University Study Finds Attractive Businesswomen Are Viewed as Less Truthful and Trustworthy

According to new research from the University of Colorado and Washington State University, attractive businesswomen are considered less trustworthy, less truthful, and more worthy of being fired than less attractive women. The researchers call this the “femme fatale effect,” which taps into more primal feelings of sexual insecurity, jealousy, and fear among both men and women.

“Attractive women seem to elicit certain uneasiness or mistrust from others. This is clearly unconscious. You’re not sure why, you just know that you don’t trust her,” said Stefanie Johnson, associate professor at the University of Colorado and co-author of the study. “This is usually because they are seen as not competent to do the job but our current study shows that there’s something more to it.”

For their study, the researchers conducted six separate tests. They used images drawn from a Google images search for a “professional woman” and had participants in Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an online crowdsourcing platform, rate their attractiveness.

The first four studies asked participants to rate the truthfulness of women and men announcing layoffs in fictional news accounts. Regards of their title or industry, the attractive women were consistently considered less truthful than the non-attractive women.

In the fifth study, the researchers used a “prime,” a suggestion that puts participants into an emotional state that can color their perspective. They asked participants to think and write about a time when they felt secure in a relationship and certain that their romantic partner was faithful and committed to them alone. This was called the “sexual security” prime. A second “general security” prime had them think and write about a time when they felt good about themselves. The results found that those primed to feel sexually secure ended up thinking attractive women were as truthful as less attractive women.

The final study asked participants if they thought the woman should be fired. The sexually secure participants found both attractive and less attractive women were equally truthful. The sexually insecure participants viewed the attractive women as less truthful, and therefore more deserving of termination.

The full study, “The Femme Fatale Effect: Attractiveness is a Liability for Businesswomen’s Perceived Truthfulness, Trust, and Deservingness of Termination,” was published on the website of the journal Sex Roles. It may be accessed here.

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