Mean Girls: Provocative Clothing Leads to Intra-Sexual Competition between Females

Abstract

This study aimed to investigate indirect aggression between females from an evolutionary perspective, considering indirect aggression as a mechanism of intra-sexual competition. Previous research suggests that females who are dressed provocatively, or appear ‘sexually available’, are more likely to be victims of indirect aggression from other females. Investigating this notion via an empirical measure and a word-selection task, this study involved a female confederate posing as a participant, who was dressed provocatively in one condition and conservatively in the other. Sixty-five females completed an intra-sexual competition scale and a word selection task in which they were able to select complimentary or derogatory phrases to describe the confederate. Making derogative comments is a common form of indirect aggression; therefore, those who selected derogatory phrases could be considered to be exhibiting indirect aggression. Consistent with our hypotheses, females in the provocative condition obtained significantly higher intra-sexual competition scores, selected more derogatory words, and less complimentary words than those in the conservative condition, indicating that females dressed provocatively are indirectly aggressed against to a greater extent than those that are not. This paper adds further support to the notion that indirect aggression is used by females as a method of intra-sexual competition, particularly towards provocatively dressed females.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  1. Archer, J. (2004). Sex differences in aggression in real-world settings: a meta-analytic review. Review of General Psychology, 8(4), 291–322. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.8.4.291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Archer, J. (2009). Does sexual selection explain human sex differences in aggression? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 249–266. doi:10.1017/s0140525x09990951.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Arnocky, S., Sunderani, S., Miller, J. L., & Vaillancourt, T. (2012). Jealousy mediates the relationship between attractiveness comparison and females’ indirect aggression. Personal Relationships, 19(2), 290–303. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2011.01362.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Bateman, A. J. (1948). Intra-sexual selection in drosophila. Heredity, 2(3), 349–368. doi:10.1038/hdy.1948.21.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Bateson, P. P. G. (1983). Mate choice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Baughman, H. M., Dearing, S., Giammarco, E., & Vernon, P. A. (2011). Relationships between bullying behaviours and the dark triad. Personality and Individual Differences, 52, 571–575. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.11.020.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Baumeister, R. F., & Twenge, J. M. (2002). Cultural suppression of female sexuality. Review of General Psychology, 6, 166–203. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.6.2.166.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Beall, A. T., & Tracy, J. L. (2013). Women are more likely to wear red or pink at peak fertility. Psychological Science, 24(9), 1837–1841. doi:10.1177/0956797613476045.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. Benenson, J. F. (2009). Dominating versus eliminating the competition: sex differences in human intra-sexual competition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 32, 268–269. doi:10.1017/s0140525x0999046x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bhogal, M. S., Galbraith, N., & Manktelow, K. (2016c). Physical attractiveness and altruism in two modified dictator games. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 38(4), 212–222. doi:10.1080/01973533.2016.1199382.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Björkqvist, K. (1994). Sex differences in physical, verbal and indirect aggression: a review of recent research. Sex Roles, 30, 177–188. doi:10.1007/bf01420988.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Björkqvist, K., Österman, K., & Kaukiainen, A. (1992). The development of direct and indirect aggressive strategies in males and females. In K. Björkqvist & P. Niemela (Eds.), Of mice and women: aspects of female aggression (pp. 51–64). California: Academic Press Inc.. doi:10.1016/b978-0-12-102590-8.50010-6.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Björkqvist, K., Osterman, K., & Lagerspetz, K. M. (1994). Sex differences in covert aggression among adults. Aggressive Behavior, 20(1), 27–33. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1994)20:1<27::aid-ab2480200105>3.0.co;2-q.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Brauer, M., & Chekroun, P. (2005). The relationship between perceived violation of social norms and social control: situational factors influencing the reaction to deviance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35(7), 1519–1539. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2005.tb02182.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Buss, A. H. (1961). The psychology of aggression. New York: Wiley. doi:10.1037/11160-000.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Buss, D. M. (1988). The evolution of human intra-sexual competition: tactics of mate attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 54(4), 616. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.54.4.616.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioural and brain sciences, 12(1), 1–14. doi:10.1017/s0140525x00023992.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Buss, D. M., & Schmitt, D. P. (1993). Sexual strategies theory: an evolutionary perspective on human mating. Psychological Review, 100(2), 204–232. doi:10.1037/0033-295x.100.2.204.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  19. Buunk, A. P., & Fisher, M. (2009). Individual differences in intra-sexual competition. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 7(1), 37–48. doi:10.1556/jep.7.2009.1.5.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Campbell, A. (1995). A few good men: evolutionary psychology and female adolescent aggression. Ethology and Sociobiology, 16(2), 99–123. doi:10.1016/0162-3095(94)00072-f.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Campbell, A. (2013). A mind of her own: the evolutionary psychology of women. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199609543.001.0001.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Cashdan, E. (1998). Are men more competitive than women? British Journal of Social Psychology, 37(2), 213–229. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8309.1998.tb01166.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  23. Cobey, K. D., Roberts, S. C., & Buunk, A. P. (2013). Hormonal contraceptive congruency: implications for relationship jealousy. Personality and Individual Differences, 55, 569–573.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Confer, J. C., Easton, J. A., Fleischman, D. S., Goetz, C. D., Lewis, D. M., Perilloux, C., & Buss, D. M. (2010). Evolutionary psychology: controversies, questions, prospects, and limitations. American Psychologist, 65(2), 110–126. doi:10.1037/a0018413.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Cox, A., & Fisher, M. (2008). A framework for exploring intra-sexual competition. Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 2(4), 144–155. doi:10.1037/h0099348.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Coyne, S. M., Archer, J., & Eslea, M. (2006). “We’re not friends anymore! Unless…”: the frequency and harmfulness of indirect, relational, and social aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 32(4), 294–307. doi:10.1002/ab.20126.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Crothers, L. M., Lipinski, J., & Minutolo, M. C. (2009). Cliques, rumours, and gossip by the water cooler: female bullying in the workplace. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 12(2), 97–110. doi:10.1080/10887150902886423.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Darwin, C. (1859). On the origin of species. London: John Murray. doi:10.9783/9780812200515.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Darwin, C. R. (1871). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. London: John Murray. doi:10.5962/bhl.title.24784.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Dixson, B. J., Grimshaw, G. M., Linklater, W. L., & Dixson, A. F. (2011). Eye-tracking of Men’s preferences for waist-to-hip ratio and breast size of women. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(1), 43–50. doi:10.1007/s10508-010-9601-8.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. Dunbar, R. I. (2004). Gossip in evolutionary perspective. Review of General Psychology, 8(2), 100–110. doi:10.1037/1089-2680.8.2.100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Dunson, D. B., Colombo, B., & Baird, D. D. (2002). Changes with age in the level and duration of fertility in the menstrual cycle. Human Reproduction, 17(5), 1399–1403. doi:10.1093/humrep/17.5.1399.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. Edmonds, E. M., Cahoon, D. D., & Hudson, E. (1992). Male-female estimates of feminine assertiveness related to females’ clothing styles. Bulletin of the Psychological Society, 30(2), 143–144. doi:10.3758/bf03330422.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Elliot, A. J., Pazda, A. D., & Greitemeyer, T. (2012). Sexy red: perceived sexual receptivity mediates the red-attraction relation in men viewing woman. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48(3), 787–790. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.12.009.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Elliot, A. J., Greitemeyer, T., & Pazda, A. D. (2013). Women’s use of red clothing as a sexual signal in intersexual interaction. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(3), 599–602. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.10.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Erik, E., & Bhogal, M. S. (2016). Do the dark triad and self-perceived mate value predict intention to mate poach? Letters on Evolutionary Behavioral Science, 7(2), 1–4. doi:10.5178/lebs.2016.50.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Etcoff, N. (1999). Survival of the prettiest. London: Little, Brown and Company.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Ferguson, C. J., Munoz, M. E., Contreas, S., & Velasquez, K. (2011). Mirror, mirror on the wall: peer competition, television influences, and body image dissatisfaction. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 30(5), 458–483.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Fisher, M., & Cox, A. (2009). The influence of female attractiveness on competitor derogation. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 7(2), 141–155. doi:10.1556/jep.7.2009.2.3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Galen, B. R., & Underwood, M. K. (1997). A developmental investigation of social aggression among children. Developmental Psychology, 33(4), 589–600. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.33.4.589.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  41. Gallup, A. C., O’Brien, D. T., White, D. D., & Wilson, D. S. (2009). Peer victimization in adolescence has different effects on the sexual behavior of male and female college students. Personality and Individual Differences, 46(5), 611–615. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2008.12.018.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Gallup, A. C., O’Brien, D. T., & Wilson, D. S. (2011). Intra-sexual peer aggression and dating behavior during adolescence: an evolutionary perspective. Aggressive Behavior, 37(3), 258–267. doi:10.1002/ab.20384.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  43. Geary, D. C., Vigil, J., & Byrd-Craven, J. (2004). Evolution of human mate choice. Journal of Sex Research, 41(1), 27–42. doi:10.1080/00224490409552211.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  44. Gille-Knauf, T. R., & Mittag, R. M. (2008). Smart and sexy? Major and Clothing’s influence on perceptions of intelligence. UW-L Journal of Undergraduate Research, 6, 1–9. doi:10.1037/e617962012-577.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Glick, P., Larsen, S., Johnson, C., & Branstiter, H. (2005). Evaluations of sexy women in low-and high-status jobs. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(4), 389–395. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2005.00238.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Graff, K., Murnen, S. K., & Smolak, L. (2012). Too sexualized to Be taken seriously? Perceptions of a girl in childlike vs. sexualizing clothing. Sex Roles, 66, 764–775. doi:10.1007/s11199-012-0145-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Grammer, K., Renninger, L., & Fischer, B. (2004). Disco clothing, female sexual motivation, and relationship status: is she dressed to impress? Journal of Sex Research, 41(1), 66–74. doi:10.1080/00224490409552214.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. Halliday, T. R. (1983). Mate choice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Hassan, M. A., & Killick, S. R. (2003). Effect of male age on fertility: evidence for the decline in male fertility with increasing age. Fertility and Sterility, 79, 1520–1527. doi:10.1016/s0015-0282(03)00366-2.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  50. Hess, N. H., & Hagen, E. H. (2006). Sex differences in indirect aggression: psychological evidence from young adults. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27(3), 231–245. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2005.11.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Hoelzer, G. A. (1989). The good parent process of sexual selection. Animal Behaviour, 38(6), 1067–1078. doi:10.1016/s0003-3472(89)80146-0.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Hunt, J., Breuker, C. J., Sadowski, J. A., & Moore, A. J. (2009). Male–male competition, female mate choice and their interaction: determining Total sexual selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 22(1), 13–26. doi:10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01633.x.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  53. Jackson, M., Cassidy, W., Brown, K. N. (2013). “You Were Born Ugly and You’ll Die Ugly Too’. Cyber-Bullying as Relational Aggression. Education, 15(2). Available online at http://ineducation.ca/ineducation/article/view/57.

  54. Jasienska, G., Lipson, S. F., Ellison, P. T., Thune, I., & Ziomkiewicz, A. (2006). Symmetrical women have higher potential fertility. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27(5), 390–400. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2006.01.001.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Lagerspetz, K. M., Björkqvist, K., & Peltonen, T. (1988). Is indirect aggression typical of females? Gender differences in aggressiveness in 11-to 12-year-old children. Aggressive Behavior, 14(6), 403–414. doi:10.1002/1098-2337(1988)14:6<403::aid-ab2480140602>3.0.co;2-d.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Lee, S., Pitesa, M., Pillutla, M., & Thau, S. (2015). When beauty helps and when it hurts: an organizational context model of attractiveness discrimination in selection decisions. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 128, 15–28. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2015.02.003.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Leenaars, L. S., Dane, A. V., & Marini, Z. A. (2008). Evolutionary perspective on indirect victimization in adolescence: the role of attractiveness, dating and sexual behavior. Aggressive Behavior, 34(4), 404–415. doi:10.1002/ab.20252.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  58. Low, S., Frey, K. S., & Brockman, C. J. (2010). Gossip on the playground: changes associated with universal intervention, retaliation beliefs, and supportive friends. School Psychology Review, 39(4), 536.

    Google Scholar 

  59. Marlowe, F., Apicella, C., & Reed, D. (2005). Men’s preferences for Women’s profile waist-to-hip ratio in two societies. Evolution and Human Behavior, 26(6), 458–468. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2005.07.005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Massar, K., Buunk, A. P., & Rempt, S. (2012). Age differences in Women’s tendency to gossip are mediated by their mate value. Personality and Individual Differences, 52(1), 106–109. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.09.013.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. McAndrew, F. T. (2014). The sword of a woman: gossip and female aggression. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19(3), 196–199. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2014.04.006.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. McAnulty, R. (2012). Sex in college – the things they Don’t write home about. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Miller, C. W. (2013). Sexual selection: male-male competition. In J. Losos (Ed.), The Princeton guide to evolution (pp. 267–299). Princeton University Press: Princeton. doi:10.1515/9781400848065-089.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Nettle, D. (2009). Evolution and genetics for psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  65. Paquette, J. A., & Underwood, M. K. (1999). Gender differences in young Adolescents' experiences of peer victimization: social and physical aggression. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 45(2), 242–266. doi:10.1002/pits.20437.

    Google Scholar 

  66. Pellegrini, A. D., & Long, J. D. (2003). A sexual selection theory longitudinal analysis of sexual segregation and integration in early adolescence. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 85(3), 257–278. doi:10.1016/s0022-0965(03)00060-2.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. Salmivalli, C., & Kaukiainen, A. (2004). “female aggression” revisited: variable-and person-centered approaches to studying gender differences in different types of aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 30(2), 158–163. doi:10.1002/ab.20012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Schmitt, D. P., & Buss, D. M. (1996). Strategic self-promotion and competitor derogation: sex and context effects on the perceived effectiveness of mate attraction tactics. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(6), 1185–1204. doi:10.1037//0022-3514.70.6.1185.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  69. Schwarz, S., & Singer, M. (2013). Romantic red revisited: red enhances Men’s attraction to young, but not menopausal women. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(1), 161–164. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2012.08.004.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Shuker, D. M. (2010). Sexual selection: endless forms or tangled Bank? Animal Behaviour, 79(3), 11–17. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.10.031.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Singh, D. (1993). Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: role of waist-to-hip ratio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), 293–307. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.65.2.293.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  72. Smith, M. L., Perrett, D. I., Jones, B. C., Cornwell, R. E., Moore, F. R., Feinberg, D. R., Boothroyd, L. G., Durrani, S. J., Stirrat, M. R., Whiten, S., Pitman, R. M., & Hillier, S. G. (2006). Facial appearance is a cue to Oestrogen levels in women. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 273(1583), 135–140. doi:10.1098/rspb.2005.3296.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Smith, P. K., Del Barrio, C., & Tokunaga, R. S. (2013). Definitions of bullying and cyberbullying: how useful are the terms. In S. Bauman, D. Cross, & J. Walker (Eds.), Principles of cyberbullying research: definitions, measures, and methodology (pp. 26–40). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  74. Stirrat, M., Gumert, M., & Perrett, D. (2011). The effect of attractiveness on food sharing preferences in human mating markets. Evolutionary Psychology, 9(1), 79–91. doi:10.1177/147470491100900110.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  75. Symons, D. (1995). Beauty is in the adaptations of the beholder: the evolutionary psychology of human female sexual attractiveness. In P. Abramson & S. Pinkerton (Eds.), Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture (pp. 80–113). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  76. Taylor, P. A., & Glenn, N. D. (1976). The utility of education and attractiveness for females’ status attainment through marriage. American Sociological Review, 41, 484–498. doi:10.2307/2094255.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2005). Conceptual foundations of evolutionary psychology. In D. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 5–63). New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.. doi:10.1002/9780470939376.ch1.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Trivers, R. L. (1972). Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell (Ed.), Sexual selection and the descent of man, 1871–1971 (pp. 136–179). Chicago: Aldine.

    Google Scholar 

  79. Udry, J. R., & Eckland, B. K. (1984). Benefits of being attractive: differential payoffs for men and women. Psychological Review, 54, 47–56. doi:10.2466/pr0.1984.54.1.47.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Underwood, M. K., Beron, K. J., & Rosen, L. H. (2009). Continuity and change in social and physical aggression from middle childhood through early adolescence. Aggressive Behavior, 35(5), 357–375. doi:10.1002/ab.20313.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  81. Vaillancourt, T. (2013). Do human females use indirect aggression as an intra-sexual competition strategy? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 368, 1631. doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0080.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Vaillancourt, T., & Sharma, A. (2011). Intolerance of sexy peers: Intrasexual competition among women. Aggressive Behaviour, 37(6), 569–577. doi:10.1002/ab.20413.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Vaillancourt, T., Miller, J. L., & Sharma, A. (2010). Tripping the prom queen: female intra-sexual competition and indirect aggression. In K. Österman (Ed.), Indirect and direct aggression (pp. 17–32). Germany: Peter Lang.

    Google Scholar 

  84. Waynforth, D. (2001). Mate choice trade-offs and Women’s preference for physically attractive men. Human Nature, 12(3), 207–219. doi:10.1007/s12110-001-1007-9.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  85. Webb, L. M. (2015). Shame Transfigured: Slut-Shaming from Rome to Cyberspace. First Monday, 20(4), Available online at www.journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/5464. doi: 10.5210/fm.v20i4.5464.

  86. White, D. D., Gallup, A. C., & Gallup, G. G. (2010). Indirect peer aggression in adolescence and reproductive behavior. Evolutionary Psychology, 8(1), 49–65. doi:10.1177/147470491000800106.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  87. Workman, L., & Reader, W. (2014). Evolutionary psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139164757.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Manpal Singh Bhogal.

Ethics declarations

This research involved collecting data from human participants. Informed consent was taken from all participants who took part in this study. 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.

Conflicts of Interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

Electronic supplementary material

ESM 1

(DOCX 3860 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Keys, E., Bhogal, M.S. Mean Girls: Provocative Clothing Leads to Intra-Sexual Competition between Females. Curr Psychol 37, 543–551 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-016-9536-x

Download citation

Keywords

  • Intra-female competition
  • Sexual selection
  • Provocative clothing
  • Word selection