The Imaginary Intrasexual Competition: Advertisements Featuring Provocative Female Models Trigger Women to Engage in Indirect Aggression

  • Sylvie BorauEmail author
  • Jean-François Bonnefon
Original Paper


Recent research suggests that women react to idealized female models in advertising as they would react to real-life sexual rivals. Across four studies, we investigate the negative consequences of this imaginary competition on consumers’ mate-guarding jealousy, indirect aggression, and drive for thinness. A meta-analysis of studies 1–3 shows that women exposed to an idealized model report more mate-guarding jealousy and show increased indirect aggression (i.e., derogation and social exclusion), but do not report a higher desire for thinness. Study 4 replicates these findings and reveals that the main driver of aggression is the sexually provocative attitude of the model (a signal of a flirting behavior and of sexual availability), rather than her thin body size. The ethical implications of these findings for advertising are discussed in light of recent concerns about female bullying, online, and in the workplace.


Advertising models Derogation Intrasexual competition Mate-guarding jealousy Provocative attitude Slut-shaming 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Research Involving Human Participants and/or Animals

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ToulouseToulouse Business SchoolToulouseFrance
  2. 2.Toulouse School of ManagementToulouse School of EconomicsToulouseFrance

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