactly what you are talking about. I have been happily married to an average guy, who makes less than I do, for over a decade. I had to do all the chasing, even asking him to marry me. It was all worth it. As for work, I gained some weight on purpose, didn't wear makeup or jewelry and I wore clothes one size too big to hide as much as I could. I found a job that I really like and the transformation to the real me began about three years after I began working here. I lost the weight, had my hair styled, purchased the nice clothes I always wanted to wear, and I began wearing minimal makeup (still no jewelery). I did all this slowly so that they can get used to it. The whole process took a couple of years. Now, I am done with the transition and I can tell you that I am happy with it. I am being treated very differently than I was before I made the changes, but at least I am accepted by my coworkers, since they knew me before I looked the way I do. They are shocked at the transformation, but accepting of it. The only problem I am having still, most people are intimitated and are unsure about how to behave around me. Since they knew me before, I just have to be very nice and humble towards them to let them know that I am still the same person, just the outside changed. This is the part that will take longer, but at least I am given a chance to work with them. I hope this helps in some way.


Yes, this study certainly describes one tendency of social and professional life. I remember once I was going to rent out a bedroom in my apartment. I wanted a girl, since I was tired of male roomies who didn't do their dishes (sorry for the stereotypes!). Because of my girlfriend at the time (who didn't share my apartment), I simply couldn't get a roomie who was TOO beautiful. Therefore I had to turn down one girl who I really liked (not in a sexual way though). She was simply stunning, and I knew my girlfriend would freak out if she lived with me. So I ended up with a chubby and average-looking girl in stead. (I simply told the beautiful girl the truth, that she was too beautiful, hehe)

The morale of the story - yes, sometimes good looks work against you.

On the other hand - I am usually rated as very attractive, and it feels wrong to complain about that. I'd much rather have my good looks than the other way round. But I guess attractive men are not stereotyped to the same degree as attractive women.

Television Show

I found they’re producing a television show about this topic, and they’re still looking for participants. Seems pretty interesting…

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Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author of Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals.


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