A Game

Let’s play a game. Are you ready?  The rules are very simple. Okay, so; a game. Really, it’s less of a game and more of a thought experiment, which is so appropriate, this being Thought Catalog and all. Here are the rules:

1) You are you, as you are now.

2) Suddenly, you acquire magical powers. How you acquire them isn’t so important, but if you like, you can have acquired them through a Genie or through Gamma Rays or something, if that helps you.

3) You now have magical powers, which are as follows. You can make yourself either hotter (physically) or smarter (mentally). This is a one-time-only deal, and once you do it, you can’t change back. But — and here’s the rub — if you make yourself physically hotter, you will experience a corresponding decline in your intelligence, and vice versa for the smartness thing. So if you say, “I want to be 15% smarter,” then you will experience a corresponding 15% decline in your physical attractiveness. And remember, once you’ve done it, you can’t take it back.

4) Okay, so which do you choose? Smarter or hotter, and by how much? If it’s, say, 67% hotter, you will now magically become 67% dumber, as we discussed. Give your answer, and be honest. You’re alone on the internet and no one is looking. I’m going to give you a lot of white space in which to give your answer and also to avoid spoiling anything:

5) Okay, so what did you choose? Hotter or smarter? But before we get to that, let me ask you a couple of subQuestions.

a) If you had to look in a mirror and see your future self (that is, your self as it would be, magically altered by your decision), would that alter your decision at all?

b) If I told you that you had to give a speech to the assembly of the United Nations, five minutes after you made your decision, would that alter your choice at all?

c) If I told you that dumb people never really realize that they’re dumb, would that alter your decision at all?

…And actually, none of those subQuestions really matter.  I’ve done this in real life, and people never change their decision. Here’s what always happens: SMART PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BECOME SMARTER, HOT PEOPLE CHOOSE TO BECOME HOTTER. It’s sort of fascinating, and the exact opposite of what I would have predicted. I feel like writing up a paper and presenting it to the New England Journal of Medicine or something.

Originally, when I started playing this “game,” I predicted that everyone would choose “1 to 2% hotter,” based on the theory that everyone would always like to be a little hotter, and also based on the theory that dumb people never think that they’re dumb, as I mentioned above. (…And think about that for a second: No one thinks that they’re dumb. Kind of a terrifying thought. People will admit to finding flaws in their appearance, or even admit to thinking that they’re ugly. No one — anywhere, ever — has ever admitted to being intrinsically stupid, not George W. Bush, not anyone. No one — anywhere, ever — has ever walked around saying to themselves, “Yup, I’m intrinsically not so bright.” The most people will admit to is making bad decisions — “Gee, I shouldn’t have eaten that burrito right before bedtime” — but that’s entirely different; what they’re saying is that they’re an ordinarily smart person who has made an out of the ordinary bad choice. Chilling. …Anyway, where was I?)

In order to research this, I started out by asking my friends what their answer would be. Unfortunately, most of the people I know are writers, who are basically functionally non-hot. I know that being a writer is a sexy job and all, but we are not intrinsically good-looking. If we were really confident and hot, we would not have spent our adolescences locked up in our bedrooms writing short stories and haiku. Just trust me on this one. Anyway. Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia, confessed that she felt so hopelessly un-hot in real life that she may as well just become smarter instead. Sam Apple, author of American Parent, likewise went for smarter. I asked Chuck Klosterman what he would do, but he was busy off being Chuck Klosterman and didn’t reply. All of the Thought Catalog writers went for smarter:  Gaby Dunn, Brad Pike, Josh G., Stephanie Gougghglapolous, Brandon Scott Gorrell, etc. I forgot to ask Tao Lin, who probably would have just answered with a poem about desolation and Facebook anyway. Still, a pattern was starting to emerge. [1]

I decided to move on to asking people who were hot and yet not very smart. Unfortunately, I don’t know that many people in my day-to-day life who are hot/dumb, so I was forced to go through the ranks of my ex-girlfriends, who often fit into this mold, because I am shallow and a bad person and often date people based on looks. …Bingo. This proved to be a brilliant move. The first hot-yet-dumbish ex I contacted did a big show of mulling over the question, then said that she’d choose… hotter. Why? Because she felt that people were currently “intimidated by her intelligence,” which is the best thing that I’ve ever heard, plus, no. No, honey, no. MmmmmNothey’renotintimidated. Also–


Oh, it feels good to laugh like that. Then, I contacted another ex-girlfriend, an ex-girlfriend legendary for her… obtuseness. In fact, this ex was responsible for the dumbest sentence that I had ever heard: Once, while standing in front of a map, she claimed that France was located in Canada, which okay, no — it’s just not. But also we were standing in front of a map at the time, which is why we were having the conversation in the first place. …She likewise chose hotter. Next, I located a few other people who are hot-yet-dumb, and they all also chose… hotter.

All of this not only confounded my first theory — that people would choose 2% hotter — but it also confounded my second working theory… which was that people are so worried about sounding shallow that no one would ever choose “hotter.” So I turned to be wrong both times. …It was confounding.

I am confounded.

…So, what does this all mean? [2] …Hey man, I just work here — y’know? Perhaps it means that we all want to excel further in the areas of our own competence — being clever or being pretty — although I don’t really think that it means that. Or, it could mean that hot people think they’re smart and smart people wish they could be smarter. Which would be sort of a double-whammy for those of us who are smart; but then, us smarties knew that the game was stacked against us to begin with. …The game. It’s just a game; it’s all just a game, and so doubtless it all means nothing. …But it is a most intriguing game, is it not? Perhaps the only winning move is not to play.

Thumbnail image – tictactoe


More From Thought Catalog

  • http://twitter.com/NIKO93 Alex Nikolov

    Wait, you said that you were asking your ex’s? Could they have been more inclined to have answered ‘hotter’ simply because they were talking to you, (an ex-boyfriend)?

  • Timendo215

    I thought at first “man I’d like to be a little bit smarter in some areas” but then I realized…nah I’d rather just stay the same..

  • blue

    Mm, I’ve been asked this before.  And I’d rather not change.

    • Oliver Miller

       Huh.  I didn’t know other people asked this question.

      • Anonymous

        I’m going to say it before anyone else has to… OkCupid does.

  • lolz

    Honestly, after giving it some thought, I said 2% hotter. 
          I think the decision is much clearer for people who are obviously one or the other, because to them, sacrificing their already weaker side isn’t a big deal. I feel that people who are already pretty attractive and pretty intelligent (or for those among us who are perfect, extremely attractive and extremely intelligent) have a harder decision to make because they don’t want to sacrifice one of their already decent traits in order to become extremely one or the other. I pride myself in being relatively well-rounded, and I don’t feel like it would be right to sacrifice any one of my traits for one of the others. Either that, or it’s just a personality thing. 
         You probably could’ve made the experiment more wholesome by asking some people who were both intelligent and attractive, and seeing what their responses were.     Overall, very interesting. I enjoyed this, and it’s not often that these types of psychology “games” show up on ThoughtCatalog, so kudos.

    • Oliver Miller

      Yeah, I asked my pal Lisa the question, and she’s kind of equally both, and she sort of fucked it up by saying “2% hotter,” so maybe if you ARE equal, then the choice doesn’t matter.  But she did this right as I was posting the article, so fuck it.

      • lauren

        I would also put myself in the equal-or-close category, and I’ve been toying with the 2% thing. I go back and forth on whether it would be 2% hotter or smarter, though. Probably hotter. 

      • Lydia

        I genuinely could not answer the question.. I would rate myself moderately high on both intelligence and attractiveness, but I am definitely not a super model and I’m also definitely not a genius. I couldn’t decide which quality I would rather have diminish. Of course I would like to be hotter, whether it’s 1% or 100%. The same goes for intelligence… But I would not like to be even 1% uglier, nor would I like to have my intelligence diminished, even if I didn’t know I wasn’t smart.

        In the end, I decided I would stay the way I am. Did I break the game?

      • beatrice

        Hmm honestly I rate myself as both attractive and intelligent, probably leaning on the intelligent side. But how I rationalized it to be was that I was already soo intelligent that if I chose 20 percent hotter then I would still be an extreme of both. Then again, I am superficial and I also made the decision in the context that my beauty is immortal.

  • Anonymous

    I would choose 20% smarter, if I were smarter I would know how to use my looks more, win win.

  • Sophia

    I actually like my hot/smart balance the way it is.


    i want to be hotter because i know i am ugly

    • Anonymous


      • SPACE MTN


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

    fuck you, i just lost the game

    • Oliver Miller


      • http://www.facebook.com/MeghanKBarnes Meghan K. Barnes

        I hate all of you.  Fuck.

        I lost.

  • luciouslizSD

    I am currently getting my Masters and would self-rate my hottness at a 7. I have huge tits, nice curves long flowing blonde hair, blue eyes and china doll skin. I am plussize, but not in the old-school Carnie Wilson plus size, but in the Khloe Kardashian plus size way. I would choose to be 20% hotter. Because I want to be hotter, and I am smart enough to downgrade a little. Why arent I represented in this study?!?!

    • Oliver Miller

      You are.

  • Anton

    I’m torn: should I go for 100% smarter and become a supervillain or 100% hotter and become a Bret Easton Ellis character?

    I guess I’d just go with what would make me richer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/giorgi.plys.garzotto Giorgi GunpowderSunset

    I would change neither, because I’m okay enough with how hot I am and how smart I am such that I’m okay with them staying the same, but I’m not okay enough with them that I think I can stand to lose any of either.

  • http://twitter.com/TeenageWebmail Josh Mosh

    I think it’s fair to say that I’m attractive enough to be considered lucky. But I’m honest enough to know that I have a fat gut and other flaws. I also think it’s fair to say that I’m more intelligent than most based on test scores alone. When competing for babes in the wild I know that I’ve got a better chance playing a cerebral “i’m intelligent and witty” card then letting girls see my fat hairy gut. Smarts are my strong suit. I can talk about books and stuff.

    That said I think I’d go 15% dumber for 15% hotter. While I don’t think I’m anywhere close to brilliance or genius, I think it’s easier to become smarter than to become hotter. I think the added confidence boost of a 15% look increase could offset the intelligence decrease and then as time went on I could work my way back up to my current intelligence. Of course over that time I might get lost in a maze of pussy and free cocktails which could lead me right back to the fatass I currently am. Still, I’d say anyone of my friends or enemies would honestly say that I am smarter than I am attractive and I still vote for hotter. 

    • Internetstrangeronemillion

      you aren’t attractive, and intelligence isn’t something that one can work one’s way back up to. 

  • Anonymous

    Did you just subtly call all of us at TC smart, but ugly? DEAD TO ME, OLIVER MILLER.

  • Logan

    who are the hottest TC writers…..

    1. Brandon Scott Gorrell
    5. Bebe Zeva?

    • Anonymous

      I agree with this list.

      • Josh Gondelman

        Hey! What?

  • Sam

    I treasure my brains and my looks way too much to risk giving up a little bit of either.

  • ...

    I completely disagree with your claim that know one admits to being unintelligent/believe that they are dumb. I know many hot but not so smart people who are embarrassed that they are unintelligent (which they are aware of!) and tell people they realize they are not smart. Also, I don’t know how you can claim something like that without having any kind of concrete evidence….

    • koi

      “your claim that know one admits”Your claim that -no one- admits.
      Point taken?

  • nicyoungjunk

    My question stems from some kind of mathematical corner of my brain which, mind you, is very dusty. But, my question is this: In using the hot/dumb ugly/smart percentages, were they based on some kind of national average of hotness etc. or on each individual themselves? Because it stands to reason that (using the individual as a base rather than a national average) a hotter than average person who chose to become 1-2% hotter, should then lose more intelligence than someone who is of average hotness who chooses the same percentage. I will put it most plainly in just numbers… someone who is a 200 on the hotness scale would become a 202, thereby loosing 2 intelligence points. Yet, someone who is a 100 on the hotness scale would only loose 1 intelligence point. Have you considered some kind of standardization, or could someone who is extremely intelligent, give up a small percentage of that intelligence and end up looking much hotter than someone who wasn’t as smart to begin with?

    • Internetstrangeronemillion


      Also, the article would seem to indicate that the shifts are relative to the values being modified, on account of that is how percentages work. In your response you seem to be confused as to how these values communicate between hotness and intelligence. To clarify:

      If someone had intelligence quotient 150 and hotness quotient 100, and they opted to give up 10% of their intelligence, they would have an IQ of 135 and an HQ (heh) of 110. If, however, they opted to give up 10% of their HQ, they would have an IQ of 165 and an HQ of 90.

      • mt_p

        Yeah, this was my thought, too. If you have more of trait A than of trait B, better to take the percentage increase of A and corresponding percentage decrease of trait B (which as a raw quantity–as opposed to percentage–would be less than the increase in A).

        I don’t think that is a likely cause for the effect discussed here, but it struck me as relevant nonetheless.

  • Robertbenesh

    Don’t make fun of Tao.

  • Sam Spidell

    I immediately thought – 50% Hot &  50% Smart – so that I am as equally smart as I am hot in hopes that both would end up decent enough to make me a great person. Its like that saying BRAINS and BRAWN – you ideally want BOTH to be the perfect catch. Given I think both types of people have privilege – I wanted to be BOTH. Yet, I quickly thought about how much life would change if I were more of one than the other – this would suddenly change the way you interact with others and it could completely effect your career. Would you be a model or work your way up the ladder in a business? 

    Wouldn’t it be neat if you were able to view your actual ratio before making the decision? If something had the ability to tell you what your hotness and smarts % was? That would be unreal! It would not only be eye opening, but help you better self identify.

    You could then ask — what do you believe your current percentages are? 40% Hot and 60% smart? What do you perceive yourself to be? How does that compare to what you think people perceive you to be? Do you think they align or significantly differ? How does that make you feel about yourself? 

    • Internetstrangeronemillion

      You…don’t understand the game. It’s not that you have a set amount of points to distribute between attractiveness and intelligence, it’s that you can choose to take a hit to one in favor of the other. 

      By answering 50% hot and 50% smart, you are (A) indicating that you don’t understand the game and (B) saying that you want to be made 50% hotter and 50% dumber as well as 50% smarter and 50% uglier. Hopefully, this information will inform how you answer the question on your next try.

  • Rishtopher

    I will go on record saying that I’m not so bright and that I’ll pick “hotter” because I figure being smart but lonely might be worse than being dumb with an SO. 

    Also, those subquestions scared me. If I had to do a) and b) then I definitely wouldn’t change myself. c) doesn’t really matter to me though.

  • guest

    I picked 10% hotter because I find myself attractive enough when I put a fairly significant effort into my looks…If I were 10% hotter, I wouldn’t need to do as much voodoo witchcraft with foundation and a hair straightener and could spend that time reading Tolstoy. Or something. 

    • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

      But would you be able to comprehend the Tolstoy? Or, y’know, whatever.

  • wanderlight

    I was surprised by your results because i chose 10% hotter, while i assume i’d currently be somewhat smarter than hotter so i’d be evening it out. 

    …if like your exes I’m deluded about my intellect, then does that mean i underestimate my appearance?

  • Skylar

    Oliver Miller sounds like the worst person ever. Can he really not find any girls that are attractive and intelligent? Or does he just not want an intelligent girlfriend? Because seriously, they’re not mutually exclusive. Although the very premise of this game seems to be based on the idea that they are. It would be funny if it really was just a game, but it seems for Oliver that it isn’t.

  • beatrice

    Great game but oliver miller, what is the definition of being smarter? D0 you mean wiser? More intelligent in the area of logic and math etc.? Or what? 

    I mean, I already know that i’m pretty much a genius and what I really want is talent.. Like the ability to sell anything etc.

  • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

    I’d go for 5% hotter. 

    Not because I consider myself to be a genius, but someone’s going to have to make up for all the ugly that would be walking around as a result of people placing more emphasis on intelligence than appearances. (Which is fine, but I’d like to really ‘break the mold’ and do the opposite.)

    • Oliver Miller

      My god, you actually envisioned an entire world where this was taking place.  That’s a little outside the scope of the question, but kudos.  (Also, I bet if this really started happening, people would be more honest and just start choosing “hotter” all the time.)

      • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

        Well, let’s say you were at a party full of 20-somethings, since that’s TC’s target demographic. If there were 50 people present when the game was played, based on your analysis it seems fair to guess that 45 of them would choose smarter over hotter.

        And while some people might go crazy and thing 20% smarter was a good trade, I think 5% is enough to be just a bit more aesthetically pleasing without sacrificing the essential ability to notice (and then comment on) peoples’ poor punctuation, grammar, etc. on the internet. 

        I think the intelligence vs. appearance thing would vary greatly depending on age, gender, current social/economic status and who was present to hear their decision, as well.

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