A new study found that both males and females perceive women wearing makeup as more attractive. They also see a woman’s makeup as a sign of greater interest in casual sex, something which scientists say doesn’t actually reflect reality. Psychologists call this a ‘false signal’.
Sociosexual orientation, or sociosexuality, is the individual difference in the willingness to engage in sexual activity outside of a committed relationship. Evolutionary personality psychologists classify men and women on sociosexual orientation between the extremes of unrestricted (more comfortable with casual sex with different partners) and restricted (prefer sex with a partner in a long-term, exclusive relationship).
Compared to sociosexually restricted individuals, people with a more unrestricted sexuality are more likely to engage in sex at an earlier point in their relationship, have sex with more than one partner a time, and be involved in relationships characterized by less investment, commitment, love, and dependency.
Just like any other personality trait, sociosexual orientation is relatively stable over the course of an individual’s lifetime. In other words, people are generally either sociosexually restricted or unrestricted, in various degrees, for most of their lives. And, while men, in general, are more unrestricted in sociosexual orientation than women, the variance within each sex is much greater than the variance reported between men and women.
But we can sometimes misinterpret a person’s personality traits, including how sexually open or reserved they are. Carlota Batres, a psychologist at Gettysburg College in the US, along with colleagues, asked 182 people to judge the sociosexual orientation of 69 young adult women of European descent.
The more makeup the women pictured in photos were wearing, the more likely they were to be perceived as attractive, but also sexually unrestricted by both male and female participants.
When the 69 women were surveyed regarding their sociosexual orientation, the researchers could not find any association between the trait and the time or resources spent on makeup. Simply put, makeup had no influence on how sexually open a woman actually was.
“Targets’ self-reported sociosexuality was not associated with their makeup habits, with observer ratings of the amount of makeup they wore, or with observer ratings of their sociosexuality when attractiveness was controlled. Thus our study shows that people use makeup as a cue for perceiving sociosexuality but that it is an invalid cue,” the researchers reported in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
So it seems like this is an example of wishful thinking — men who see an attractive female may be too optimistic regarding the woman’s sociosexual orientation and, in the grand scheme of things, her willingness to mate with the man. Attractive qualities, not makeup itself (an enhancer), might constitute the false signal.