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Envy Mediates the Relationship Between Physical Appearance Comparison and Women’s Intrasexual Gossip

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Physical attractiveness is a central component of women’s mate value. However, the extent to which women possess attractive physical traits varies between individuals, placing less attractive women at a mating disadvantage. Researchers have suggested that envy may have evolved as an emotion that promotes intrasexual competition in response to unfavorable social comparisons on important mate value traits, such as physical attractiveness. Previous research has shown that envy mediates links between unfavorable appearance comparisons and women’s intended appearance-enhancement behavior. In the current research, we extended this framework to examine the link between upward appearance comparisons and women’s intrasexual gossip. Women were assigned to either an appearance comparison or control advertisement rating task, and subsequently completed measures of state envy and gossip toward a same-sex rival. Results found that induced appearance comparisons predicted increased envy, which in turn predicted greater willingness to spread negative (but not positive) gossip about an attractive woman. Two cross-sectional survey studies (online supplement) replicated the model whereby more self-reported upward appearance comparisons predicted more self-reported gossip (Supplemental Study 1) and indirect aggression toward other women (Supplemental Study 2), and these links were mediated by dispositional envy. These results support the hypothesis that envy is an adaptation that promotes intrasexual competition using social aggression in response to unfavorable social comparisons on important mate value traits.

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Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Discovery Grant (file # RGPIN-2019–05988) awarded to S. Arnocky.

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RM wrote the manuscript with assistance from AL and edits from SA. RM and SA developed the hypotheses. SA designed the experimental model. AL collected the data. AL collected and organized online data. RM conducted the analyses.

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Correspondence to Steven Arnocky.

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Morgan, R., Locke, A. & Arnocky, S. Envy Mediates the Relationship Between Physical Appearance Comparison and Women’s Intrasexual Gossip. Evolutionary Psychological Science 8, 148–157 (2022).

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