Makeup Makes Women Seem More Competent, Study Says

PHOTO: Composite photo of woman in various states of face makeup
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Wearing makeup has a significant impact on how people perceive women, making women seem more attractive, competent, likable and trustworthy, according to new research published this week.

Researchers at Procter & Gamble, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute showed study participants photos of women either wearing no makeup or wearing one of three different cosmetic looks -- natural, professional or glamorous.

In the first study, subjects were first shown images of women, who were of different ages and ethnicities, for 250 milliseconds. In a second study, a different set of study subjects looked at the same photos for an unlimited amount of time so they could carefully inspect each face.

Study participants then rated the women in terms of competence, likability, attractiveness and trustworthiness.

"We found that when faces were shown very quickly, all ratings went up with cosmetics in all different looks," said Nancy Etcoff, lead author and associate researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital. "The women were judged as more competent, likable, attractive and trustworthy."

But when subjects had the chance to examine photos for a longer period of time, the same perceptions didn't carry over.

"When they got to the more dramatic makeup looks, people saw them as equally likable and much more attractive and competent, but less trustworthy," Etcoff said. "Dramatic makeup was no longer an advantage compared to when people saw the photos very quickly."

Etcoff said the study findings should serve as a message to women that cosmetics could have an impact on how people perceive them in ways beyond physical attractiveness.

"In situations where a perceiver is under a high cognitive load or under time pressure, he or she is more likely to rely on such automatic judgments for decision-making," the authors wrote. "Facial images appear on ballots, job applications, web sites and dating sites."

Preference Begins During Infancy

"This phenomenon is present from birth," said Tiffany Field, a research professor at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. Field was not involved in the cosmetics research. "Even newborns and young infants have a preference for attractive faces."

"One of the most discriminating features is the contrast effect," she added. As they add more makeup, there is more of a contrast effect -- the eyes are drawn out, the eyebrows and lips are in greater contrast. That's probably why newborns and infants can show a preference."

Despite the findings, experts say it's important for women to be comfortable wearing as much makeup as they want, even if that means none at all.

"This study shows that cosmetics enhance how others perceive your beauty, but there are other ways to feel beautiful," said Ann Kearney-Cooke, director of the Cincinnati Psychotherapy Institute. "Your warmth, confidence and energy attract others to you. There's nothing more attractive than a confident woman with a voice of her own, with her own style that comfortable in her own skin."

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