Gender and Physical Attractiveness as Status Beliefs

Download data and study materials from OSF

Principal investigator:

Samantha Paustian-Underdahl

Kennesaw State University



Sample size: 435

Field period: 2/3/2011-3/28/2011


We contribute to the body of literature on the what is beautiful is good, the beauty is beastly effect, and lack of fit theory by reconciling previous discrepancies in the literature and by examining the circumstances in which attractiveness may and may not be detrimental for job applicants. First, we perform a review of studies which have previously tested the beauty is beastly effect, and we provide and test explanations for previous discrepancies in the literature. Next, we conduct two new studies on the beauty is beastly effect using corporate types of jobs, and empirically test lack of fit theory as an explanation for the effect. We find support for the effect in a general population sample, and partial support for the effect in a sample of human resource professionals. We also provide support for a mediated moderation model showing that applicant gender is related to job suitability for a male-typed job through the indirect effect of perceived agency, which is moderated by applicant attractiveness.

Experimental Manipulations

Two studies were conducted to test our hypotheses and our research question. The first study used TESS data. Both studies used simulated hiring vignettes and fictitious job applicants to assess the effect of applicant gender and attractiveness on job suitability perceptions for different kinds of jobs. The first study used a sample representative of the Unites States adult population, and manipulated job sex-type by including a male-typed and a female-typed job, while controlling for the importance of attractiveness in these jobs (both were low). The second study used a sample of human resource professionals and hiring managers, and manipulated the importance of attractiveness for two male-typed jobs.


Agency. The gender stereotypical personality characteristics of agency were measured using a scale adapted from a study by Duehr and Bono (2006). Duehr and Bono (2006) included agentic adjectives with both positive and negative connotations, as in Diekman and Eagly (2000). This scale consists of 7 adjectives, which we used in the current study, to reflect agentic characteristics (aggression, forcefulness, self-confidence, dominance, ambition, analytical ability, assertiveness). Participants rated how adequately they believed the target to exhibit each competency (1= below average, 3 = average, and 5 = above average).

Job suitability. Participants rated each job applicant on 4 items assessing the suitability, fit, and hire-ability of each applicant (1 = low to 5=high). This scale has been used in other research examining attractiveness and job suitability (see Johnson, et al 2010). A sample item is, “Please rate each applicant on their overall suitability for the job.” A rating form with the items was included adjacent to each job applicant’s photo and information to ease the rating task. A principal axis factor analysis for the job suitability scale generated one factor with an eigenvalue greater than one, explaining 85.8% of the variance.

Summary of Results

We contribute to the body of literature on the what is beautiful is good heuristic, the beauty is beastly effect, and lack of fit theory (Heilman, 1983) by corroborating and extending prior findings in several ways. First, we explained discrepancies in the literature on the beauty is beastly effect, by conducting a literature review and examination of studies which have had mixed findings in the past. Consistent with lack of fit theory, we found support for our arguments that previous studies which did not find support for the effect did not accurately manipulate male-typed jobs in which attractiveness is not important for success, while previous studies that did find support for the effect used accurately manipulated jobs. Then, using job ratings for corporate types of jobs from the pilot study, we tested the beauty is beastly effect in two new studies which manipulated the sex-type and the importance of attractiveness of the jobs.


Paustian-Underdahl, S.C. and Walker, L. S. Revisiting the Beauty is Beastly Effect: New directions and tests of the effects of attractiveness, sex, and job characteristics on selection decisions. Under review at: Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Paustian-Underdahl, S.C. and Walker, L. S. An Update and Multiple Tests of the Beauty is Beastly Effect. Studies 1, 2, and 3 presented at the 2012 UNC Charlotte Graduate Research fair, Charlotte, NC.

Paustian-Underdahl, S.C. and Walker, L.R. What is Beautiful is Good…Unless you are a Woman Applying for a Male-typed Job: How physical attractiveness can be detrimental to some women’s career success. Study 1 presented at the 2011 Southern Management Association conference, Savannah, GA.