Objectification theory suggests that sexualization has significant dehumanizing consequences for how perceivers see women. To date, research has mostly documented how sexualized bodies in the mass media are objectified and dehumanized. The purpose of the present work was to test the novel cosmetics dehumanization hypothesis (CDH), that is, that subtler manifestations of sexualization, such as heavy makeup, might influence the way people attribute humanness-related traits to women. Across four experiments, 1000 participants (mostly from the United Kingdom and United States) were asked to evaluate women’s faces with or without heavy makeup. Consistent with the CDH, results showed that faces with makeup were rated as less human while using complementary indicators of dehumanization: They were perceived as possessing less humanness, less agency, less experience (Experiment 1), less competence, less warmth, and less morality (Experiments 2–4) than faces without makeup. This pattern of results was observed for faces of both models (Experiments 1–2) and ordinary women (Experiments 3–4). In Experiment 4, we manipulated the part of the face that wore makeup (eye makeup vs. lipstick) and found that faces with eye makeup were attributed the least amount of warmth and competence. A meta-analysis based on Experiments 2–4 confirmed the robustness of the findings, which were not moderated by either participant gender or sexual orientation. Whereas prior studies suggested that a focus on faces may serve as an antidote for objectification and related dehumanization, the present set of experiments indicates that this strategy might not always be effective.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
American Psychological Association, Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. (2007). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Retrieved on February 23, 2019 from https://www.apa.org/pi/women/programs/girls/report-full.pdf. Accessed 23 Feb 2019.
Anderson, C. A., & Sedikides, C. (1991). Thinking about people: Contributions of a typological alternative to associationistic and dimensional models of person perception. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 203–217. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.168.
Andrighetto, L., Baldissarri, C., & Volpato, C. (2017). (Still) modern times: Objectification at work. European Journal of Social Psychology, 47, 25–35. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2190.
Baron-Cohen, S., Wheelwright, S., Hill, J., Raste, Y., & Plumb, I. (2001). The “Reading the mind in the eyes” test revised version: A study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism. The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines, 42, 241–251. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0021963001006643.
Bartky, S. L. (1990). Femininity and domination: Studies in the phenomenology of oppression. New York: Routledge.
Batres, C., Russell, R., Simpson, J. A., Campbell, L., Hansen, A. M., & Cronk, L. (2018). Evidence that makeup is a false signal of sociosexuality. Personality and Individual Differences, 122, 148–154. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2017.10.023.
Bernard, P., & Wollast, R. (2019). Why is sexualization dehumanizing? The effects of posture suggestiveness and revealing clothing on dehumanization. SAGE Open, 9. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244019828230
Bernard, P., Content, J., Deltenre, P., & Colin, C. (2018a). When the body becomes no more than the sum of its parts: The neural correlates of scrambled vs. intact sexualized bodies. NeuroReport, 29, 48–53. https://doi.org/10.1097/WNR.0000000000000926.
Bernard, P., Gervais, S. J., Holland, A. M., & Dodd, M. D. (2018b). When do people “check out” male bodies? Appearance-focus increases the objectifying gaze toward men. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 19, 484–489. https://doi.org/10.1037/men0000122.
Bernard, P., Gervais, S. J., & Klein, O. (2018c). Objectifying objectification: When and why people are cognitively reduced to their parts akin to objects. European Review of Social Psychology, 29, 82–121. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463283.2018.1471949.
Bernard, P., Rizzo, T., Hoonhorst, I., Deliens, G., Gervais, S., Eberlen, J., … Klein, O. (2018d). The neural correlates of cognitive objectification: An ERP study on the body-inversion effect associated with sexualized bodies. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 9, 550–559. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550617714582.
Bernard, P., Geelhand, P., & Servais, L. (2019a). The face of sexualization: Faces wearing makeup are processed less configurally than faces without makeup. International Review of Social Psychology, 32, 1–8. https://doi.org/10.5334/irsp.211.
Bernard, P., Hanoteau, F., Gervais, S., Servais, L., Bertolone, I., Deltenre, P., & Colin, C. (2019b). Revealing clothing does not make the object: ERP evidences that cognitive objectification is driven by posture suggestiveness, not by revealing clothing. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 45, 16–36. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167218775690.
Brambilla, M., & Leach, C. W. (2014). On the importance of being moral: The distinctive role of morality in social judgment. Social Cognition, 32, 397–408. https://doi.org/10.1521/soco.2014.32.4.397.
Burgess, M., Stermer, S. P., & Burgess, S. R. (2007). Sex, lies, and video games: The portrayal of male and female characters on video game covers. Sex Roles, 57, 419–433. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-007-9250-0.
Cikara, M., Eberhardt, J. L., & Fiske, S. T. (2011). From agents to objects: Sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 540–551. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn.2010.21497.
Cuddy, A. J., Fiske, S. T., & Glick, P. (2008). Warmth and competence as universal dimensions of social perception: The stereotype content model and the BIAS map. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 61–149. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0065-2601(07)00002-0.
Cumming, G. (2014). The new statistics: Why and how. Psychological Science, 25, 7–29. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613504966.
Ekman, P. (1993). Facial expression and emotion. American Psychologist, 48, 384–392. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.48.4.384.
Etcoff, N. L., Stock, S., Haley, L. E., Vickery, S. A., & House, D. M. (2011). Cosmetics as a feature of the extended human phenotype: Modulation of the perception of biologically important facial signals. PloS One, 6. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0025656
Fiske, S. (2013). Varieties of (de)humanization: Divided by competition and status. In S. Gervais (Ed.), Objectification and (de)humanization: 60th Nebraska symposium on motivation (pp. 53–72). New-York, NY: Springer.
Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., Glick, P., & Xu, J. (2002). A model of (often mixed) stereotype content: Competence and warmth respectively follow from perceived status and competition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82, 878–902. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1248.
Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x.
Gervais, S. J., Holland, A., & Dodd, M. (2013). My eyes are up here: The nature of the objectifying gaze toward women. Sex Roles, 69, 557–570. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-013-0316-x.
Gervais, S. J., Bernard, P., & Riemer, A. R. (2015). Who treats people as sex objects? Cultural orientation, social comparison and sexual objectification perpetration. International Review of Social Psychology, 28, 153–181. Retrieved from https://www.cairn-int.info/abstract-E_RIPSO_281_0153%2D%2Dwho-treats-people-as-sex-objects.htm.
Giner-Sorolla, R. (2012). Science or art? How aesthetic standards grease the way through the publication bottleneck but undermine science. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 7, 562–571. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691612457576.
Goh, J. X., Hall, J. A., & Rosenthal, R. (2016). Mini meta-analysis of your own studies: Some arguments on why and a primer on how. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10, 535–549. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12267.
Graham, J. A., & Jouhar, A. J. (1981). The effects of cosmetics on person perception. International Journal of Cosmetic Science, 3, 199–210. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-2494.1981.tb00283.x.
Gray, H. M., Gray, K., & Wegner, D. M. (2007). Dimensions of mind perception. Science, 315, 619. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1134475.
Gray, K., Knobe, J., Sheskin, M., Bloom, P., & Barrett, L. (2011). More than a body: Mind perception and the nature of objectification. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 1207–1220. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0025883.
Hall, J. A., Coats, E. J., & LeBeau, L. S. (2005). Nonverbal behavior and the vertical dimension of social relations: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 131, 898–924. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.898.
Harris, L. T., & Fiske, S. T. (2006). Dehumanizing the lowest of the low: Neuro-imaging responses to extreme outgroups. Psychological Science, 17, 847–853. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01793.x.
Harris, L. T., & Fiske, S. T. (2009). Social neuroscience evidence for dehumanised perception. European Review of Social Psychology, 20, 192–231. https://doi.org/10.1080/10463280902954988.
Haslam, N. (2006). Dehumanization: An integrative review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 252–264. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327957pspr1003_4.
Hatton, E., & Trautner, M. N. (2011). Equal opportunity objectification? The sexualization of men and women on the cover of rolling stone. Sexuality and Culture, 15, 256–278. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-011-9093-2.
Heflick, N. A., & Goldenberg, J. (2009). Objectifying Sarah Palin: Evidence that objectification causes women to be perceived as less competent and less fully human. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 598–601. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2009.02.008.
Heflick, N. A., & Goldenberg, J. L. (2014). Seeing eye to body: The literal objectification of women. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 225–229. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721414531599.
Heflick, N. A., Goldenberg, J. L., Cooper, D. P., & Puvia, E. (2011). From women to objects: Appearance focus, target gender, and perceptions of warmth, morality and competence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 572–581. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2010.12.020.
Hewig, J., Trippe, R. H., Hecht, H., Straube, T., & Miltner, W. H. (2008). Gender differences for specific body regions when looking at men and women. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 32, 67–78. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10919-007-0043-5.
Hugenberg, K., Young, S., Rydell, R. J., Almaraz, S., Stanko, K. A., See, P. E., & Wilson, J. P. (2016). The face of humanity: Configural face processing influences ascriptions of humanness. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7, 167–175. https://doi.org/10.1177/1948550615609734.
Huguet, P., Croizet, J.-C., & Richetin, J. (2004). Is “what has been cared for” necessarily good? Further evidence for the negative impact of cosmetics use on impression formation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 34, 1752–1771. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1559-1816.2004.tb02796.x.
Leach, C. W., Ellemers, N., & Barreto, M. (2007). Group virtue: The importance of morality (versus competence and sociality) in the positive evaluations of ingroups. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 234–249. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199.
Li, M., Leidner, B., & Castano, E. (2014). Toward a comprehensive taxonomy of dehumanization: Integrating two senses of humanness, mind perception theory, and stereotype content model. TPM: Testing, Psychometrics, Methodology in Applied Psychology, 21, 285–300. https://doi.org/10.4473/TPM21.3.4.
Loughnan, S., Haslam, N., Murnane, T., Vaes, J., Reynolds, C., & Suitner, C. (2010). Objectification leads to depersonalization: The denial of mind and moral concern to objectified others. European Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 709–717. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.755.
Loughnan, S., Pina, A., Vasquez, E. A., & Puvia, E. (2013). Sexual objectification increases rape victim blame and decreases perceived suffering. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 37, 455–461. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684313485718.
Loughnan, S., Fernandez-Campos, S., Vaes, J., Anjum, G., Aziz, M., Harada, C., … Tsuchiya, K. (2015). Exploring the role of culture in sexual objectification: A seven nations study. International Review of Social Psychology, 28, 125–152. Retrieved from https://www.cairn.info/revue-internationale-de-psychologie-sociale-2015-1-page-125.htm.
Ma, N., Wang, S., Yang, Q., Feng, T., & Van Overwalle, F. (2016). The neural representation of competence traits: An fMRI study. Scientific Reports, 6, 39609. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep40972.
Mar, R. A. (2011). The neural bases of social cognition and story comprehension. Annual Review of Psychology, 62, 103–134. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-120709-145406.
Messineo, M. J. (2008). Does advertising on black entertainment television portray more positive gender representations compared to broadcast networks? Sex Roles, 59, 752–764. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9470-y.
Mileva, V. R., Jones, A. L., Russell, R., & Little, A. C. (2016). Sex differences in the perceived dominance and prestige of women with and without cosmetics. Perception, 45, 1166–1183. https://doi.org/10.1177/0301006616652053.
Richetin, J., Huguet, P., & Croizet, J. C. (2007). Le rôle des cosmétiques dans les premières impressions: le cas particulier du maquillage [The role of cosmetics in first impressions : the particular case of makeup]. L'Année Psychologique, 107, 65-86. Retrived from https://www.persee.fr/doc/psy_0003-5033_2007_num_107_1_30937
Riemer, A. R., Gervais, S. J., Skorinko, J. L., Douglas, S. M., Spencer, H., Nugai, K., ... Miles-Novelo, A. (2018). She looks like she’d be an animal in bed: Dehumanization of drinking women in social contexts. Sex Roles, 80, 617–629. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0958-9
Semin, G. R., & Fiedler, K. (1988). The cognitive functions of linguistic categories in describing persons: Social cognition and language. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54, 558–568. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.528.
Smith, S. L., Choueiti, M., Prescott, A., & Pieper, K. (2012). Gender roles and occupations: A look at character attributes and job-related aspirations in film and television. Geena Davis Institute on gender in media. Retrieved from http://seejane.org/wp-content/uploads/fullstudy-gender-roles-and-occupations-v2.pdf
Smolak, L., Murnen, S. K., & Myers, T. A. (2014). Sexualizing the self: What college women and men think about and do to be “sexy”. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38, 379–397. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684314524168.
Vaes, J., Paladino, M. P., & Puvia, E. (2011). Are sexualized women complete human beings? Why men and women dehumanize sexually objectified women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 774–785. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.824.
Vaes, J., Cristoforetti, G., Ruzzante, D., Cogoni, C., & Mazza, V. (2019). Assessing neural responses towards objectified human targets and objects to identify processes of sexual objectification that go beyond the metaphor. Scientific Reports, 9, 6699. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-42928-x.
Van Overwalle, F., Ma, N., & Baetens, K. (2016). Nice or nerdy? The neural representation of social and competence traits. Social Neuroscience, 11, 567–578. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2015.1120239.
Ward, L. M. (2016). Media and sexualization: State of empirical research, 1995–2015. Annual Review of Sex Research, 53, 560–577. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2016.1142496.
Waytz, A., Gray, K., Epley, N., & Wegner, D. M. (2010). Causes and consequences of mind perception. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14, 383–388. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2010.05.006.
Wilson, J. P., Young, S. G., Rule, N. O., & Hugenberg, K. (2018). Configural processing and social judgments: Face inversion particularly disrupts inferences of human-relevant traits. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 74, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2017.07.007.
Wollast, R., Puvia, E., Bernard, P., Tevichapong, P., & Klein, O. (2018). How sexual objectification generates dehumanization in Western and eastern cultures: A comparison between Belgium and Thailand. Swiss Journal of Psychology, 77, 69–82. https://doi.org/10.1024/1421-0185/a000209.
Workman, J. E., & Johnson, K. K. (1991). The role of cosmetics in impression formation. Clothing and Textiles Research Journal, 10, 63–67. https://doi.org/10.1177/0887302X9101000109.
This research was supported by the National Fund for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS, Belgium).
This research was funded by the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (grant number: 22340437).
The experiments presented in this paper involved participants recruited on Prolific pending monetary compensation. At the start of each study, a brief description of the impression formation was given. And participants were allowed to stop completing the study anytime.
Conflicts of interest
We declare having no potential conflicts of interest.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Electronic supplementary material
About this article
Cite this article
Bernard, P., Content, J., Servais, L. et al. An Initial Test of the Cosmetics Dehumanization Hypothesis: Heavy Makeup Diminishes Attributions of Humanness-Related Traits to Women. Sex Roles 83, 315–327 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01115-y
- Social perception