The Arty Semite

Look Jewish? Psychologist Nancy Etcoff Explains It For You

By Benjamin Ivry

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Al Carlay

In a world where some Jews still get nose jobs in an attempt to look less Jewish, it is invaluable to have Nancy Etcoff, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, explain why people react the way they do to beauty and appearance.

For those already planning their fall calendar, on September 1, The New York Academy of Sciences will present “Survival of the Prettiest: Evolution, Beauty, and Human Happiness: An Evening with Nancy Etcoff,” which follows up on Etcoff’s influential 2000 study, “Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty,” which offers biological evidence of how beauty enhances survival in a Darwinian world.

Etcoff’s early work on stereotyping is still influential, and is cited today by Israeli researchers in papers ranging from “Exploring the Association between Israeli Legislators’ Physical Attractiveness and Their Television News Coverage” to “References among Jewish-Israeli recipients of donor insemination” to “What if Your Daughter Married a Jew?: The Dissociation of Stereotypic Trait Judgments from Prejudicial Attitudes.”

Etcoff’s work is also cited in writings on the Holocaust, and even in a 2005 article by the embattled Rabbi Leib Tropper. Etcoff is also laudably concerned with the survival of Israel, as she courageously signed the 2002 Harvard/MIT petition to oppose divestment from the Jewish State.

Listeners at the New York Academy of Sciences will be able to admire how Etcoff has creatively flowered after a dozen years, from 1980 to 1992, spent married to the Canadian-born Jewish psychologist Steven Pinker, author of “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.” Pinker currently offers public presentations about the existence of God with his companion, author Rebecca Goldstein.

Eschewing such metaphysical speculation, Etcoff remains firmly grounded in science, revealing instead how human behavior can unexpectedly reveal truths about the human condition. Her reality-based research is illuminating.

Watch Nancy Etcoff lecture on happiness below:


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