Acceptance into medical school may have less to do with qualifications and more to do with attractiveness, a Duke Health study shows.

The study found that people who were obese or facially unattractive were discriminated against in the application process, according to Duke Health.

Researchers randomly assigned names and demographic information to 76 photos selected to represent different levels of facial attractiveness and obesity.

They then randomized other factors such as test scores, grades and class rank to each photo so that each application reviewer had a different combination of academic factors with every photo, Duke Health said.

They gave the fake residency applications to 74 faculty members at five different radiology departments to score the applicants, according to the study.

The reviewers were unaware they weren’t real applicants, Duke Health said.


Researchers found that applicants who appeared obese or unattractive in the photos were clearly discriminated against, according to the study.

In fact, these applicants were half as likely to get an interview, according to Duke Health.

“We find no reason to believe our findings are limited to radiology resident selection,” said Charles M. Maxfield, lead author of the study and Duke Radiology’s vice chairman of education. “Admissions decisions-makers throughout higher education should consider any potential appearance-based bias they may hold, and invoke strategies to manage that bias.”

Maxfield told Duke Health that those reviewing the applications in the study “favored black and Hispanic applicants over white and Asian applicants.”

“To explain the preference for underrepresented minorities, we suspect our reviewers were prioritizing applicants they believed best met institutional goals and values,” Maxfield said. “What this might show is that bias can be managed if you are aware of it and compensate.”

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