It might seem obvious that makeup can change the way other people see us, but scientists the world over have made it their mission to find out the specifics of these altered perceptions—down to what your go-to lipstick color says about your personality. Now the latest research zeroes in on how our cosmetic choices can impact our standing in the workplace. Interestingly enough, it might come down to whether your co-workers are predominately male or female.
For a study published in the October 2016 issue of the journal Perception, researchers presented a mixed group of heterosexual male and females with a series of photos of their female peers. The first set of images portrayed the women without makeup, and the second showed them wearing cosmetics. The viewers then had to rate the photos in categories like "attractiveness," "dominance," and "prestige."
The ratings significantly varied among the men and the women. The male viewers tended to mark the photos with makeup as more prestigious, whereas the women gave these photos higher marks for dominance.
While the researchers purposely didn't define these relatively ambiguous terms for the study participants, they do have some speculative ideas on the asymmetry between the men and the women. Their thinking is that women are conditioned to see other women as more of a threat—which is why dominance comes more into play in their perceptions.
In fact, the scientists decided to dig deeper into this hypothesis with a follow-up study. They brought on a new, entirely female panel to view the same photos, and this time asked questions that had more to do with sexual competition. Sure enough, the viewers rated the photos with makeup as more promiscuous and suggested that they would be more jealous of them.
As for what this means for the office hierarchy, it might make you think twice about the makeup you put on each day—not to mention the judgments you might make about your peers based on their own cosmetic choices. (That said, if you have a big presentation coming up, perhaps being seen as more dominant and prestigious wouldn't be the worst thing.)
On a related note, shop the best lipstick color for your personality.