A new study has found that makeup doesn't just help you look pretty — it also makes people think you're more trustworthy and competent. That may be good news for makeup companies — one of whom sponsored the study.
According to the press release, a team of researchers at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital took photos of white, Latina, and black women, aged 20 to 50, without makeup. Then they photographed the same women in three makeup styles — "natural," "professional," and "glamorous." Finally, they showed the photos to several groups of people — over 250 participants in total — and asked them to rate the women's attractiveness, likability, competence, and trustworthiness. Turns out, the makeup photos trounced their naked-faced competitors in all categories. Faces with makeup, no matter the style, were seen as more attractive and more likable, competent, and trustworthy than faces without. The only exception was the glamorous look. When participants were allowed to gaze upon glammed-up ladies for an unlimited amount of time, they rated them as less trustworthy than their makeup-free counterparts — but still more competent.
There are a couple of creepy things about this study. The first is that it was sponsored by Procter & Gamble — which, coincidentally, recently introduced "a new color science model, Bio-Chromatics, that combines the principles of chemistry, optics and psychology to create biology-based color products." Sarah Vickery, who has one of the longest titles I've ever seen as "Principal Scientist, Research & Development, Color Cosmetics, P&G Beauty & Grooming," says,
This study examined the impact of relevant makeup looks that women in the western world commonly wear, showing that makeup is a real-life tool in their arsenal to effectively control the way they want to be — and are — perceived. Makers of color cosmetics and other beauty products can take these findings into consideration to further develop science-based solutions that empower women to display different aspects of their personalities and to really take charge of the way others see them.
See, it's not depressing that people actually trust you more if you buy products too put on your face — it's empowering. It's easy to dismiss boilerplate churned out by big companies, but the other thing that's creepy about this research is how good it seems. P&G managed to get folks from one of the nation's top universities and one of its top hospitals, and these guys are no slouch — they recognized, for instance, that they should test faces of different races and ages, not just a bunch of white twentysomethings. To anyone who happened not to notice the P&G sponsorship, the study would probably look top-notch — and it would be easy to conclude that ladies had better wear makeup at all times if they want to be seen as good at their jobs. Unfortunately, this is probably true in some industries and to some degree, and the idea that a woman has to be made-up to look professional can be a time- and money-suck for a lot of women. But it's also worth asking if, given P&G's support, the researchers felt conscious or unconscious pressure to return a pro-makeup result. And if they'd done the same research without a cosmetics company behind them, might they have found something different?
First-Ever Study Reveals Cosmetics Alter Instinctual Perception [PR Newswire, via Sacramento Bee]
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