Sexy Girls have it Easy


Like many women, Caroline has long been suspicious that men are suckers for a pretty woman. So she decided to make her own social science experiment to find out if this is true (for her). First, whilst very plain-looking, she asked for bus and taxi rides, a piece of cake and a drink, for free. She was rejected on every request but one. Then she got fully dressed up with make-up, heels and a revealing dress. This time, she gets everything she asked for, for free.


So what's happening here? I don't think it takes a scientist to explain the obvious, but if you notice, Caroline was asking men for gifts and when she had made herself up to be attractive, men gave her what she asked for. This is in line with evolutionary theory, where men are more likely than women to present gifts to potential mates as signals of their social power, overall possession of (or access to) resources and their suitability as a mate. More attractive women (or in this case, a more attractively-dressed woman) are deemed to be more desirable mates.


But isn't Caroline also using her appearance to advertise her suitability as a potential mate? This experiment is actually a combination of both variables, which cannot be easily separated from each other. (Don't forget, beyond simply being more pleasing to look at, a woman's appearance also has a lot of social associations beyond simply "advertising for a mate").


But there was a very strong confounding variable here. In the video of the experiment you can see that Caroline's body language was dramatically different when her appearance changed. I am fairly sure this was subconscious, but she definitely acted much more confident when wearing clothing that made her appear "sexy" than when she was plain-looking . Do you think her confident behaviour alone might have gotten her more free items and attention than just her appearance?


Maybe context really is everything? This experiment reminds me of another one where in 2007, the Washington Post had one of the greatest violinists in the world, Joshua Bell, play some of the most demanding violin pieces written using a violin worth $3.5 million dollars whilst standing in a Washington DC subway station. Did anyone in the station recognise his talent, his skill, the beauty of his work, or even who he was? In this context, they did not. This is even more astonishing when you learn that just two nights prior, Mr Bell played to a sold out theatre in Boston where the seats averaged $100 apiece.