People who are physically attractive tend to viewed as more competent and earn higher salaries than their less attractive counterparts — a phenomenon known as the “beauty premium.” New research published in the Journal of Economic Psychology provides evidence that the use of makeup can be used by women to gain access to the payoffs that are associated with this premium.
“Most of the discussion about the beauty premium has been based on the notion that physical attractiveness and its potential benefits are relatively fixed in magnitude,” explained study author Angela Cristiane Santos Póvoa of the Pontifical Catholic University of Paraná in Brazil.
“But given that research on the evolution of signaling has indicated that animals frequently alter or exaggerate their visual features, including color cues, to attract, intimidate, or protect themselves, we decided to investigate if a similar effect could be created by the use of make-up among women.”
The researchers used an experimentally-verified task known as the trust game to measure trustworthiness. In the game, one participant (the trustor) is given a small amount of money and then chooses how much he or she wants to transfer to a second participant (the trustee). Any amount of money that is transferred is then tripled. The second participant subsequently decides how much of this money to give back to the first.
In the study, 38 women played the roles of trustees and 304 participants played the roles of trustors. While playing the game, the participants saw a photograph of the female trustee either without makeup or with cosmetics applied by a professional makeup artist.
The researchers found that trustees with makeup were perceived as more attractive and more trustworthy by both male and female participants. This increase in perceived trustworthiness was reflected in outcomes of the trust game. Trustees received larger transfers when wearing makeup, especially from men.
“When people engaged in visual manipulation using cosmetics, not only attractiveness perception increased, but also other attributes like perceived trustworthiness, which translated into women receiving larger transfers in a trust environment. We also found that this effect is not a direct one, but one that is fully mediated by trustworthiness. This effect was particularly more pronounced among less attractive women,” the researchers wrote in their study.
“Perceived trustworthiness is therefore something that people can, to some extent, potentially manipulate strategically by using visual resources like cosmetics, photo´s filter (e.g. Instagram filters), etc. These resources might not only generate intrapersonal benefits, such as an increase in self-confidence, but it might also increase efficiency in interpersonal interactions that require cooperation, coordination, and trust.”
The researchers manipulated facial attractiveness by using makeup, but “the makeup used in our study was specifically targeted to improve the participants’ facial appearances by hiding their imperfections,” Póvoa explained. “We cannot assure that other kinds of makeup (e.g. fancy makeup) will bring results similar to the ones we observed.”
It is also unclear how the findings apply to men “Is there a similar mechanism that males can use to generate the same effect? For example, what are the effects on perceived trust that stems from the use of beard, mustache or colored hair?” Póvoa said.
The study, “Is the beauty premium accessible to all? An experimental analysis“, was authored by Angela Cristiane Santos Póvoa, Wesley Pech, Juan José Camou Viacava, and Marcos Tadeu Schwartz.