Study: Attractive Businesswomen Are Considered Less Trustworthy, Less Truthful

"Highly attractive women can be perceived as dangerous."

New research suggests that attractive businesswomen are perceived as less trustworthy, less truthful, and more deserving of being fired than less attractive women.

The phenomenon, labeled as the "femme fatale effect" by co-authors at Washington State University and the University of Colorado, provides an alternative to the common explanation that attractive women simply aren't perceived as fit for traditionally masculine positions. Instead, it implies that feelings of sexual insecurity, jealousy, and fear among both men and women, whether consciously or not, act as the primary motivators.

"Highly attractive women can be perceived as dangerous and that matters when we are assessing things like how much we trust them and whether we believe that what they are saying is truthful,” said lead author Leah Sheppard, an assistant professor at the WSU Carson College of Business. Despite decades of efforts to eliminate gender stereotypes, this effect is still pervasive. "There's two dueling stereotypes here. You have the 'what is beautiful is good' stereotype, meaning that in general attractive people should fare better across their lifespan. We can say that that's generally true.

"It becomes more nuanced when we look at gender," she continued. "For women there are certain contexts in which they don't seem to benefit from their beauty.”

Sheppard and her co-author, Stefanie Johnson, an associate professor at the University of Colorado, conducted six tests to reach the conclusion of their study published in the journal Sex Roles. They noted that both evolutionary and social factors contributed to the femme fatale effect.

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