Young women with sexy social media photos seen as less competent, study finds

Jul 14, 2014

Girls and young women who post sexy or revealing photos on social media sites such as Facebook are viewed by their female peers as less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

"This is a clear indictment of sexy social media ," said researcher Elizabeth Daniels, an assistant professor of psychology who studies the effect of media on girls' body image. Daniels' findings are based on an experiment she conducted using a fictitious Facebook profile.

"There is so much pressure on teen girls and to portray themselves as sexy, but sharing those sexy photos online may have more negative consequences than positive," Daniels said.

Girls and young women are in a "no-win" situation when it comes to their Facebook photos, Daniels said. Those who post sexy photos may risk negative reactions from their peers, but those who post more wholesome photos may lose out on social rewards, including attention from boys and men, she said.

"Social media is where the youth are," she said. "We need to understand what they're doing online and how that affects their self-concept and their self-esteem."

Daniels' research was published today in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. The article, titled "The price of sexy: Viewers' perceptions of a sexualized versus non-sexualized Facebook profile photo," was co-authored by Eileen L. Zurbriggen of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Daniels conducted the research while on the faculty at OSU-Cascades and received two Circle of Excellence grants from OSU-Cascades to support the study. She is now an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs.

For the study, Daniels created two mock Facebook profiles for the fictitious 20-year-old Amanda Johnson. In both versions, Amanda liked musicians such as Lady Gaga, books such as "Twilight," and movies like "The Notebook," that would be appropriate for a person her age.

The only difference between the two was the profile photo. The photos were actual high school senior portrait and prom photos of a real young woman who allowed the photos to be used for the experiment.

In the sexy photo, "Amanda" is wearing a low-cut red dress with a slit up one leg to mid-thigh and a visible garter belt. In the non-sexy photo, she's wearing jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and a scarf draped around her neck, covering her chest.

Study participants were 58 teen girls, ages 13-18, and 60 young adult women no longer in high school, ages 17-25. They were randomly assigned one of the profiles and asked questions based on that profile.

The participants were asked to assess Amanda's physical attractiveness (I think she is pretty), social attractiveness (I think she could be a friend of mine), and task competence (I have confidence in her ability to get a job done) on a scale from 1-7, with one being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly agree.

In all three areas, the non-sexy profile scored higher, indicating that those who viewed that photo thought Amanda was prettier, more likely to make a good friend and more likely to complete a task. The largest difference was in the area of task competence, suggesting a young woman's capabilities are really dinged by the sexy photo, Daniels said.

The research underscores the importance of helping children and young people understand the long-term consequences of their online posts, Daniels said. Parents, educators and other influential adults should have regular conversations about the implications of online behavior with teens and young adults, Daniels suggested.

"We really need to help youth understand this is a very public forum," she said.

The research also highlights the need for more discussion about gender roles and attitudes, particularly regarding girls and young women, she said.

"Why is it we focus so heavily on girls' appearances?" she said. "What does this tell us about gender? Those conversations should be part of everyday life."

Daniels' advice for girls and young women is to select photos that showcase their identity rather than her appearance, such as one from a trip or one that highlights participation in a sport or hobby.

"Don't focus so heavily on appearance," Daniels said. "Focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world."

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User comments : 24

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supamark23
3.7 / 5 (11) Jul 14, 2014
Pretty sure bro-tards posting pictures of themselves being bro-tastic has the same effect bro. In fact, this sort of thing goes back like forever, ye researchers of the painfully obvious.
antigoracle
1.5 / 5 (11) Jul 14, 2014
Men on the other hand view these girls as very attractive and competent to perform tasks.
Well, all men except for supatard above who likes to ogle the bros.
supamark23
3.2 / 5 (9) Jul 14, 2014
pathetic antig, I genuinely hope you get hit full on by a speeding bus tomorrow.
antigoracle
1.4 / 5 (9) Jul 14, 2014
Wow!! Such hate, just because I don't swing your way.
supamark23
3.5 / 5 (8) Jul 14, 2014
nah, you're just some random dumbfcuk denier troll so I have fun taunting you (as resoned discourse is not possible with those, like yourself, who place ideology above actual reality).
Unbiased Observer
1 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2014
supmark23,

This amounts to a public forum, so please contain your wishes of death... I understand that he insulted you, but you responded in an incredibly inappropriate manner.

antigoracle,

Depending on the 'class' of the photo, sure. Though there is no need to antagonize the poster above. He makes a valid point that 'classless' photos of both sexes can be indicators of a lack of competence (though not necessarily so). I agree with him that the article isn't exactly quality.
kochevnik
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 15, 2014
Anyone who saw "Mean Girls" already knows the result of this study
AJW
5 / 5 (1) Jul 15, 2014
'..."Why is it we focus so heavily on girls' appearances?" she said. "What does this tell us about gender? Those conversations should be part of everyday life."...'

Is this author really unaware of the answers to these questions? Does science research need to 'beat the dead horse' of biological reproduction needs and counter needs to death?
antigoracle
1 / 5 (8) Jul 15, 2014
nah, you're just some random dumbfcuk denier troll so I have fun taunting you (as resoned discourse is not possible with those, like yourself, who place ideology above actual reality).
--supatard
And I enjoy making you get your panties in a twist.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jul 15, 2014
I wouldn't be surprised if the results for boys'd be similar.
supamark23
4 / 5 (4) Jul 15, 2014
nah, you're just some random dumbfcuk denier troll so I have fun taunting you (as resoned discourse is not possible with those, like yourself, who place ideology above actual reality).
--supatard
And I enjoy making you get your panties in a twist.


having fun pointing and laughing at your stupidity isn't exactly getting my panties in a bunch. Also, it's already been shown that trolls like you are nothing more than pathetic little sadists.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (6) Jul 15, 2014
blah...blah..blah.. you are nothing more than pathetic little sadists.
--supatard
Well, at least I don't wear my mummy's knickers.
rockwolf1000
4 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2014
blah...blah..blah.. you are nothing more than pathetic little sadists.
--supatard
Well, at least I don't wear my mummy's knickers.


That's only because you have to wear pyjamas at the psych ward.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (4) Jul 16, 2014
Oh, it's another member of the Bro Oglers Club.
What a "witty" retort. Let me guess, it was your turn to use that single neuron you share.
rockwolf1000
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2014
Oh, it's another member of the Bro Oglers Club.
What a "witty" retort. Let me guess, it was your turn to use that single neuron you share.


Given your predilection for nonsense you may continue "thinking" whatever you desire.

I mean who really gives a crap about what you "think" or say?

You add nothing of value. Never have never will. That will remain your legacy. A contributor of nothing.

Your parents must be so proud! I'll bet they show your photos to all the other inmates.

And what do you presume to know about neurons? You don't have any.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (3) Jul 16, 2014
Wow!! Don't overwork that neuron now.
Let me guess, your parents passed you around to all the other inmates. Is that how you became interested in bros?
rockwolf1000
3 / 5 (2) Jul 16, 2014
Wow!! Don't overwork that neuron now.
Let me guess, your parents passed you around to all the other inmates. Is that how you became interested in bros?


Since you introduced the "bro" concept into the discussion, what's more likely is that you are the one keen on "bro's" and not I. That's ok though. My guess is that it's impossible for stupid people such as yourself to keep track of such "complicated" discussions.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2014
Given your predilection for nonsense you may continue "thinking" whatever you desire.
I mean who really gives a crap about what you "think" or say?
@Rockwolf
I am not so sure anti is old enough to even vote...
most children have the capacity to learn and adjust. They also pick up abilities as they progress into their adulthood... these things are not being displayed by anti... in fact, I would state the opposite.
IF anti is actually of age (physically), then this may be the result of a degenerative mental condition, or worse. There could be physical conditions that affect his mental faculties, but this is apparently attacking his mental state as well as other cranial related issues, like perhaps paranoia and self-esteem.
This behavior is indicative of a severe degenerative disease that does not allow anti long to go.
Best course of action? ignore him. he has YET to provide any logical or scientific argument on ANY comment thread to date.

What say you?
rockwolf1000
5 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2014
@Rockwolf
I am not so sure anti is old enough to even vote...
most children have the capacity to learn and adjust. They also pick up abilities as they progress into their adulthood... these things are not being displayed by anti... in fact, I would state the opposite.
IF anti is actually of age (physically), then this may be the result of a degenerative mental condition, or worse. There could be physical conditions that affect his mental faculties, but this is apparently attacking his mental state as well as other cranial related issues, like perhaps paranoia and self-esteem.
This behavior is indicative of a severe degenerative disease that does not allow anti long to go.

What say you?


That sounds about right. He must have also been badly abused growing up.

Best course of action? ignore him. he has YET to provide any logical or scientific argument on ANY comment thread to date.


Yes I know. We should use that strategy with more people perhaps?
antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Jul 17, 2014
Careful there stupid and moron, remember you are sharing that lone neuron and you don't want to burn it out.
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Jul 17, 2014
Yes I know. We should use that strategy with more people perhaps?
@Rockwolf
very good idea.
I will start with RC and his continual trolling. I posted plenty of proof against him which he continually proves FOR ME every time he posts... I better stop before he has an infarction.

Anti is not worth responding to. he isn't even original... he's never given any proof, or linked anything relevant, or even provided ONE scientific reason for ANYTHING that I've ever seen...so that means he is here to TROLL, right?

Have YOU ever seen him do anything but act stupid?
has ANYONE ever seen him discuss science?

I also agree with the abuse hypothesis. That would explain his fear of intellectually superior people like YOU, Wolf... or Thermo, Runrig (whom he REALLY trolls!)... and more.

likely no education and no historical experience like work... lost in being mediocre at best.
likely though he has always been substandard in everything.
See posts for proof
antigoracle
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 17, 2014
Wow!!
Stupid and moron have a strategy. You may actually turn out to not be a waste of skin, if you should donate yourselves to science.
PS: How is the bro ogling going?
Zera
not rated yet Jul 20, 2014
Social interaction has never been a level playing field, not in the physical realm, or the digital one. The diffirences are emotional, intellectual, physical, artistic, humour, spirituality, etc, etc.

Why is it important that young women understand what results in a more positive perception of their abilities? I would hypothesise that women in general have held the high ground of social communication for a very long time (biology has equipped the primary caregivers of children the ability to read potential non verbal more emotional communications).

Facebook and various other social forums do not depart heavily from standard routine. Photo, Name, Brief description, and then as you explore deeper, interests, likes, thoughts, etc, etc.

I further hypothesise that if we want equality, true equality, there needs to be systems to filter intelligence, social participation, artistic abilities and such.

The word here is Popularity, and this study is designed to enhance existing interactions.
bonzorius
not rated yet Jul 20, 2014
I'm not sure why Professor Daniels considers her results a "clear indictment" of sexy social media pictures, and not further evidence of female intrasexual aggression/competition. (http://www.nytime...p;_r=0). I mean, it's all well and good to point out the potential social consequences of any behavior, but is it necessary or helpful to be that editorial? One could just as easily caution other women from making assumptions about the character of a young woman based on a picture of her, rather then chastise those young women about the pictures they choose to share.
Even more generally, how is this an indictment of dressing provocatively and not an indictment of using social media to make decisions about others?