The Effects of Success on Women`s Perceptions of Attractiveness of Males
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TIREMAN, E. L. (2003). The Effects of Success on Women`s Perceptions of Attractiveness of Males. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at Retrieved April 25, 2017 .

The Effects of Success on Women`s Perceptions of Attractiveness of Males

Sponsored by: MUKUL BHALLA (
The effects of success on perceptions of attractiveness of males were investigated in this study. The study included 60 females from Loyola University aged 17-23. Each participant was given a packet with a story, which included a photo of a young man on the top of the page. Every participant received the same photo. Half of the participants received a story in which the man was described as very successful, the other half received a story of the man described as less successful. The perceptions of attractiveness were then measured using an adjective trait scale. The hypothesis tested was that women would perceive a man more attractive if he was depicted as more successful. The results found did not support the hypothesis. Success does not seem to be contributing factor to attractiveness as shown in this study.

In western societies today, there are many stereotypes of women that are often exaggerated through popular culture. One of these stereotypes is that women are more attracted to men deemed more successful. This is often portrayed on television commercials, such as the one where a man is screaming, “I love this woman”, and the woman only says, “I love this man” after he surprises her with a very large diamond ring. Success and level of attractiveness have been known to correlate with each other. In Zimmer’s (2003) article, he states that women seek men with status who are willing to commit resources. According to cross-cultural surveys, these sexual preferences are universal. Similarly, Mulford, Orbell, Shatto, and Stockard (1998) conducted a study dealing with physical attractiveness and success in everyday life. They believed that high physical attractiveness as an attribute of an individual being helpful and a partner in everyday opportunities might also be an indicator of cooperative behavior from that individual. They also state that attractiveness might lead to the attribution of high ability. They found that perceived attractiveness in others appears to be a basis from which people predict other traits. Mulford et al. (1998) find that socially desirable characteristics were more often connected with attractive persons to unattractive persons implying a “beautiful is good” effect. This is also considered the “halo effect”, defined by Gilbert, Fiske, and Lindzey (1998) as the ideas that people assume that attractive people possess other positive traits. They go on to state that the halo effect could bias thoughts and feelings on things depending on whether the person talking about them is attractive or not. Gilbert et. al (1998) based their ideas on attitude changes and believed that due to that halo effect, those who are more attractive will do a better job in persuasion. The subject of success and attractiveness has been studied in the past, yet most past research is in the area of the effect of attractiveness on success. For example, Chia, Grossnickle, and Lee (1998) conducted a study that examined the effects of physical attractiveness and gender on perceptions of academic success, achievement related traits, intelligence, initiative and attributions of ability and effort in the field of academics. They hypothesized that attractive persons and men would be rated more favorably within these characteristics. Chia et al. (1998) gathered a sample of 144 undergraduate students (81 women and 63 men) from East Carolina University. The age range was 18 to 49 years. They used stimulus photographs that were 3 x 5” and black and white portrait style photographs of an attractive man, an unattractive man, and unattractive woman and an attractive woman, all Caucasian, gathered from a previous study done by Castellow, Chia and Wuensch. Chia et al. then told the participants that the pictures they were looking at were students from previous years who agreed to be in a follow-up study. The participants were then given an Achievement Scale on the Adjective Checklist to predict certain academic variables for those who were in the pictures. A high score on that scale indicated a hard working, goal directed individual. The findings for perceptions of achievement-related traits and initiative in their study indicated that the more attractive persons were perceived to have more achievement-related traits and a greater initiative. Morrow, McElroy, Stamper and Wilson (1990) did a similar study but instead of the study being conducted in the field of academics, it was conducted in the field of managerial and business orientated work. They based their research on the idea from previous studies that concluded that there was a great preference for attractive, young, male applicants in employment decisions. Morrow et al. (1990) used managerial jobs because they are assumed to have a masculine job stereotype. The study examined the effects of a candidate’s physical attractiveness, sex, and age, along with the characteristics of the rater, on employment-related decisions. They hypothesized that employment-related decision making generally indicates that a preference exists for physically attractive, reasonably young, male applicants. Their study included forty personnel professionals (20 males, 20 females), belonging to the Society for Human Resource Management. Participants completed eight photographic-information packets given to them. Each packet included a two and a half by three and a half inch black and white photograph and information related to the candidate. The participants were then asked to make four ratings about the candidate using a 9-point bipolar scale. The respondents were first asked how strongly they would endorse the candidate for promotion (1 = definitely not promote, 9 = definitely promote), how likely the candidate would be promoted in the future (1 = not at all likely, 9 = very likely), how successful the candidate was likely to be in the new position (1 = very unsuccessful, 9 = very successful), and whether the candidate should receive additional training before assuming the new position (1 = training not necessary, 9 = definitely train). After responding to that scale, participants were asked to fill out a demographic questionnaire about themselves. The results of this study demonstrated that physical attractiveness significantly affected the extent to which personnel professionals would recommend a candidate for promotion and expected future success. In addition to the managerial design, Hatfield and Sprecher (1986) reviewed a 1971-1973 study completed by Quinn, which was also based on an occupational level. This study entailed looking at the income of 800 men and 470 women all ranging in age from sixteen and up, and who were all employed full-time. The interviewers rated each person’s physical appearance (“strikingly beautiful/handsome”, “good-looking”, “average looking”, “quite plain” or “homely”). There were no set standards for these categories; the interviewers just placed the people where they determined that they fit. Throughout the interview, the participants’ jobs, and how much money they received for doing these jobs were recorded. They found that, for both men and women, physical attractiveness was linked with income and prestige occupationally. What was of interest to this study was the male’s differences in income: the income of “handsome/good-looking” men was $1869 higher than that of the “plain/homely” men. They also found that Occupational Prestige, which they measured by Duncan’s Socioeconomic Status Scale, was also higher for those men deemed more attractive. Similarly, Bardack and McAndrew (1985) conducted a study in the field of personnel decisions. They stated that physically attractive people are perceived as having more positive traits than less attractive people. Their intent was to determine what would happen when the attractiveness or appropriateness of clothing conflicted with other levels of physical attractiveness and to determine if men and women respond differently to these aspects. The participants were 226 volunteers from Western Illinois University. All subjects received identical resumes and questionnaires and viewed one of six prepared slides of either an appropriately dressed person, or an inappropriately dressed person. They were then to look at the slide and rate the person on a series of bipolar adjectives (none of which were provided in the research report). The results of the study indicated that physical attractiveness and appropriateness of dress both influenced decisions on whether or not the candidate should be hired, with the physical attractiveness being much more of a decision factor. These studies all base their main ideas on the correlation between attractiveness and success. Each study was done in a slightly different manner and used different fields to collect their data in. All of the studies found a significant relationship between success and attractiveness. Past research though, has not specifically based their ideas on women’s preconceived notions of the appearances of successful men. The ideas from past research are all weighted heavily on attraction causing one to be more successful, whereas this study was seeking to show that success has a great effect on attractiveness. It planned to more clearly identify women’s perceptions of whether success can make a difference in the attractiveness level of males. In this study, the independent variable was the content of the stories, and the levels of success, and the dependent variable was the perception of women of the attractiveness of the man from the story. The information for this study was gathered by administering a testing packet including a photo of a young man along with a story describing him, either as successful or less so, to female college students aged 17 to 23. There was a five-point Likert-type trait scale that participants were asked to answer as well as a demographic questionnaire so the researchers could tell if there were any differences on ideas based on age, etc. It was hypothesized that women would be more likely to perceive the man deemed more successful to be more attractive.

Participants Sixty female students from Loyola University New Orleans ranging in age from 17 to 23 volunteered to participate in this study, M = 19.38, SD = .98. The sophomore class rank was the most prevalent throughout the study. Freshman made up 23% of the participants, sophomores 50%, juniors 20%, and seniors 6.7%. Some of the volunteers were offered extra credit from their professors if they participated. Convenience sampling was used to obtain participants.Materials The materials used in this study included a testing location in Monroe Hall at Loyola University New Orleans equipped with desks for participants to sit in. The survey packet included two informed consent forms, one of which they signed and returned and retained the other for their records. Two stories devised to use in this study were also included. These stories were about the same length, yet one showed the character to be more successful, than the other did (see Appendix A). On the top of each story page, there was a photo of a man who was chosen due to his average level of attractiveness (see Appendix B). This photo was a small, black and white headshot of a man no more than 30 years of age. He had dark hair and was well dressed in a suit and tie. The same photo was used for both stories. After the stories, there was a five point Likert-type scale, where participants were asked to rate adjectives that described the character from the story, for example: handsome, enterprising, successful, cute, dominant, good looking, etc (see Appendix C). The final part of the packet was a demographic page, which included questions on age, class ranking, sex and major of the participant (see Appendix D). The participants were asked to use pens or pencils to complete the survey, which were provided if needed.Design and Procedure The study utilized an experimental design because the variable of success was manipulated between two groups. The independent variable was the content of the story, and the levels were the two different levels of success each story portrayed. Success was operationally defined as the status achieved through college, work, and the amount of money per year achieved. The dependent variable was the women’s ratings of attractiveness of the photo of the male as measured by their total score on the adjective list. Controlled in the study were the content and length of the stories. Both stories were exactly the same length, and were identical except for minor changes to account for the differing levels of success. The attractiveness was measured on a five-point Likert-type trait scale. This scale included a list of adjectives that the women were asked to use to rate the man from the story, (1) being not at all like him, (3) being neutral/not sure and (5) being very much like him. Total scores could range from one to five. The participants were seated in a room in the Psychology Department, Monroe Hall of Loyola University New Orleans. The primary researchers proctored the survey and remained in the room the entire length of the experiment. The questionnaire packets were handed out to the participants. These packets included two informed consent forms, a story which included photo of the man, the trait-scale and a demographic questionnaire. The participants were first asked to read and sign their informed consent forms, and the researchers made it clear that their involvement in this study was voluntary and they may end testing at any time if they felt uncomfortable. It was also made clear that the survey and data would all be kept strictly confidential and asked the participants to be sure and not put their names anywhere on the survey. The participants were also told that questions could be asked at any time in the experiment. Once the consent forms were completed and handed in to the researchers, the participants were told they would now be reading a story and answering a survey based on first impressions. They were told this so the results would not be skewed knowing they were being asked questions on perceptions of success and attractiveness. The participants were then prompted to begin reading the story and answering the following survey that was attached. Once the participants were finished, they were asked to turn it into one of the primary researchers. As each questionnaire was completed and returned, each participant was debriefed. The debriefing statements established the purpose for the research, as stated in the introduction, and the expected results of the questionnaire. Any deception or deceit was clarified and the participants were told the exact purpose of the experiment. The researchers explained their method and any final questions that the participant had were answered. Each participant was thanked and was reminded that the telephone numbers of the Counseling Center and of the Department of Psychology were located on her copy of the Informed Consent Form.

The hypothesis of this study was that women would perceive the man depicted as more successful to be more attractive. This hypothesis was tested and there was not a significant relationship found to support this hypothesis. Each adjective from the trait scale (see appendix C) that inferred attractiveness was tested against the success levels of the stories (M = 1.5, SD = .504) and against the successful rating (M = 4.08, SD = 1.211) as well. There were no significant results found when testing against the success levels of the stories, yet there were some correlations found when adjectives were against the successful rating. The success level was based on story content, either more successful or less successful. The successful rating, as well as all raters, was from the Likert scale of 1 to 5 (1= not at all like him, 5=very much like him). Table 1 is the correlations between the success levels of the stories, the successful and prominent adjectives with those adjectives from the trait scale. There was a significant relationship seen between the success of the stories and the adjective distinguished (r(58) = -.495). There was also a significant relationship found between the successful rating and the adjectives striking (r(58) = .493) and also appealing (r(58) = .411). There were also correlations found between the adjective prominent and some adjectives that assume attractiveness. These included striking, appealing and handsome. An attractiveness scale was then made from specific adjectives from the trait scale; these adjectives included handsome, striking, beautiful, attractive, appealing, and sexy, for descriptive statistics see Table 2. An independent t-test was carried out and there were no significant results found, t(58) = .892, p = .376 (two-tailed). Although, when the adjectives of distinguished and prominent are added to the scale there is a significant effect found when an independent t-test was computed (t(58)=2.007, p = .049 (two-tailed)). Yet, the way these particular adjectives, distinguished and prominent, seem to have been perceived by the participants shows that they do not relate to attractiveness but rather success.

This study failed to find a significant relationship between levels of success and attractiveness in males. The previous studies have never directly investigated success and attractiveness, yet they did find significant results in their studies that attractiveness is a factor in success (Bardack et al, 1985; Hatfield et al, 1986; Morrow et al, 1990). This study directly investigated the effect of levels of success on perceptions of attractiveness. Although there were results found with the adjectives prominent and successful, the differences in the levels of success of the two stories did not seem to cause an effect in the perceptions of attractiveness. The results may have been different if there were more than sixty participants used in the study, and if a within-subjects design was used rather than the between subjects design that was utilized. If a within subjects design was used, each participant would have received two stories, one deemed more successful, the other being less successful, along with two different photos per story in order to make a difference between men. Yet, there were different “successful” adjective ratings across the two conditions. In this manner, the participants would have been able to compare the stories and men and distinguish which story was more successful and would be able to compare levels of success and then there may have been better results. Some participants believed that the $30,000 per year was very successful and that skewed our data some, therefore if participants were given both stories, they would have been able to make comparisons on their own. A within subjects design also gives more power and would have been better due to the lack of participants that were given the study. There may have been better results as well if the adjectives used were better defined; this would have given a greater content validity. In order to achieve this content validity, the adjectives could be operationally defined to clarify what is meant by each word. It was found that many of the participants did not know what some of the adjectives meant or what the researchers were looking for when using these words. For example, the adjective distinguished can either be defined as being distinguished by one’s accomplishments or one can also look distinguished, so therefore if the definitions had been more clear, better results may have been found. These results can be used for further research, and there can be other studies done to help improve this one and maybe find significant results in this manner. It seems that if there were a greater number of participants and another way of conducting the study, there would be a significant relationship found between success and attractiveness. This study seems to disprove the “halo effect” and “what is beautiful is good” myth. There were no results found to support this and this experiment does not prove that women think this man was more attractive based on his level of success. What can also be perceived through this research is that women seem to not be as shallow as they are sometimes perceived, and that they are not just looking to find a successful, attractive man. Many of the participants found this man to be attractive and unsuccessful, and women seem to be more independent and are not just looking for a man with money, but they can find an unsuccessful man attractive. In reality, such as the television show that just came to an end “Joe Millionaire”, it seems that women tend to find those men who are more successful more attractive. Therefore, if there were more participants and we used a within-subjects design there may have been more significant results found with the possibility of a more generalizable result.

Bardack, N.R., McAndrew, F.T. (1985). The Influence of Physical Attractiveness and Mannerof Dress on Success in a Simulated Personnel Decision. The Journal of SocialPsychology, 125, 777-778. Chia, R.C., Allred, L.J., Grossnickle, W.F., Lee, G.W. (1998). Effects of Attractiveness andgender on the perception of achievement related variables. The Journal of Social Psychology, 138, 471-478. Gilbert, D.T., Fiske, S.T., Lindzey, G. (1998) The Handbook of Social Psychology. Boston: The McGraw Hill Companies. Hatfield, E., Sprecher, S. (1986). The Importance of Looks in Everyday Life. Mirror Mirror… New York: State University of New York Press. Morrow, P.C., McElroy, J.C., Stamper, B.G., Wilson, M.A. (1990). The Effects of Physical Attractiveness and Other Demographic Characteristics on Promotion Decisions. Journal of Management, 16, 723-736. Mulford, M, Orbell, J, Shatto, Catherine, Stockard, J. (1998). Physical Attractiveness,Opportunity and Success in Everyday Exchange. The American Journal of Sociology, 103, 1565-1592. Zimmer, J.R. Evolutionary Psychology Challenges the Current Social Sciences. The American Scientific Affiliation. Retrieved February 8, 2003 from

Table 1

Table 2

Stories Presented to Participants

a.) Most Successful Story:

James Muller is a twenty-eight year old man who graduated with honors from Stanford University in 1995, where he received a Bachelors Degree in Finance and Accounting. After leaving the university, he joined the multi-million dollar investment company Trans-National Investments. He began as a financial advisor in charge of 50 people, with a starting salary of $75,000/year and is now currently the CEO of the company in charge of all divisions. His current salary is $800,000/year.

b.) Less Successful Story:James Muller is a twenty-eight year old man who graduated from Arizona State University in 1995, where he received a Bachelors Degree in Finance and Accounting. After leaving the university, he joined the multi-million dollar investment company Trans-National Investments. He began as an intern making $12,000/year and is now currently a financial advisor where he is in charge of 10 people. His current salary is $30,000/year.

Appendix B

Appendix C

Demographic Information

Age: _____________

Sex: _____________ (Male) ________________(Female)

Class Ranking: Freshman __________ Sophomore __________

Junior __________

Senior __________

What is your major? _________________

Submitted 5/16/2003 1:56:51 PM
Last Edited 5/20/2003 8:26:18 AM
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