September 21, 2023

A study suggests that makeup may have little-to-no impact on perceived attractiveness when it comes to dating, but that men and women often project their perceptions of sexual interest onto each other. In other words, people are pretty delusional (just kidding).

The experiment, titled “Calibrated Functional Projection of Sexual Interest: A
Speed-Dating Cosmetics Experiment,” was published by the EVoS Journal to investigate how individuals sense the sexual interest of their dates. Researchers also wanted to determine whether men would be more interested in women who wore more makeup, and if their interests were mutual. The study was done by setting up 76 men and 92 women (all university students) in speed-dating scenarios, totaling 459 dyadic interactions.

The female participants were randomly assigned one of two instructions – to either wear minimal makeup or none at all, or put on full cosmetics with red lipstick. The findings may shock you: Men seemed indifferent to makeup, and they didn’t think that women who were more glammed up were more interested in them than those who were bare-faced.

“Surprisingly, men did not have significantly greater sexual interest in women wearing
more cosmetics as compared to women wearing less cosmetics,” the authors wrote. “Men also did not think women wearing more cosmetics had greater sexual interest than women
wearing less cosmetics. Despite not finding a cosmetics effect, the study replicates prior findings regarding perceptions of sexual interest. More specifically, men and women projected their own levels of sexual interest onto their dating partners.”

Men did not have significantly greater sexual interest in women wearing more cosmetics.

The study found that the natural differences in how attractive women were had a much stronger impact than the makeup. As for the last part, both genders tend to assume that the person they’re sexually interested in feels the same. There are two possibilities for this. For one, it’s possible that when you’re feeling the rise in sex hormones, you’re likely to have rose-colored glasses on. Jill McDevitt, Ph.D., notes that “cognitive overload” could be a reason for this. “The idea is that maybe sexual arousal is the brain equivalent of having too many tabs open, and processes start to get glitchy and shut down,” she said.

The authors also mention how the error management theory (EMT) suggests that humans have evolved to make errors in judgment regarding sexual interest, so they don’t miss out on “opportunities,” so to speak. “This theory suggests that humans evolved cognitive biases resulting from asymmetrical fitness costs of outcomes resulting from false positive and false negative errors in judgment,” they explained. “In the context of mating, EMT has been used to explain why men overperceive the sexual interest of women. According to EMT, over evolutionary history, men who missed sexual opportunities (false negatives) had greater costs than men who perceived sexual opportunities that were not there (false positives), which
should have resulted in the evolution of bias in perception favoring men to see sexual
interest that is not there.”

So, there you have it, ladies – makeup isn’t necessarily enough for attractiveness. The smokey eye, dark liner, and bold, red lipstick are looks we’ve associated with seduction for the longest time. Yet, this study suggests that what makes someone sexy goes beyond cosmetics: compatibility, charisma, and natural features are important factors in how men perceive you.

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