Sexy and Smart? How Hot Pics Lower Perceived Intelligence


It is no secret that society puts a lot of pressure on young women to look attractive. Research has suggested that the way women are portrayed in media has contributed to factors such as poor self esteem and even severe conditions such as eating dsorders (Gulas & McKeage, 2000). It is no secret that advertisers, television shows, movies, the fashion industry…basically everyone inundates young women with images of sexy ladies wearing little to no clothing. It should be no surprise then, when women see these images and internalize them.
And, so, they do. Young women imitate the images that they see in magazines, on television, and on the internet.
Unfortunately, for young women, this attempt to be what they think society wants them to be is also a double-edged sword.
A study done by Oregon State University reveals that women who post sexy or revealing photographs of themselves online are viewed as “less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks” (Study, 2014).
The researcher, Elizabeth Daniels, created two Facebook profiles for a fictitious 20-year-old named Amanda Johnson. In both profiles, “Amanda” said to like things that would be normal for her age such as The Notebook and the Twilight series. The only thing that was different was her picture. In one picture, “Amanda” is wearing a low cut dress. In the other profile, she’s wearing a t-shirt, scarf, and jeans (Study, 2014)
A group of women, both in high school and post high school were randomly assigned one of the profiles to look at. They then rated “Amanda” on her physical attractiveness, social attractiveness, and task competence.
In all three areas, women scored the sexy-photo version of “Amanda” lower (Study 2014).
Of course, the flip side is that women who portray themselves like the non-sexy version of Amanda miss out on other awards, such as attention from men.
The study really highlights a whole slew of societal issues.
First, the study had women judging other women on appearance, and they were obviously quick to cut this “woman” down based on nothing other than an outfit. We often judge women solely based on their appearance, which is disappointing, but it’s extra disappointing when it comes from other women.
Second, it highlights the lose-lose situation women often find themselves in. Either they embody the sexy women they have been raised to think society values and get cut down by their fellow women, or they go against societal norms and are often subjected to negative comments from men.
Finally, the study highlights how judgmental we can be as a society Maybe low cut dresses aren’t appropriate work attire, but in an environment such as Facebook, where we aren’t at a job interview, it’s unfortunate that people are still ready to make judgments based on only appearance.
At any rate, it is time to encourage women to be comfortable in their own skin, and to teach everyone that it is what’s on the inside that matters.

(2014). Study: young women with sexy social media photos seen as least competent. Oregon State University News & Research Communications. Retrieved from

Gulas, Charles & McKeage, Kim. Extending social comparison: an examination of the unintended consequences of idealized advertising imagery. Journal of Advertising, XXIX (2), 17-28

3 thoughts on “Sexy and Smart? How Hot Pics Lower Perceived Intelligence

  1. This makes me think of that video we had to watch in class on the lady who ‘hacked’ a dating site. She made a comment about having to ‘speak’ the language of virtual courtship bios–something like use under 100 words, include words like ‘fun’, ‘like to have a good time’, and most poignant of all having to glam up her picture. It just makes me think about how different it is what we desire on the outside of a person and later demanding what’s more important on the inside. Thanks for sharing Anne.


  2. Yes, this too reminds me of the Ted Talk we watched about online dating. I think society’s interpretation of how women are suppose to be perceived is whats ultimately influencing how women especially in younger generations think they are suppose to dress and act.


  3. It’s an interesting post. Although we all know we shouldn’t live our life according to others judgement, we sometimes can’t help to modify our behaviors and appearances based on others’ comment if we try to become a part of the society. I guess this is the power of advertisement.


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