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Stillman School of Business

Research Shows Makeup Increases Trust in Women

Wesley Pech, Ph.D.

Wesley Pech, Ph.D.

A study led by Wesley Pech, Ph.D., associate dean of academics and partnerships, and associate professor of economics at Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business, sheds light on the impact of makeup applied by a professional on trust perception. 

The findings, published in the Journal of Economic Psychology under the title "Is the beauty premium accessible to all? An experimental analysis," reveal that women garner more trust from both men and women when adorned with professionally applied makeup.

In the conducted trust game experiment, where participants decided how much money to transfer to others, individuals exhibited greater trust toward women wearing makeup, though men were found to trust more significantly. 

The study underscores the tangible benefits of enhanced attractiveness for women, emphasizing the transformative effect of professionally applied makeup. 

"The results were quite robust," said Pech. "For women, enhanced attractiveness brought a tangible benefit – from both men and women. And makeup, applied professionally in a manner that enhances certain characteristics, made a difference."

The results affirmatively indicate that the beauty premium can indeed be accessed by women who undergo professional makeovers adhering to recognized attractiveness criteria. The trust game experiment revealed increased perceived attractiveness and larger monetary transfers to women with makeup, validating the impact of a professional makeover.

The "beauty premium" refers to the results of a volume of research that has shown that people who are considered attractive receive economic and societal benefit by virtue of that perceived attractiveness. 

As the researchers note in their findings, 

Most of the discussion on the beauty premium, however, has been founded on the notion that physical attractiveness is an unchangeable variable. Cunningham, Roberts, Barbee, Druen, and Wu, for example, have posited that women with large eyes, a small nose, thin jaws, prominent cheekbones, a wide smile, and high eyebrows are more attractive. Baudouin and Tiberghien claimed that female facial attractiveness is enhanced by facial symmetry (Baudouin & Tiberghien, 2004).

According to this perspective, if someone is not “blessed” with these physical traits, he or she will not be able to access the benefits of the beauty premium.

The study took the premise of that foundational research and asked a further question: Could the beauty premium be accessed by women who were found to be made more attractive through a professional makeover following these established criteria for attractiveness?

The answer was a resounding yes. 

The experimenters note,

We conducted a trust game experiment to investigate whether women are trusted more when they wear makeup than when they do not. Facial attractiveness, which was manipulated through the application of makeup by a professional makeup artist, was measured before and after makeovers.

Trustors were shown a photograph of their female counterparts before they made decisions about money transfers to trustees. The results showed that wearing makeup increased perceived attractiveness, which in turn led trustors to make larger transfers to female trustees during the trust game. Additionally, we discovered a pure makeup premium that was mediated by gender. Specifically, female trustees with makeup received larger transfers than female trustees without makeup when the trustors were men, even after controlling for female trustees' levels of attractiveness.

The Results: Makeup Leads to 22 Percent More Money, 30 Percent from Men
Combined, men and women transferred on average 22 percent more to women who had the professional makeovers. 

On average, men transferred 30 percent more to women who received the professional makeover and women transferred an average of 15 percent more. 

There was no statistically significant difference in the amount of money that male and female participants transferred to the women without makeup.

Lead author Professor Angela Cristiane Santos Povoa of Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Parana in Brazil, emphasized the study's clarity and significance in revealing the existence of a societal "beauty premium" and the potential for enhancement through access to it.

“Perhaps the results of the experiment are not entirely surprising, but they are clear and they are significant,” said Povoa. “Whether we like it or not, there is a ‘beauty premium’ in society. And, as this study shows, access to it can be enhanced.”  

Fig. 1. Trustee with and without makeup.

Fig. 1. Trustee with and without makeup.

The Experiment
The experiment was conducted at Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Parana in Brazil. The sample consisted of 342 participants: 38 women (undergraduate students) who played the roles of "trustees," and agreed to have their picture taken without makeup and then again after a professional makeover. Another 304 participants played the roles of "trustors," who had to choose how much to trust a randomly selected woman from the trustee group after observing their picture (some with makeup and some without, but never the same woman with makeup and without) with a sum of money they deemed appropriate under the circumstances. 

In addition to Santos Povoa (Brazil) and Pech, who came to Seton Hall from Tennessee Technological Institute in 2023, researchers and study authors included Juan Jose Camou Viacavaa and Marcos Tadeu Schwartz of Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná, Brazil.

Pech, who currently teaches Intro to Economics at Seton Hall, is an applied microeconomist specializing in behavioral economics, experimental economics, game theory, and judgment and decision making. His research combines theoretical models and laboratory experiments to investigate different aspects of human behavior, such as social preferences, trust and reciprocity, rationality, strategic interactions, and risk attitudes. He earned his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Massachusetts and his B.A. in economics from the Federal University of Parana in Brazil.

The research team’s forthcoming study asks a similar question for men with and without beards. 

Categories: Business, Research

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