Journal of Applied Social Psychology
Volume 36 Issue 8 Page 1980-2000, August 2006
To cite this article: Geneviève Coulomb-Cabagno, Olivier Rascle (2006) Team Sports
Players' Observed Aggresion as a Function of Gender, Competitive Level, and Sport
Journal of Applied Social Psychology 36 (8) , 1980–2000 doi:10.1111/j.0021-
Prev Article Next Article
You have full access rights to this content
Team Sports Players' Observed Aggresion as a
Function of Gender, Competitive Level, and Sport Type
Geneviève Coulomb-CabagnoaaLaboratory "Centre de Recherche sur l'Education,
les Apprentissages et la Didactique"(CREAD) UFRAPS University of Rennes 21
Olivier RascleaaLaboratory "Centre de Recherche sur l'Education, les
Apprentissages et la Didactique"(CREAD) UFRAPS University of Rennes 2
Laboratory "Centre de Recherche sur l'Education, les Apprentissages et la
Didactique"(CREAD) UFRAPS University of Rennes 2
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to G. Coulomb-Cabagno,
UFRAPS, University of Rennes 2, Avenue. C. Tillon, 35044 Rennes Cedex, France. E-
Go to section
This study aims at examining observed aggression in team sports as a function of gender,
competitive level, and sport type. It was hypothesized that (a) male players display more
aggressive behaviors than female players, (b) aggressive behaviors increase when
competitive level rises, and (c) gender difference in observed aggression is depending on
sport type. One hundred and eighty games, equally shared among males and females,
soccer and handball, and departmental, regional, and national competitive levels were
recorded on videotapes and observed using a grid to differ instrumental from hostile
aggressive behaviors. The results revealed that male players always display more
aggressive behaviors than female players, whatever the sport, the competitive level or the
nature of the observed aggression; instrumental aggressive behaviors increase and hostile
aggressive behaviors decrease when competitive level rises; and the gender difference
appears larger in handball than in soccer.
If the gender differences have been largely reported in the scientific literature in terms of
behaviors, attitudes, or beliefs, the authors do not agree on their ways or nature (Cohn,
1991; Lytton & Romney, 1991). Yet, there is a personality dimension for which the
authors seem to agree, that is aggressiveness. In academic context, the tendency for men
to manifest a higher level of aggressiveness and/or to display more aggression than
women is well documented (Buss & Perry, 1992; Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Hyde, 1984).
For instance, Buss and Perry (1992) reported that males had significantly higher scores
on physical and verbal aggressions than women.
Aggressiveness is generally defined as an element of the individual's personality, whereas
aggression refers to the intent to harm the other either physically or psychologically. In
sport psychology, despite the lack of consensus on the definition, one that is often
accepted is behavior transgressing the rules of the considered activity with the intent to
harm someone either psychologically or physically (Tenenbaum, Stewart, Singer, &
Duda, 1996). In this context, gender/sport relations represent a relatively new content
area, especially when we pay attention to this aggression thematic.
Sport, as a social practice, is actively involved in the individuals' socialization and one
often highlights the role it plays in developing moral values such as support, fair play,
solidarity, or cooperation. However, certain authors tend to point out the ambiguous
relationship that seems to be building up between sport and aggression, more especially
in competitive sport where "achievement of goals (scoring and winning) is predicated on
the successful utilization of violence" (Messner, 1990a, p. 203). According to Stephens
(1998), competitive sport frequently rewards aggressions even though they are contrary
to social norms. Everything happens as if the performance-related stakes surpassed the
socially desirable moral values. In the same way, Bredemeier (1994) showed that male
players in general had a tendency to consider aggression as more legitimate than those
individuals not practicing any sport. Some male players even consider aggressions as
competencies (Messner, 1990a). Nonetheless, males and females do not seem to be
similarly affected by this process (Bredemeier, 1985; Silva, 1983).
Gender and Aggression in Sport
Gender is one of the first social categories children acquire and judgments about what is
appropriate for men and women are affected (Biernat, 1991). People progressively
develop differentiated judgments about femininity and masculinity, and some attitudes or
behaviors are related to masculine features, whereas others are considered as feminine
ones. Aggressiveness and aggression are generally perceived as masculine characteristics,
and appear to be in contradiction with attitudes or behaviors considered as appropriate for
women (Eagly & Steffen, 1986). These authors contended that whereas "the male gender
role includes norms encouraging many form of aggression […], the traditional female
gender role places little emphasis on aggression" (p. 310). This assumption could explain
why many studies point out the differences between males and females in the perceived
legitimacy of sport aggression, the degree of fair-play or the actual implementation of
such behaviors (Bredemeier, 1985; Conroy, Silva, Newcomer, Walker, & Johnson, 2001;
Duda, Olson, & Templin, 1991; Silva, 1983). Silva (1983) investigated male and female
students' perceptions of the legitimacy of rule-violating behaviors by showing them slides
depicting such behaviors in various sports. The results revealed that male players rated
these behaviors as more legitimate than female players did. Bredemeier (1985) and Duda
et al. (1991) used the "Continuum of Injurious Acts" among high school and college
basketball players and obtained similar results with male players considering such acts as
more legitimate than female players did. Such a perception of the legitimacy of the
aggression would match with the athletes' fair play attitudes, with females perceiving the
non-fair play game as less acceptable than males would do (Duda et al., 1991). Recently,
Conroy et al. (2001) as well as Tucker and Parks (2001) used the "Sport Behavior
Inventory" (SBI) to assess the perception of the legitimacy of sport aggression. The
scores of male and female children and adults (8 to 24 years old) once again showed that
males perceived aggression in sport as being significantly more acceptable than females
Such results are fully convergent, but some authors regret these studies measure the
perception of the legitimacy of aggression without considering the actual behaviors of the
players (Cox, 1985; Kirker, Tenenbaum, & Mattson, 2000; Stephens & Bredemeier,
1996). The difficulty to observe underlying intention (main concept in sport definition) in
aggression (Stephens, 1998) could explain why direct observation method has rarely been
implemented in studying sport aggression. And yet, as Conroy et al. (2001, p. 417)
pointed out, "a socially desirable response bias favoring prescribed responses to questions
about the legitimacy of aggressive sport behavior" could exist. And Loughead and Leith
(2001) and Worrell and Harris (1986) obtained non-significant or negative correlations
between the behaviors actually observed and the perception of legitimacy of aggressive
sport behaviors. Behavioral measures of aggression could be referred only to observable
criteria and either ignore or make assumptions about the participants' intentions. In that
perspective, Sheldon and Aimar (2001) proposed that "willingly engaging in behavior
that could result in injury to another person is conceptually similar to intentionally trying
to injure someone" (p. 305). They recognized "that the intent to harm and the willingness
to harm are distinct constructs; however, they both represent a state of physiological and
psychological readiness to do harm" (p. 305). Thus they believed that "a combination of
either of these cognitive processes (i.e., intent or willingness) with a forceful physical act
results in a behavior that can be classified, in a broad sense, as aggressive" (p. 305). So,
in their study, they recorded each aggressive incident that warrants a penalty by the rules
of the game (even if the referee did not penalize the athlete). In a similar perspective,
Pfister and Sabatier (1994) considered as aggressive behaviors all the behaviors
transgressing the rules of the game (intentional or not, penalized or not by the referee)
and leading to hurt or compel another person. They indicated the male players displayed
more aggressive behaviors than the female players did, both in terms of instrumental and
hostile aggressions. Such a distinction has been traditionally described in psychology
(Bredemeier, 1978; Rascle, Coulomb, & Pfister, 1998; Tenenbaum et al., 1996). In both
types of aggression, a target person is injured either physically and/or psychologically.
Nevertheless, the purpose of hostile aggression is to do harm for its own sake whereas the
purpose of instrumental aggression is to achieve a competitive advantage in the game and
may be considered as means to serve future goals. In other words, instrumental
aggression involves hurting another person as a means to an end (i.e., irregular tackling to
stop an opponent going to score) and is directly related to the play itself. On the other
hand, hostile aggression is intended to injure with the reinforcement coming from the
victim being injured (i.e., hitting an opponent who has just committed an aggression
against the player), and is not directly related to the play itself. Whereas this distinction
has clearly been identified, it has very rarely been taken into consideration in sport,
especially when male and female games are being compared.
Gender, Competitive Level, and Aggression
If the gender difference regarding the perception of the legitimacy (or the use) of
aggression may be well established, some structural factors seem however to be likely to
influence such differences. Among those factors, the competitive level came to the
researchers' attention. Indeed, sport aggression is perceived as being more legitimate as
the level of competition increases (Bredemeier, 1985; Conroy et al., 2001; Silva, 1983).
According to Conroy et al. (2001), such a score may be explained by the fact that the
male players' perceptions of the reinforcement structures vary between the various levels
of competition, with male players granting more tolerance and acceptance of aggression
as the competitive level increases. Using an observation method, Coulomb and Pfister
(1998) showed the number of instrumental aggressive behaviors in soccer was
significantly higher in national level players (the highest competitive level in French
soccer championship) than in the departmental players (the lowest competitive level in
French soccer championship). On the other hand, players displayed less and less hostile
aggressive behaviors as the competitive level increased. The authors explained these
results by a more and more controlled and strategic use of the instrumental aggressive
behaviors as the competitive level rises, such behaviors being progressively perceived as
performance-oriented behaviors (Ryan, Williams, & Wimer, 1990). This explanation
corroborates Messner's comments expressed above (Messner, 1990a). Similarly, hostile
aggressive behaviors would look like obstacles to performance and this kind of response
would then be progressively inhibited as the competitive level rises.
If the trend for perceiving legitimacy or for implementing aggression according to the
competitive level has been clearly established for males, the results for females are
significantly less conforming. Some authors pointed out that sport aggression is perceived
by females, like males, as being more legitimate as the competitive level increases
(Conroy et al., 2001; Silva, 1983), but others showed adversary results or no significant
difference for females across competitive levels (Ryan, Williams, & Wimer, 1990). To
our knowledge, no study has ever tried to verify the effect of the competitive level on
actual aggressive behaviors among female players. If aggression is generally related to
masculine features (Eagly & Steffen, 1986), females' aggression may be perceived as a
challenging gender role behavior. According to Nixon (1997), some factors, such as
involvement in contact sports, may encourage females to display behaviors challenging
gender roles. We may assume that competitive level may reinforce the effect of
involvement in contact sports, the aggressions being progressively integrated as tools to
Gender, Sport Type, and Aggression
To our minds, the sport type factor has to be included in the thinking process. Metheny
emphasized that "the socially sanctioned image of femininity and masculinity are always
relative. They differ from era to era, from culture to culture and from group to group
within a given social organization" (1965, p. 48). Indeed, all sports are not as similarly
open to female players. Several authors pointed out sports were becoming stereotyped as
masculine, feminine, or neutral as a result of socialization and gender appropriateness
(Csizma, Wittig, & Schurr, 1988; Koivula, 1995, 2001; Riemer & Visio, 2003).
Masculine-typed sports generally refer to competitive sports, to confrontation or
domination where aggressiveness and strength are largely prevailing—boxing, team
sports, weightlifting—whereas feminine-typed sports are more oriented towards
aestheticism, grace, flexibility—dancing, figure skating—(Koivula, 2001). According to
Messner (1990b), sports characterized by aggressiveness, power, and strength would
allow males to affirm their masculine status and to build their masculinity. Females
taking in activities perceived as not appropriate to their gender, such as team sports, are
often mocked and insulted. They are often qualified as tomboys (Colley, Roberts, &
Chipps, 1985). Soccer is generally perceived as a masculine-typed sport. For example,
Koivula (1995) asked 207 participants (104 women and 103 men) to assess their feelings
about the appropriateness of men and women participating in different sports, using a 7-
point scale (from 1=very appropriate for men to 7=not at all appropriate for men). The
results indicated that soccer was classified as a masculine-typed sport by men (M=2.80)
and women (M=3.32). Using a same Likert scale, but in a reverse direction, Coulomb
(1996) also indicated that soccer was perceived by 116 participants (66 women and 50
men) as a masculine sport (M=6.06 for women and M=5.83 for men, the difference being
not significant between men and women). These results confirmed those obtained by
Csizma, Wittig, and Schurr (1988). Nevertheless, Riemer and Visio (2003) obtained quite
different results. They showed that 4th to 12th grade subjects (190 boys and 175 girls)
perceived soccer as a "neutral sport" that was appropriate for men and women. According
to these authors, one explanation for the difference from other studies may be that
stereotypes about this sport are evolving, in relation with the expansion of this practice
among the American feminine population during the last twenty years. As Deaux and
Lafrance (1998) emphasized, "when the proportion of women and men in a situation is
highly skewed, gender is more likely to become an issue" (p. 789). So, the situation
makes gender more or less salient. In France, female soccer players are underrepresented
(only 2.4% of all the players, French Soccer Federation, 2003) and little attention is given
to the female practice through the media and by the different educational institutions
(school, university, federal structure, etc.). This could explain why French soccer is still
perceived as a masculine-typed sport (Coulomb, 1996). On the other hand, handball is
perceived as a more neutral sport (Coulomb, 1996, M=4.38 for women and M=4.68 for
men, the difference being not significant between men and women, but significant
between soccer and handball, for men and women) and more women are involved in this
sport compared to soccer (about 35% of the handball players are women, according to the
French Ministry of Youth and Sports, 1999). Thus, one can assume that, in France,
female soccer appears as a more challenging gender role sport type than female handball.
In this context (soccer and aggression perceived as masculine), one might speculate that
female soccer players take this "masculine" sport their own way, i.e., differently from
males, and it could result in lower aggression.
To summarize, this research aims at studying French team sports players' observed
aggression as a function of gender, competitive level, and sport type. Thus, the first
objective of the present research is precisely to study how French team sports players'
aggressive behaviors vary as a function of gender; the second objective of the research is
to study how the two types of aggressive behaviors (instrumental and hostile behaviors)
occur among males and females; and the third objective of the research is to study how
aggressive behaviors occur among males and females in team sports as a function of the
competitive level and the type of sport.
We hypothesize that (a) male players display aggressive behaviors more than female
players do, (b) male and female players display more aggressive behaviors as the
competitive level increases, and (c) the difference between male and female aggressive
behaviors will not be identical according to sport type, being not so large in handball as in
The sample of this study consisted of 180 handball (N=90) and soccer (N=90) games of
French championships, equally divided into female and male games (45 female matches
and 45 male matches for each sport). Three competitive levels were taken into account:
the national level (the highest competitive level in French handball and soccer
championships), the regional level (intermediary level in French handball and soccer
championships), and the departmental level (the lowest competitive level in French
handball and soccer championships). The games were equally distributed between the
three competitive levels (i.e., 15 games per level). For each of these levels, the highest
subcategory was chosen to represent the competitive level: in soccer championship, the
national level is made of five subcategories, the regional level is made of four
subcategories, and the departmental level is made of six subcategories; in handball, the
national level is made of five subcategories, the regional level is made of four
subcategories, and the departmental level is made of five subcategories (2 in female
championship). Each subcategory being made of 18 to 20 teams, 15 different teams were
chosen to compose the sample in the aim to avoid a "team effect"; each of these 15 teams
was considered in two different contexts (once as a local team and once as a visitor team)
to obtain the 15 games.
All the games were recorded on videotape. The coaches and players gave us their consent
for the recordings. All the aggressive behaviors (as defined by Pfister & Sabatier, 1994
and Sheldon & Aimar, 2001) displayed by players during the totality of the games were
observed and reported using two distinct observation grids, one for handball and one for
soccer. These grids were recently used by Coulomb and Pfister (1998) for soccer and by
Rascle et al. (1998) for handball. They differentiate the instrumental from the hostile
aggressive behaviors through various behavioral categories labeled "illegal tackling or
tripping," "holding," "striking," "against the opponents," "against the referees," and
"against the teammates" in soccer and "repelling," "retaining," "hitting," "against the
opponents," "against the referees," and "against the teammates" in handball. For both
sports, a two-factor structure emerged from the exploratory factor analyses performed,
the first three categories referring to instrumental aggressive behaviors and the other three
to hostile aggressive behaviors.
Phase 1. Two games were first observed in their totality (one in soccer and one in
handball), in order to distinguish aggressive behaviors from other forceful behaviors.
(According to Silva, 1980, aggressive behaviors have to be distinguished from assertive
behaviors, which are forceful behaviors but authorized by the rules of the game.) Four
observers familiarized with soccer and/or handball performed these observations, the two
authors and two soccer coaches for the soccer game, and the two authors associated with
two handball coaches for the handball game. Inter-observers agreements analysis (Kappa
coefficients) were satisfactory, ranging between .91 and .94 for soccer and between .88
and .92 for handball.
Phase 2. Two others games (one in soccer and one in handball) were observed by the
same teams of coders to establish the reliability of the grids. The behavioral categories
used in the previous studies (Coulomb & Pfister, 1998; Rascle et al., 1998) were adopted
and the frequency of the aggressive behaviors (for the two teams as a whole) for each
category was calculated. Inter-observers' agreements analysis (Kappa coefficients) were
satisfactory, ranging respectively between .85 and .91 in soccer and .82 and .89 in
handball for the various categories of instrumental aggressive behaviors, and between .89
and .95 in soccer and .87 and .94 in handball for the various categories of hostile
Phase 3. The two authors observed the totality of the 180 games, reporting all coded
aggressive behaviors (for the two teams as a whole) in the adequate category for each
game, and calculating the frequency for each category. Inter-observers' agreements
(Kappa coefficients) were satisfactory, ranging respectively between .92 and .95 in soccer
and .87 and .91 in handball for the various categories of instrumental aggressive
behaviors and between .89 and .94 in soccer and .91 and .93 in handball for the various
categories of hostile aggressive behaviors. Test-retest reliability was also tested by
observing one soccer game and one handball game two months later. The Kappa
coefficients were respectively .93 in soccer and .92 in handball.
Data from observations were then used for subsequent statistical tests. The aggressive
behaviors observed in the three behavioral categories referring to instrumental aggression
were gathered together in a single group and the same operation was conducted for the
three categories referring to hostile aggression. So, a score of instrumental aggressive
behaviors and a score of hostile aggressive behaviors (means between the two coders)
were calculated for each game, observed in their totality. In order to compare handball
and soccer, and given the different time periods between the two sports and between male
and female games, the following analyses were performed on a standard 15-min period
(the total number of instrumental aggressive behaviors displayed in one game was
divided by the number of minutes making the duration of the game, and then multiplied
by 15 to obtain this standard period. The same operation was conducted for hostile
Four confirmatory factor analyses were conducted using the LISREL 8.3 software
(Jöneskog & Sörbom, 1999) to test the factorial validity of the grids in handball and
soccer. The overall goodness of fit of the models was tested using the chi-square
likelihood ratio statistic (χ2), Root Mean Square Error of Approximation (RMSEA),
Goodness of Fit (GFI), Comparative Fit Index (CFI), and Non-Normed Fit Index (NNFI).
Models were tested and assessed for one-factor and two-factor structures, both for
handball and soccer. The two-factor structure was expected to present the best fit, with
"illegal tackling," "holding," and "striking" categories in soccer and "repelling,"
"retaining," and "hitting" categories in handball correlating with the instrumental
aggression variable and "opponent," "referee," and "teammate" categories correlating
with the hostile aggression variable.
Results for the one-factor model in handball were unsatisfactory, χ2(9, n=90)=22.35,
p<.09, RMSEA=.087 (90% CI=0.0-0.14), GFI=.86, CFI=.85 and NNFI=.81. Results for
the two-factor model suggested a better fit: χ2(8, n=90)=12.23, p<.14, RMSEA=.077
(90% CI=0.01-0.16), GFI=.96, CFI=.95, and NNFI=.91. In soccer, results for the one-
factor model were unsatisfactory too, χ2(9, n=90)=76.12, p<.001, RMSEA=.291 (90%
CI=0.23-0.35), GFI=.78, CFI=.79, and NNFI=.66. A better fit was obtained with the two-
factor model: χ2(8, n=90)=27.83, p<.001, RMSEA=.168 (90% CI=0.10-0.24), GFI=.90,
CFI=.92 and NNFI=.86. Figure 1 presents the two-factor structural models with item
factor regression coefficients.
4322 instrumental (79.80%) and 1094 hostile (21.20%) aggressive behaviors were
observed during the 90 soccer games; 10,782 instrumental (93.78%) and 715 hostile
(6.22%) aggressive behaviors were observed during the 90 handball games. Table 1
shows team means (and standard deviations) of instrumental and hostile aggressive
behaviors as a function of gender, competitive level, and sport type, for a 15-min standard
period. Two separate 2 (Gender) × 3 (Competitive level) multivariate analyses of
variance procedures (one for soccer and one for handball) were carried out, with the
instrumental and hostile aggressive behaviors displayed as the dependent variables. Alpha
was established at .05.
Gender, Competitive Level, and Aggressive Behaviors in Soccer
The first MANOVA revealed a significant effect for gender, Wilks' lambda (2, 83)=.045,
p<.001. Follow-up univariate analyses indicated that the male players displayed
instrumental aggressive behaviors, F(1, 84)=1689.71, p<.001, η2=.203, and hostile
aggressive behaviors, F(1, 84)=186.68, p<.001, η2=.207, more than the female players
did (M=11.07±1.51 vs. M=3.47±1.47 for instrumental aggressive behaviors and
M=2.95±1.64 vs. M=0.72±0.40 for hostile aggressive behaviors).
The MANOVA also revealed a significant effect for competitive level, Wilks' lambda (4,
166)=.268, p<.001, with significant univariate effects both for instrumental, F(2,
84)=66.086, p<.001, η2=.028, and hostile aggressive behaviors, F(2, 84)=37.295, p<.001,
η2=.068. Scheffe test post-hoc analyses indicated that the players involved in
departmental competitive level displayed instrumental aggressive behaviors less than
those involved in regional level (p<.01) and the latter less than the players involved in
national competitive levels (p<.001). Inversely, Figure 2 shows that the players of
departmental level displayed more hostile aggressive behaviors than those involved in
regional level (p<.001), and the latter more than the players involved in national
competitive level (p<.03).
Finally, a significant gender × competitive level interaction was also pointed out by the
MANOVA, Wilks' lambda (4, 166)=.405, p<.001, with significant univariate effects both
for instrumental aggressive behaviors, F(2, 84)=19.19, p<.001, and hostile aggressive
behaviors, F(2, 84)=31.74, p<.001. Scheffe post-hoc analyses revealed that gender
difference was significant whatever the competitive level, both for instrumental and
hostile aggressive behaviors (p<.001). Nevertheless, as shown in Table 1, female players'
instrumental aggressive behaviors increased linearly when competitive level rose while
male players' instrumental aggressive behaviors decreased in regional level (p<.03) and
increased in national level (p<.001). In the same way, a significant gender difference
appeared for hostile aggressive behaviors, whatever the competitive level (p<.001).
Hostile aggressive behaviors decreased linearly for male players while no significant
difference appeared across competitive level for female players (Table 1).
Gender, Competitive Level, and Aggressive Behaviors in Handball
Similar results were revealed. The MANOVA revealed a significant effect for gender,
Wilks' lambda (2, 83)=.264, p<.001. Follow-up univariate analyses indicated that the
male players displayed instrumental aggressive behaviors, F(1, 84)=227.42, p<.001,
η2=.017, and hostile aggressive behaviors, F(1, 84)=35.55, p<.001, η2=.063, more than
the female players did (M=33.88±4.30 vs. M=25.82±4.53 for instrumental aggressive
behaviors and M=2.56±1.17 vs. M=1.40±0.88 for hostile aggressive behaviors).
The MANOVA also revealed a significant effect for competitive level, Wilks' lambda (4,
166)=.346, p<.001, with significant univariate effects both for instrumental aggressive
behaviors, F(2, 84)=73.504, p<.001, η2=.011, and hostile aggressive behaviors, F(2,
84)=11.664, p<.001, η2=.040. Scheffe test post-hoc analyses indicated that players
involved in national level displayed instrumental (p<.001) and hostile aggressive
behaviors (p<.03) more than those involved in regional level (Figure 3).
Finally, a significant gender × competitive level interaction was also pointed out, Wilks'
lambda (4, 166)=.346, p<.001, with a significant univariate effect only for instrumental
aggressive behaviors, F(2, 84)=18.412, p<.001. Scheffe post-hoc analyses revealed that
gender difference was significant, whatever the competitive level. Nevertheless, as shown
in Table 1, female players' instrumental aggressive behaviors increased linearly when
competitive level rose while male players' instrumental aggressive behaviors decreased in
regional level (p<.04) and increased in national level (p<.001). No significant difference
appeared for hostile aggressive behaviors.
Gender, Sport Type, and Aggressive Behaviors
Chi2 tests were performed in order to compare male and female frequencies of
instrumental and hostile aggressive behaviors as a function of the sport type. The results
revealed that even if the difference between male and female players' aggressive
behaviors were significant both in soccer and in handball and whatever the competitive
level, the breakdown was different. Indeed, female players' instrumental aggressive
behaviors represented 23.86% of all the instrumental aggressive behaviors in soccer
against 43.25% in handball, χ2=8.40, p<.01. On the other hand, female hostile aggressive
behaviors represented 19.61% of all the hostile aggressive behaviors in soccer against
35.35% in handball, χ2=6.20, p<.05. Furthermore, variance explained by gender is larger
in soccer than in handball, with respectively 20.3% vs. 1.7% for instrumental aggressive
behaviors and 20.7% vs. 6.3% for hostile aggressive behaviors.
The purpose of this research was to study French team sports players' observed
aggressive behaviors as a function of gender, competitive level, and sport type. We
hypothesized that (a) male players would display aggressive behaviors more than female
players do, (b) male and female players would display more aggressive behaviors as the
competitive level increases, and (c) the difference between males and females' aggressive
behaviors would not be identical according to sport type, being not so large in handball as
Gender and Aggression
In line with the first hypothesis, the results showed that male players displayed
instrumental and hostile aggressive behaviors more than female players did. Such results
are congruent with most studies dealing with the gender variable, related to perception of
legitimacy of aggression or actual observed behaviors, both in academic domain (Buss &
Perry, 1992; Eagly & Steffen, 1986; Hyde, 1984) and in sport context (Bredemeier, 1985;
Conroy et al., 2001; Pfister & Sabatier, 1994; Silva, 1983; Tucker & Parks, 2001).
Aggression, and instrumental aggression in particular, is affected by the socialization
process because it is primarily a learned behavior, reinforced through social modeling
(Bandura, 1973). Thus, such a gender difference may be interpreted as the consequence
of a differential socialization of males and females that tends to reinforce distinct
behaviors for both sexes (Duru-Bellat & Jarousse, 1996; Masters, Johnson, & Kolodny,
1982). A differential socialization may imply the perception and acceptance of gender
roles, i.e., roles in accordance with agreed expectations and social norms. Differentiated
attitudes and behaviors are thus reinforced for males and females as a result of gender
appropriateness, and aggressive behaviors are particularly representative of this
categorization process (Eagly & Steffen, 1986). Traditional stereotyped expectations
generally consider aggressiveness or aggression, competition or risk-taking as masculine
characteristics and appropriate behaviors for men while such attitudes or behaviors would
not match with feminine ideals and norms (Duru-Bellat, 1997; Eagly & Steffen, 1986).
Consequently, boys and girls tend to adopt behaviors in accordance with appropriate
gender roles, including sport context.
Gender role socialization can also reflect different sport participation opportunities. Team
sports are generally perceived as masculine ones and these sports are largely surrounded
by men (Csizma, Wittig, & Schurr, 1988; Koivula, 1995, 2001; Meaney, Dornier, &
Owens, 2002). In this context, female players involved in team sports appear to be in
contradiction with gender appropriate sport participation. So female players may be
subjected to gender role conflict (Scully, Reilly, & Clarke, 1998) and can adopt more
gender-appropriate behaviors (i.e., less aggression) to counterbalance the effect of a non-
appropriate sport choice.
Gender, Competitive Level, and Aggression
In line with the second hypothesis, the results showed that male and female players
displayed more aggressive behaviors in national competitive level. The findings actually
revealed a significant effect of competitive level on instrumental and hostile aggressive
behaviors, both in soccer and in handball. Instrumental aggressive behaviors increase
when the competitive level rises, while hostile aggressive behaviors decrease. The results
are congruent with Bredemeier's (1985), Conroy et al.'s (2001) or Silva's (1983) findings.
According to Goodger and Jackson (1985), instrumental aggression would progressively
be integrated as performance tools. Furthermore, in compliance with Conroy et al.
(2001), we can explain such results by the development of reinforcement structures
towards greater tolerance and acceptation in the different competitive levels. For instance,
many players and coaches consider aggressive behavior as an important strategy for
winning (Sheldon & Aimar, 2001). Weinstein, Smith, and Wiesenthal (1995) showed that
young ice hockey players are taught that engaging in aggression is often vital for team
success. Because victory is becoming more and more important in higher competitive
levels, related to social or financial aspects, all strategies, even illegitimate, are employed.
Recently, Rascle, Coulomb, and Pfister (2000) demonstrated the development of coaches'
verbal communications as the competitive level increased. Coaches tend to more and
more disagree with the referees and to express positive reinforcements after instrumental
aggressions. Furthermore, the higher the competitive level, the more coaches favor result
feedback rather than process feedback (Chaumeton & Duda, 1988) and consider one of
their main functions to teach players to be aggressive (Carpenter & Yates, 1997).
"Contextual forces [that] would be so strong that they [would] override the impact of
sportsmanship orientations (or moral reasoning level) and become the main determinants
of sportsmanship behavior" (Vallerand, Deshaies, & Cuerrier, 1997, p. 134). So, a logic
of performance is progressively adopted by players, to the detriment of sportspersonship
and fair play.
Although these explanations may be relevant, most of these studies refer to male practice.
As Nixon stated (1997, p. 380), "although physically aggressive behavior is generally
associated with sport, the traditional exclusion of females from sport has resulted in little
attention to the aggressiveness of female athletes." Yet, the findings of the present study
clearly demonstrate that it is important to consider female aggression as well as male
aggression in sport, particularly with regard to competitive level. As suggested by Nixon
(1997), "the possibility that both males and females become generally more aggressive as
a result of their sports involvement suggests that sport socialization reinforces
stereotypical gender role learning for males and teaches females to act in nonstereotypical
ways" (p. 381). In the present research, even if gender difference appeared whatever the
considered competitive level, the findings revealed that female players and male players
displayed more instrumental aggressive behaviors in higher competitive level. Nixon
(1997) suggested that "female athletes seek to emulate male physical aggression and male
macho values in team and contact sports as their sports become more competitive" (p.
388). Another explanation could be that female players adopt an efficient style of practice
more than a masculine one. The efficiency requirement for the highest competitive level
in sport could be a relevant element leading female players to overcome gender
stereotypes. In that perspective, aggressions are progressively used as performance-
related tools by female players, in the same logic as male players. So females would tend
to adopt behaviors more adapted to success and victory and thus behaviors qualified as
masculine. The logic of performance would then surpass traditional gender roles.
Nevertheless, males and females would not accede to this state in the same way, as
indicated by the significant gender × competitive level interaction. Male players involved
in departmental level displayed instrumental aggressive behaviors more than players
involved in regional level, and the latter less than players involved in national level, this
process occurring both in handball and soccer. For female players, on the contrary,
instrumental aggressive behaviors increased linearly as the competitive level rose, both in
handball and soccer. Aggressive behaviors being generally perceived as more appropriate
for men than women, male players did not hesitate to use such illegitimate behaviors
from the lowest competitive level, contrary to female players. But at a departmental
competitive level, players did not use such behaviors in a strategic way, due to their poor
technical abilities (Coulomb & Pfister, 1998). Control and "efficient" use of such
aggressive behaviors (as tools for performance) necessitate experience and improvement
of technical competencies. Female players did not use such behaviors in departmental
level, because they contradict their gender roles, but progressively adopted this strategic
use of aggressive behaviors, contextual forces overriding fair play and appropriate gender
attitudes. Future research could explore the reasons given by female players involved in
national competitive level to use aggressions. Are aggressions actually perceived as
necessary for victory by female players? In depth interviews could be very relevant to test
Gender, Competitive Level, Sport Type, and Aggression
Our last hypothesis dealt with a gender difference in aggression, being less important in
handball than in soccer. The findings actually tend to confirm our assumption even if the
gender differences remain significant in all the cases. Significant Chi-squared tests
suggest different distribution of instrumental and hostile aggressive behaviors among
handball and soccer and male and female players. On the other hand, the variance
explained by gender in soccer is more important than the variance explained in handball.
Finally, the increase of instrumental aggressive behaviors for female players when the
competitive level rises incites one to believe that gender role can be challenged by a
performance-oriented logic. But Theberge (1994) pointed out that the studies in gender
role conflict perspective presented some methodological and conceptual problems not
considering competitive level and sport type. In accordance with Theberge, we think that
gender role conflict may be more or less important and active, and so more or less easy to
challenge, depending on the context. Thus, soccer is a quasi exclusively masculine sport
in France: Men represent 97.6% of players, as most of the coaches and the referees,
contrarily to handball that is largely feminized, so much with regard to players (35% are
female players) than coaches and referees. Consequently, female soccer players, and
more particularly those involved in the highest competitive level, are faced to a double
conflict: that of traditional gender stereotypes giving little value to this sport for girls,
challenging with the interest for this activity; the choice of their participation in this sport
already goes against established norms. And on the other hand the conflict of efficiency
requirement (highlighting the role of aggression, especially for national competitive
level) compared with adopting socially non-desirable behaviors for girls (aggressive
behaviors). Solving these conflicts is never satisfactory: Either they lose their feminine
identity adopting behaviors not appropriate to expectations and social norms, but which
are part of a performing game (aggressive behaviors: choice from handball female
players). In this case, they are often treated as tomboys or accused of being lesbians
(Young, 1997). Either they keep their feminine identities and adopt behaviors more
compliant with social expectations (less aggressions: choice from soccer female players)
and they are accused of not playing soccer, but their "own kind of game." In some sports,
this choice is not even possible since an adjusted sport is imposed as in ice-hockey with
adjusted rules for feminine practice (contacts and body-checking are limited). Theberge
(1997) showed that if some female players accepted this state matter reducing contacts
and aggressions, others on the contrary regretted they could not say they practice the
same activity as men.
Future research could explore how female soccer players involved in the highest
competitive level perceive and are affected by this double gender role conflict and if
some personal or environmental factors, such as ego-orientation, moral reasoning, or
coaches' expectations affect these perceptions and orientations. Are all female players
concerned with this double conflict or do some of them not feel it the same way?
Go to section
Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis.
Biernat, M. (1991). Gender stereotypes and the relationship between masculinity and
feminity: A developmental analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Behavior, 61, 351-
CrossRef, Medline, ISI
Bredemeier, B. J. (1978). BAAGI: Instrument to assess instrumental and reactive
aggression. Proceedings of the international symposium on psychological assessment in
sport (pp. 136-145) Netanya, Israel: Wingate Institute for Physical Education and Sport.
Bredemeier, B. J. (1985). Moral reasoning and the perceived legitimacy of intentionally
injurious sport acts. Journal of Sport Psychology, 7, 110-124.
Bredemeier, B. J. (1994). Children's moral reasoning and their assertive, aggressive, and
submissive tendencies in sport and daily life. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology,
Buss, A. H., & Perry, M. (1992). The Aggression Questionnaire. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 63, 452-459.
CrossRef, Medline, ISI
Carpenter, P. J., & Yates, B. (1997). Relationships between achievement goals and the
perceived purposes of soccer for semi-professional and amateur players. Journal of Sport
and Exercise Psychology, 19, 302-311.
Chaumeton, N. R., & Duda, J. L. (1988). Is it how you play the game or whether you win
or lose? The effect of competitive level and situation on coaching behaviors. Journal of
Sport Behavior, 11, 157-174.
Cohn, L. D. (1991). Sex differences in the course of personality development: A meta-
analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 252-266.
CrossRef, Medline, ISI
Colley, A., Roberts, N., & Chipps, A. (1985). Sex-role identity, personality, and
participation in team and individual sports by males and females. International Journal of
Sport Psychology, 16, 103-112.
Conroy, D. E., Silva, J. M., Newcomer, R. R., Walker, B. W., & Johnson, M. S. (2001).
Personal and participatory socializers of the perceived legitimacy of aggressive behavior
in sport. Aggressive Behavior, 27, 405-418.
Coulomb, G. (1996). Etude comportementale et motivationnelle de l'agression dans les
sports collectifs: Comparaison des pratiques féminines et masculines [Behavioral and
motivational study of aggression in team sports: Comparison of female and male
practices]. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Faculty of Sport Sciences, University of
Coulomb, G., & Pfister, R. (1998). Aggressive behaviors in soccer as related to
competitive level and time: A field study. Journal of Sport Behavior, 21, 222-231.
Cox, R. H. (1985). Sport psychology: Concepts and applications.
: W. C. Brown Publishers.
Csizma, K. A., Wittig, A. F., & Schurr, K. T. (1988). Sport stereotypes and gender.
Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 10, 62-74.
Deaux, K., & Lafrance, M. (1998). Gender. In D. Gilbert & S. Fiske (Eds.), Handbook of
social psychology (Vol. 1, 4th Ed., pp. 788-827).
: McGraw Hill.
Duda, J. L., Olson, L. K., & Templin, T. J. (1991). The relationship of task and ego
orientation to sportsmanship attitudes and the perceived legitimacy of injurious acts.
Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 62, 79-87.
Duru-Bellat, M. (1997). La socialisation familiale différentielle des enfants, garçons et
filles: Une synthèse de la littérature européenne et anglo-saxonne [The differential family
socialization of children, boys and girls: a synthesis of the european and anglo-saxon
literature]. Carrefours de l'Education, 3, 93-107.
Duru-Bellat, M., & Jarousse, J.-P. (1996). Le masculin et le féminin dans les modèles
éducatifs des parents [Masculine and feminine in parents' educational models]. Economie
et Statistiques, 293, 77-93.
Eagly, A. H., & Steffen, V. J. (1986). Gender and aggressive behavior: A meta-analytic
review of the social psychological literature. Psychological Bulletin, 100, 309-330.
CrossRef, Medline, ISI
French Soccer Federation (2003). French Soccer Federation website: http://www.fff.fr.
Goodger, M. J., & Jackson, J. J. (1985). Fair play: Coaches' attitudes toward the laws of
soccer. Journal of Sport Behavior, 8, 34-41.
Hyde, J. S. (1984). How large are gender differences in aggression? A developmental
meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 20, 722-736.
Jöneskog, K., & Sörbom, D. (1999). LISREL (Version 8.30) [Computer Software].
: Scientific Software International.
Kirker, B., Tenenbaum, G., & Mattson, J. (2000). An investigation of the dynamics of
aggression: Direct observations in ice hockey and basketball. Research Quarterly for
Exercise and Sport, 71, 373-386.
Koivula, N. (1995). Ratings of gender appropriateness of sports participation: Effects of
gender-based schematic processing. Sex Roles, 33, 543-557.
Koivula, N. (2001). Perceived characteristics of sports categorized as gender-neutral,
feminine and masculine. Journal of Sport Behavior, 24, 377-393.
Loughead, T. M., & Leith, L. M. (2001). Hockey coaches' and players' perceptions of
aggression and the aggressive behavior of players. Journal of Sport Behavior, 24, 394-
Lytton, H., & Romney, D. M. (1991). Parents' differential socialization of boys and girls:
A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 109, 267-296.
Masters, W., Johnson, V., & Kolodny, R. (1982). Human sexuality.
: Little Brown.
Meaney, K. S., Dornier, L. A., & Owens, M. S. (2002). Sex-role stereotyping for selected
sport and physical activities across age groups. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 94, 743-749.
CrossRef, Medline, ISI
Messner, M. A. (1990a). When bodies are weapons: Masculinity and violence in sport.
International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 25, 203-220.
Messner, M. A. (1990b). Boyhood, organized sports, and the construction of
masculinities. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 18, 416-444.
Ministry of Youth and Sports (1999). Assises nationales Femmes et Sport , rapport
d'étape du groupe 4: Analyse des pratiques sportives des femmes [National conference
Women and sport , group 4 stage report: analysis of women sport practices].
Mai, Paris (France)
Nixon, H. L. (1997). Gender, sport, and aggressive behavior outside sport. Journal of
Sport and Social Issues, 21, 379-391.
Pfister, R., & Sabatier, C. (1994). Les interactions agressives dans la pratique sportive des
jeunes [Aggressive interactions in youth sport]. Enfance, 2-3, 215-232.
Rascle, O., Coulomb, G., & Pfister, R. (1998). Aggression and goal orientations in
handball: influence of institutional sport context. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 86, 1347-
Rascle, O., Coulomb, G., & Pfister, R. (2000). Communications verbales d'entraîneurs et
comportements d'agression de jeunes joueurs en handball: Quelles relations? [Coaches'
verbal communications and young players' aggressive behaviors in handball]. Avante, 6,
Riemer, B. A., & Visio, M. E. (2003). Gender typing of sports: An investigation of
Metheny's classification. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 74, 193-204.
Ryan, K., Williams, J. M., & Wimer, B. (1990). Athletic aggression: perceived
legitimacy and behavioral intentions in girls' high school basket-ball. Journal of Sport and
Exercise Psychology, 12, 48-55.
Scully, D., Reilly, J., & Clarke, J. (1998). Perspectives on gender in sport and exercise.
The Irish Journal of Psychology, 19, 424-438.
Sheldon, J. P., & Aimar, C. M. (2001). The role aggression plays in successful and
unsuccessful ice hockey behaviors. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 72, 304-
Silva, J. M. (1980). Assertive and aggressive behavior in sport: A definitional
clarification. In C. H. Nadeau, W. R. Halliwell, K. M. Newell, & G. C. Roberts (Eds.),
Psychology of motor behavior and sport (pp. 199-208).
: Human Kinetics Publishers.
Silva, J. M. (1983). The perceived legitimacy of rule violating behavior in sport. Journal
of Sport Psychology, 5, 438-448.
Stephens, D. (1998). Aggression. In J. L. Duda (Ed.), Advances in sport and exercise
psychology measurement (pp. 277-292).
: Fitness Information Technology.
Stephens, D., & Bredemeier, B. J. L. (1996). Moral atmosphere and judgments about
aggression in girls' soccer: Relationships among moral and motivational variables.
Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 18, 158-173.
Tenenbaum, G., Stewart, E., Singer, R. N., & Duda, J. (1996). Aggression and violence in
sport: An ISSP position stand. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 27, 229-236.
Theberge, N. (1994). Toward a feminist alternative to sport as a male preserve. In S.
Birrell & C. L. Cole (Eds.), Women, sport and culture (pp. 181-192).
: Human Kinetics Publishers.
Theberge, N. (1997). "It's part of the game": Physicality and the production of gender in
women's hockey. Gender and Society, 11, 69-87.
Tucker, L. W., & Parks, J. B. (2001). Effects of gender and sport type on intercollegiate
athletes' perceptions of the legitimacy of aggressive behaviors in sport. Sociology of
Sport Journal, 18, 403-413.
Vallerand, R. J., Deshaies, P., & Cuerrier, J. P. (1997). On the effects of the social
context on behavioral intentions of sportsmanship. International Journal of Sport
Psychology, 28, 126-140.
Weinstein, M. D., Smith, M. D., & Wiesenthal, D. L. (1995). Masculinity and hockey
violence. Sex Roles, 33, 831-847.
Worrell, G., & Harris, D. V. (1986). The relationship of perceived and observed
aggression of ice hockey players. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 17, 34-40.
Young, K. (1997). Women, sport and physicality. International Review for the Sociology
of Sport, 32, 297-305.
Full Text HTML
Full Text PDF (186 KB)
Rights & Permissions
Journal of Applied Social Psychology
Volume 36 Issue 2 Page 493-504, February 2006
To cite this article: Rebecca Nash, George Fieldman, Trevor Hussey, Jean-Luc Lévêque,
Patricia Pineau (2006) Cosmetics: They Influence More Than Caucasian Female Facial
Journal of Applied Social Psychology 36 (2) , 493–504 doi:10.1111/j.0021-
Prev Article Next Article
You have full access rights to this content
Cosmetics: They Influence More Than Caucasian
Female Facial Attractiveness
Rebecca NashaaBuckinghamshire Chilterns, University College1,
George FieldmanaaBuckinghamshire Chilterns, University College,
Trevor HusseyaaBuckinghamshire Chilterns, University College,
Jean-Luc LévêquebbL'Oreal Recherche France and
Patricia PineaubbL'Oreal Recherche France
Buckinghamshire Chilterns, University College
L'Oreal Recherche France
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rebecca Nash.
Department of Psychology, Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College, High
Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, HP11 2JZ. E-mail: email@example.com
Go to section
The study explored whether 4 Caucasian women would be evaluated differently on 4
social measures depending on whether they were presented with or without makeup.
Participants—152 men and 171 women—were split into 2 groups and were presented
with the women's facial photographs either with or without cosmetics. Women presented
wearing cosmetics were perceived as healthier and more confident than when presented
without. Participants also awarded women wearing makeup with a greater earning
potential and with more prestigious jobs than the same women without cosmetics. The
results suggest that women can successfully employ cosmetics to manipulate how they
are assessed, which may be advantageous in social situations where women may be
judged on their appearance, such as job interviews.
It has been shown elsewhere that cosmetics have a beautifying effect on the facial
attractiveness of Caucasian women (Cash, Dawson, Davis, Bowen, & Galumbeck, 1989;
Miller & Cox, 1982). While these studies looked at the effect of cosmetics on the
attractiveness of young (18–27 years) college students, Mulhern, Fieldman, Hussey,
Lévêque, and Pineau (2003) studied the impact of makeup on women in their 30s. In
accordance with previous studies, Mulhern and colleagues found both male and female
participants to judge female faces as more attractive when they were shown wearing
makeup. Further exploration demonstrated that eye makeup and foundation were the most
significant contributors to the enhancement of female facial attractiveness. The current
study was designed to explore several questions that arose in relation to the results of this
The authors argued that cosmetics could play a significant part in increasing
attractiveness because they may, in part, enhance facial symmetry (Mulhern et al., 2003).
For instance, foundation could create uniform skin texture and conceal imperfections,
while eye makeup and lipstick may increase the bilateral size and symmetry of the eyes
and lips (Aucoin, 1997; Johnson, Gross, & Stone, 1997; Quant, 1996). Increased
symmetry has been associated elsewhere with the perception of attractiveness in the faces
of both sexes (Perrett et al., 1999). Interestingly, symmetrical faces are also judged to be
healthier than less symmetrical faces (Jones et al., 2001). It is possible, therefore, that by
using cosmetics to enhance their attractiveness, women are also manipulating their facial
symmetry, resulting in a healthier appearance. This effect may be useful for presenting a
fit and dynamic character, which may be particularly advantageous in a prospective
employment setting. Consequently, the first aim of this investigation was to explore
whether images of women wearing cosmetics would be judged to be healthier than
images of the same women presented without makeup.
Mulhern and colleagues (2003) employed a professional beautician to prepare their
study's female volunteers to be photographed under different cosmetic conditions. The
volunteers took pleasure in this procedure and reported a greater sense of well-being and
confidence after the makeover. The authors considered that the positive impact of the
application of cosmetics on the volunteers could have led them to feel and look more
confident when they were photographed and this may have contributed to the perception
of increased attractiveness under the cosmetics condition. Research has shown that when
assessing their own attractiveness, women rated themselves as more attractive and had
more favourable bodily self-perceptions when wearing makeup than when not wearing
cosmetics (Cash et al., 1989). Furthermore, the more women appeared to believe in the
beautifying effect of cosmetics, the more makeup they tended to apply on a daily basis
(Cash et al., 1989; Franzoi, 2001). Self-conscious women are more likely to wear
cosmetics than less self-conscious women and report that they believe their social
interactions are more pleasurable when they wear makeup (Miller & Cox, 1982). Hospital
patients with a range of medical conditions, such as disfigurement or depression,
expressed enhanced self-evaluations after a makeover. They exhibited greater confidence
and participated more frequently in social activities (Graham, 1985; Holme, Beattie, &
Fleming, 2002). It is possible, therefore, that by helping women feel more comfortable
with their physical appearance, cosmetics may indirectly result in women's projecting an
air of confidence and self-belief. Mulhern and colleagues argued that this psychological
disposition could have contributed to women's being perceived as more attractive when
they are wearing makeup. As a result, the second aim of the current investigation was to
investigate whether images of women wearing makeup are perceived to be more
confident than images of the same women without makeup.
The notion that cosmetics may improve women's psychological self-perceptions may
have interesting behavioral implications. It is possible that by wearing cosmetics, women
manipulate their mood and behavior, which could influence how they are evaluated by
others. This outcome could be particularly salient in situations in which appearance is
important, such as in a job interview (Fatt, 2000). It has been shown elsewhere that
educated Caucasian American women living in urban areas use cosmetics as a status
symbol. This female demographic group spends significantly more on expensive
cosmetic brands than less educated women from ethnic minorities or women from
suburban areas (Chao & Schor, 1998). It is possible therefore that by wearing makeup
women may enhance their perceived social position, which again may be favorable in a
number of social contexts.
However, contrary to this proposition, a study on the use of cosmetics in a professional
context found that makeup might not necessarily convey a good impression. When
comparing the professional competence of women with and without makeup, women
wearing cosmetics were judged to be less competent and designated lower salaries than
women without makeup (Kyle & Mahler, 1996). The authors explain these results by
suggesting that participants perceive women with makeup as more feminine. In turn,
femininity is negatively associated with assertiveness and self-reliance and therefore has
a detrimental effect on the perception of a woman's possible competence. Interestingly,
further analysis of this effect suggests that it is significant only for women applying for
lower status professions, such as secretarial positions. Wearing cosmetics did not
influence the perception of competence in women applying for prestigious positions, such
as accountancy (Cox & Glick, 1986). These data appear to be consistent with Chao and
Schor's (1998) proposition that cosmetics use may be linked to female social status.
Subsequently, the third aim of this investigation was to examine whether the professional
evaluation of women would differ depending on whether they were shown with or
In sum, the study presented here sought to examine whether wearing cosmetics may
influence perceptions of women's health, confidence, earning potential, and professional
class. In conjunction with the data presented above, it was predicted that women wearing
makeup would benefit from increased facial symmetry and improved skin texture and
would therefore be judged to be healthier than the same women without makeup. It was
further hypothesised that the beneficial impact of cosmetics on women's mood would
lead them to be rated as more confident than when they were presented without makeup.
Finally, due to the influence of cosmetics on the perception of professional status (Chao
& Schor, 1998; Cox & Glick, 1986), it was predicted that women wearing cosmetics
would be rated as having greater earning potential and as having more prestigious
professions than the same women without cosmetics.
Go to section
Different faces may be evaluated differently on a number a social traits. To ensure that
the effect of makeup was measured rather than the appearance of a single person, four
Caucasian female volunteers were recruited to produce materials. The larger proportion
of prior research used female college students to explore the effects of cosmetics (Cash et
al., 1989; Cox & Glick, 1986; Franzoi, 2001; Miller & Cox, 1982). It is possible that
cosmetics have different effects on different age groups, and so, to expand the field of
knowledge, Mulhern et al. (2003) chose to use women aged between 31 and 38. To
follow this example, the volunteers used in this study were aged between 31 to 35 years
(M=33 years). This age group was also considered more adequate than college student
samples, favored by previous researchers, for the measurement of earning potential and
The ethnicity of volunteers often remains unspecified in other studies on cosmetics. This
study chose to use only the faces of Caucasian women. The primary aim of the
experiment was to investigate the effect of cosmetics on the perception of health,
confidence, earning potential, and professional class on women in their 30s. It was
considered that people's ethnic stereotypes could be a source of bias when assessing these
measures, and in order to control this potential source of variation, only Caucasian
women were selected. Furthermore, women of different ethnic groups utilize different
cosmetic products, particularly in terms of color. Using women from a single ethnic
group reduced the potential variability that could be caused by different product usage.
As suggested by Chao and Schor (1998), Caucasian women are more likely to use
cosmetics as a status symbol than women of other ethnic groups, and therefore the
influence of cosmetics on this group, in terms of earning potential and professional class,
may be of particular interest. The consequences of restricting the ethnic representation of
volunteers will be discussed below in conjunction with the methodological constraints of
The four volunteers were photographed under two conditions: with and without makeup.
To ensure that all faces were as similar as possible from the outset, a professional
beautician began cosmetic application by cleansing and moisturising the volunteers' faces
with "all-skin-type" products. After the first set of photographs was taken, the beautician
treated each volunteer individually, applying makeup so as to enhance the attractiveness
of each individual. Volunteers were photographed in color using a high-resolution digital
camera. They each wore a white headband to keep their hair away from their face,
removed all jewelry, and wore a black bib to mask their clothes. They were also asked to
sustain a relaxed, neutral expression while being photographed. All the volunteers gave
written consent allowing their photographs to be used for experimental purposes.
The aim of this experiment was to assess the impact of cosmetics against four social
measures: Health, Confidence, Earning Potential, and Professional Class. Rating one
image at a time, participants were asked to choose the answers that they thought were
best suited to the woman depicted. Health and Confidence were both rated on 7-point
Likert scales (1=very unhealthy or unconfident, 7=very healthy or very confident).
Earning Potential was rated by predicting the depicted woman's earnings in 5 years' time.
This was measured on a 7-point attitudinal scale ranging from very much above national
average to very much below national average. The final question assessed participants'
perception of the women's professional class. Rose and Pevalin (2001) developed the
British National Statistics Socio-Economic Classification (NS-SEC) system, which uses
professional occupations as a measure of social status. It has been employed for
sociological surveys on social class, for instance, to examine which social groups are
most prone to ill health and mortality. It has been found that higher instances of ill health
and mortality are associated with lower class professions rather than more prestigious
employment. In contrast to previous social scales, the NS-SEC measures professional
class by taking into account employment status and organizational size and combines
professions of similar status to form a hierarchical scale, ranging from the directors of
large organizations to the unemployed (Rose & Pevalin, 2001).
To evaluate the effect of cosmetics on the perception of female professional class, nine
professions were selected to represent social status. Three professional classes were
selected to represent different social scales. Three jobs were selected to represent High
Status—accountant, architect, and company director; another three were chosen to
characterize Average Status—bank clerk, customer service, and graphic designer. Three
professions were selected to represent Lower Status—childminder, cleaner, and factory
worker. Finally, "Unemployed" was added as the 10th option. The 10 options were
presented beside each image, and participants were asked to choose the profession they
thought the woman depicted was most likely to have. By seeing only the job descriptions,
participants had no explicit knowledge that it was professional class that was being
A Web-based questionnaire was designed and displayed on a psychological research site
(http://psych.hanover.edu/Research/exponnet.html), inviting participants to take part. The
test pages were tested on a number of browsers to ensure homologous presentation. The
initial test page informed participants that the experiment would require respondents to
evaluate four women on a number of social measures. Participation would be undertaken
on a voluntary basis. It was further stated that part of the experiment would require
respondents to answer some personal questions about themselves, such as age, sex, and
ethnic origin. They were assured that these questions were an essential part of the study
and that their results would remain entirely anonymous and confidential. Participants
were further advised that they could terminate their involvement in the experiment at any
time by closing their browser. If they were content with this briefing they could proceed
to the test page by clicking a "Start Study" link.
The respondents started the survey by filling in a number of personal questions (i.e., age,
sex, nationality, and ethnic origin) and were then randomly assigned to one of two
groups. One group viewed the four women with makeup; the other group viewed the
same women with no makeup. Each photograph appeared alongside four questions, each
one referring to one of the social measures described in the previous subsection.
Certain guidelines have been suggested for implementing research on the Internet
(Bonfadelli, 2002; Nosek, Banaji, & Greenwald, 2002; Schmitt, 1997). One possible
danger associated with Web-based questionnaires is the possibility that participants may,
either intentionally or unintentionally, repeat the experiment. To control for possible
duplications, the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (numbers used by the Internet to
identify computer servers) returned with the response data were monitored. Only four
possible instances of IP duplication were found, and as a precaution, the eight responses
involved were deleted. Another difficulty is the possibility of participants' altering their
answers once they have learned the nature of the study. To address this, the questionnaire
was designed so that the nature of the experiment was revealed only once the participants
had submitted the questionnaire and no longer had access to their results. They were,
however, given the e-mail address of the researcher if they wished further information.
Obtaining informed consent from minors presents another methodological difficulty for
Web-based questionnaires. It was considered that participants could be tempted to lie
about their age if they were told that only participants over the age of 18 were permitted
to undertake the study. As the experiment was unlikely to have any harmful or ethical
consequence to underage participants, participants of all ages were permitted to complete
the test. Data returned from participants under the age of 18 were automatically flagged
Having excluded responses from participants under the age of 18, 152 male (Without
Cosmetics n=75; With Cosmetics n=77) and 171 female (Without Cosmetics n=80; With
Cosmetics n=91) participants remained. The mean age of female participants was 33.22
years (Without Cosmetics M=31.75 years; With Cosmetics M=32.69 years) and that of
male respondents was 33.05 years (Without Cosmetics M=33.73 years; With Cosmetics
The majority of respondents were Caucasian. In the With Cosmetics condition 26
participants described themselves as of non-Caucasian origin, 16 within the female
participant group and 10 within the male group. Under the Without Cosmetics condition
18 participants described themselves as of non-Caucasian origin, 9 within the female
participant group and 9 within the male group.
Go to section
For analysis, the professions allocated to each image were translated to their social class
coding—High, Average, Low, and Unemployed. This converted the results into
categorical data, and consequently the results were analyzed using chi-square. Analysis of
data revealed that wearing makeup had a significant impact on the rating of a woman's
professional class, χ2 (3, N=1,292)=19.981, p=0.000. The percentage allocation of the
four employment categories (Figure 1) revealed that women wearing cosmetics were
more likely to be assigned a high- or average-status profession than women without
makeup (high status: women With Cosmetics=21.1%, women Without
Cosmetics=16.3%; average status: women With Cosmetics=46.9%, women Without
Cosmetics=39.8%). By contrast, women without cosmetics were more likely to be
assigned a low-status job or unemployed professional status than women with cosmetics
(low-status: women Without Cosmetics=37.4%, women With Cosmetics=26.8%;
unemployed: women Without Cosmetics=6.5%, women With Cosmetics=5.2%).
Splitting the results by participant sex revealed that the significant effect of cosmetics on
the perception of Professional Class was generated by male participants, χ2 (3,
N=608)=17.645, p=0.001, rather than female respondents, χ2 (3, N=684)=3.133, p=0.060.
The attitudinal scale employed to assess Earning Potential was converted to a 7-point
Likert scale for analysis. The mean results for Earning Potential, Health, and Confidence
are illustrated in Figure 2. It was considered that participant age could influence ratings of
these measures, and participant age was introduced as a covariate for further analysis of
variance. The covariate participant age was found to have a significant effect on
judgments of Earning Potential, F(1, 322)=6.830, p=0.009. After the effects of participant
age were controlled for, cosmetics still produced a significant effect on participants'
judgments of women's future Earning Potential, F(1, 322)=5.191, p=0.023. When
presented without cosmetics, women were assigned lower Earning Potential (M=3.813)
than when they appeared wearing cosmetics (M=4.034). The sexes were not found to
differ in the way they perceived female Earning Potential.
Cosmetics had a significant effect on the perception of Health, F(1, 322)=14.101,
p=0.000. Mean scores demonstrated that the volunteers were judged as healthier with
cosmetics (M=4.708) than when they were presented without cosmetics (M=4.324).
Again, the sexes did not differ in their perceptions of female health.
Finally, cosmetics were found to significantly influence the perception of Confidence,
F(1, 322)=16.670, p=0.000. Mean scores demonstrated that the volunteers were judged as
more confident when presented with cosmetics (M=4.623) than when presented without
cosmetics (M=4.274). Participant sex was not found to have a significant effect on the
perception of female confidence.
Go to section
When examining the effect of cosmetics on four social measures the current results
supported experimental predictions. Images of women wearing makeup were judged to
be healthier and more confident than the images of the same women without makeup.
When wearing cosmetics women were also assigned greater Earning Potential and
considered to have more prestigious jobs than when they were presented without makeup.
Previous experimentation has revealed that cosmetics have been found to enhance the
perception of Caucasian female facial attractiveness (Mulhern et al., 2003). It was
suggested above that cosmetics could contribute to the perception of attractiveness by
enhancing facial symmetry. It was hypothesized that this side effect might lead a face to
be judged as healthier, which may have an indirect effect on the perception of
attractiveness. The results obtained did support this proposition, as women were judged
to be healthier when wearing cosmetics than without.
In accordance with predictions, wearing cosmetics was found to have a significant impact
upon participants' ratings of female confidence. An intriguing question remains as to
whether this effect is genuinely caused by the physical change brought about by the
application of makeup or as a consequence of the general increase in positive self-
perception women experience when wearing cosmetics. The volunteers within this study
did report feelings of enhanced well-being and improved self-worth when prepared by the
beautician. It is possible that this change in self-perception is reflected in the photographs
despite the retention of a neutral expression. This question could be resolved by using
computer image manipulation to investigate whether makeup renders faces more
confident while avoiding the potential confound caused by volunteers' responses to the
application of cosmetics by a beautician. Makeup could be applied digitally onto
cosmetic-free female faces, rather than directly onto a volunteer.
Women were assigned greater earning potential and more prestigious jobs when they
were presented wearing cosmetics. These results contradict prior research that suggested
that cosmetics could have a detrimental effect on the perception of a woman's earning
power and professional competence (Kyle & Mahler, 1996) but support the suggestion
that cosmetics could be associated with the perception of social status (Chao & Schor,
1998). However, despite the fact that both men and women assigned women with makeup
greater earning potential, male participants alone were responsible for the allocation of
more prestigious jobs. This appears to suggest that men associate cosmetic use with
formal office-based professions (as exemplified by their favoring of high- and average-
status jobs) and not with less bureaucratic jobs such as factory work or childminding
(low-status professions). As cosmetics users themselves, women may hold different
attitudes towards the use of makeup. Women may wear cosmetics for many reasons, such
as to enhance their appearance and bolster their self-perception, and cosmetics may
therefore not be specifically associated with office-based work environments. As a result
women may be less likely to associate cosmetics with specific professions. This
dichotomy between the sexes may warrant further exploration.
It is important to stress that this experiment observed the effect of cosmetics solely on
Caucasian women, and therefore the generalization of the results can only be applied to
this demographic group. Furthermore, the majority of participants were from Great
Britain and the United States, and as a result the data can only be shown as reflecting
Western responses to cosmetics. It is entirely possible that these perceptions may differ
cross-culturally, a prospect that may be worthy of further research.
When preparing the volunteers, the professional beautician was instructed to apply
makeup in a way that enhanced the looks of each woman. There was consequently a
degree of variation in the colors employed, though these remained fairly conservative. It
is possible that women would be evaluated differently depending on which types of
cosmetics they choose to wear. For instance, would the application of very "naturalistic"
makeup increase the perception of health, but not necessarily confidence, or professional
class? Inversely, would bold colors enhance the perception of confidence, but not health?
These distinctions may benefit from further investigation.
In terms of methodology, employing independent participant groups to rate the two
cosmetics conditions (with or without makeup) was useful in disguising the true nature of
the study. It is doubtful that the respondents would have guessed that it was the impact of
cosmetics that was being measured, and this therefore reduced the possibility of
participants' responding in a biased way. Despite the use of independent measures to
assess the effect of cosmetics, it remains possible that the participants may have gleaned
insight into the aims of the experiment. However, a pilot of this experiment was
performed before the actual experiment was conducted, and test participants (6 women
and 6 men) claimed not to have guessed the intent of the experiment prior to debriefing.
This suggests that the effect of cosmetics on people's perceptions of women in their 30s
was measured reliably.
The authors found that using the Internet to implement the study was useful in providing
a sample of a greater age and cultural range than those traditionally found in university
student samples. Though other researchers have found participant samples recruited
through Internet surveys to be comparable to, and perhaps even more reliable than, those
selected by traditional means (Buchanan & Smith, 1999), it is worth considering that the
Web site where the study was advertised was used by students and lecturers in
psychology—though not exclusively—who may be less naïve than a general-population
Go to section
This investigation sought to explore whether wearing cosmetics would influence the way
Caucasian women were perceived. The outcome suggests that makeup has a beneficial
impact upon the perception of a woman's earning potential, professional class, health, and
confidence. The results suggest that women can therefore employ cosmetics to
manipulate their appearance and, in so doing, may also benefit from a boost in positive
self-perception and well-being that appears to be associated with wearing makeup.
Feeling confident about one's appearance may be particularly valuable in facilitating
social interactions, especially during recruitment opportunities, when conveying a good
first impression is so important.
Go to section
Aucoin, K. ( 1997). Making faces.
Bonfadelli, H. ( 2002). The Internet and knowledge gaps: A theoretical and empirical
investigation. European Journal of Communication, 17 (1), 65- 84.
Buchanan, T., & Smith, J. L. ( 1999). Using the Internet for psychological research:
Personality testing on the World Wide Web. British Journal of Psychology, 90, 125- 144.
CrossRef, Medline, ISI
Cash, T. F., Dawson, K., Davis, P., Bowen, M., & Galumbeck, C. ( 1989). Effects of
cosmetics use on the physical attractiveness and body image of American college women.
Journal of Social Psychology, 129, 349- 355.
Chao, A., & Schor, J. B. ( 1998). Empirical tests of status consumption: Evidence from
women's cosmetics. Journal of Economic Psychology, 19, 107- 131.
Cox, C., & Glick, W. ( 1986). Resume evaluation and cosmetics use: When more is not
better. Sex Roles, 14, 51- 58.
Fatt, J. P. T. ( 2000). Attractiveness and outcome of job interviews. Management
Research News, 23 (1), 11- 18.
Franzoi, S. L. ( 2001). Is female body esteem shaped by benevolent sexism? Sex Roles,
44, 177- 188.
Holme, S. A., Beattie, P. E., & Fleming, C. J. ( 2002). Cosmetic camouflage advice
improves quality of life. British Journal of Dermatology, 147, 946- 949.
Synergy, Medline, ISI
Jones, B. C., Little, A. C., Penton-Voak, I. S., Tiddeman, B. P., Burt, D. M., & Perrett, D.
( 2001). Facial symmetry and judgements of apparent health: Support for a good genes
explanation of the attractiveness-symmetry relationship. Evolution and Human
Behaviour, 22, 417- 429.
Kyle, D. J., & Mahler, H. I. ( 1996). The effects of hair colour and cosmetic use on
perceptions of a female's ability. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 447- 455.
Miller, L., & Cox, C. ( 1982). For appearance's sake: Public self-consciousness and
makeup use. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 748- 751.
Mulhern, R., Fieldman, G., Hussey, T., Lévêque, J.-L., & Pineau, P. ( 2003). Do
cosmetics enhance Caucasian female facial attractiveness? International Journal of
Cosmetic Science, 25 (4), 199- 205.
Nosek, B. A., Banaji, M. R., & Greenwald, A. G. ( 2002). E-research: Ethics, security,
design and control in psychological research on the Internet. Journal of Social Issues, 58
(1), 161- 176.
Perrett, D. I., Burt, D., Penton-Voak, I., Lee, K., Rowland, D., & Edwards, R. ( 1999).
Symmetry and human facial attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behaviour, 20, 295-
Rose, D., & Pevalin, D. J. ( 2001). The National Statistics Socio-economic Classification:
Unifying official and sociological approaches to the conceptualisation and measurement
of social class (ISER Working Paper No. 2001-4). Colchester, UK: University of Essex.
Schmitt, W. C. ( 1997). World-Wide Web survey research: Benefits, potential problems
and solutions. Behaviour Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 29 (2), 274-