So, getting back to the original question, the bulk of the evidence suggests that smart people are not “usually ugly.” In fact, the opposite seems to be true: Either smart people are more beautiful than average, or dumb people are more ugly (or both). And while no facial features within the normal range could ever be that useful as a predictor of intelligence, people can perform better than you’d expect from random chance using nothing more than a head shot.
All of which leaves one great, unanswered question. If smart people tend to be good-looking, that might explain the halo effect. But what led our questioner to get things backward and assume that smart people were ugly? And why are there so many like-minded others, asking the same question—or its inverse—around the Internet? (Here’s one, and one more.) Aren’t we all familiar with the archetypical nerd, who is both ugly and smart? At the opposite end, what about all those beautiful, airheaded women and beefy, brainless men we see on television? Could the person who wrote in with the 2011 Question of the Year be succumbing to a bias that hasn’t yet been documented in the lab—a sort of halo effect in reverse, a “horns effect,” perhaps?