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Despite pressure to look pretty, ASU study finds women who work at it are judged as being less moral

More time on makeup means you could be judged as less moral, ASU study finds.
March 12, 2018

Research by professor, student reveals that high-effort 'beauty work' is frowned on

Women can’t win, it would seem.

While society puts intense pressure on them to look attractive, new research at Arizona State University has found that women who try hard to look good are perceived as being less moral.

The dispiriting results were revealed by a research project that measured people’s judgments of women who put a lot of effort into makeup and hairstyling to enhance their appearance. The paper, “How Beauty Work Affects Judgments of Moral Character and Consumer Preferences,” was recently published in the Journal of Consumer Research and was written by Adriana Samper, an assistant professor of marketing at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU; her co-author, Linyun W. Yang of the University of North Carolina; and Michelle Daniels, a doctoral student in marketing at the W. P. Carey School of Business.

“It was kind of depressing because there was this total paradox,” Samper said.

“There are so many incentives to look attractive but you shouldn’t actually seem like you’re trying to look attractive because then people won’t trust you. They’ll see you as less moral.”

Research has already shown the benefits of the “beauty premium,” she said.

“People who are more attractive get lower prison sentences, earn more money and are perceived as more socially adept and confident,” she said.

Adriana Samper is an assistant professor of marketing at the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

So Samper and Yang created a package of seven online studies looking at how people perceive effort at “beauty work,” defined as makeup and hair styling that women do themselves. The subjects read vignettes about women’s beauty routines and, in one of the studies, looked at photos. The vignettes described a morning routine for a woman who spent either an hour and 45 minutes (high effort) or 10 minutes (low effort) on beauty work.

The moral judgments were based on two factors, Samper said: “It has to be transformative and it has to be transient. It has to make you look different and not last for a long time.”

Respondents were judging that the women who used high effort were “misrepresenting” themselves by changing their appearance in a transient way, she said.

Some of the results were:

• Women who exerted “high effort” on beauty work were rated as being less moral, less likely to engage in moral behaviors, such as returning a lost wallet, and more likely to engage in immoral behaviors, such as inflating their expense reports, than women who had “low-effort” beauty routines.

• Women who expended a lot of effort on skin care, such as using cleansers and moisturizers, were not judged to be less moral because those actions don’t change short-term appearance.

• When the respondents looked at photographs, women who were of average attractiveness and used high effort in beauty work were judged as less moral than women who were already attractive and also used high effort.

• Women who exercised so they could look better were not judged to be less moral, because the effect was not short-term.

• Moral judgments were mitigated when the high-effort beauty routine was for a specific reason, such as a job interview or a social event. In that case, the woman was not perceived to be less moral.

Daniels said that one of the pre-tests showed respondents’ bias toward “low effort” beauty routines.

“Everyone said they spent less time than the average. Clearly, there was this idea that they didn’t want to talk about it,” she said.

Michelle Daniels is a doctoral student in marketing in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU.

Daniels joined the project as part of her honors thesis for her undergraduate marketing degree in 2013. She was involved in a study that tested perceptions of an actual makeup brand by women who use cosmetics. They saw the items with one of two marketing slogans: “Being Yourself Matters” or “First Impressions Matter.” The women who saw the “first impressions” version were more likely to buy the products, aligning with the concept that it’s OK to put effort into transforming your appearance for an external goal.

The research has real-world use for cosmetics marketing, Samper said.

“A lot of ads will emphasize how effortless something is: ‘Spend a few moments and you can look flawless.’ Or they’ll say that it taps into your natural appearance, so it doesn’t feel like it’s a big change,” she said.

Samper was on the team that produced research published last year about products, such as cupcakes and napkins, that consumers consider “too pretty to use” because of the effort that went into creating them.

“… While people value the effort put into making a product beautiful, they frown upon certain types of effort that go into making a person beautiful,” the current paper concludes.

One variable that the team didn’t include in this research was perceptions of plastic surgery, and Daniels will likely pursue that angle in her dissertation.

“Plastic surgery is in this domain where it can be seen as not effortful, because it can be a quick fix, but you are undergoing surgery and it’s long lasting.

“There something really interesting there.”

Top photo courtesy of

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News


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There's more to food choice than meets the stomach

March 12, 2018

ASU assistant professor studies how food labeling and consumer choice affect health and sustainability

As lunchtime nears, stomachs grumble and howl. That hangry sensation can claim control, overriding our ability to consider anything beyond satisfying the emptiness within. But beneath the surface, a wide variety of economic, social, cultural and ethical factors influence our decisions about what foods to pack in our lunchboxes or what snacks to grab from the store.

For Carola Grebitus, these thoughts are often at the forefront of her mind. Grebitus is an assistant professor of food industry management at Arizona State University, and her research through ASU’s Morrison School of Agribusiness includes the regular digestion of topics such as food labeling and consumer choice, and how both of these affect health and sustainability.

Before moving to the U.S. from Germany, Grebitus pursued a unique course of study called oecotrophologie, which combines food science, food economics and home economics. Given her appetite for cross-sector work, Grebitus has found ASU to be the perfect fit for her wide array of research interests.

“Being at ASU is so great because it is so interdisciplinary — it’s encouraged to work interdisciplinary and not just in a niche. For me that’s awesome,” she said.

Putting money where our mouths are

Grebitus’ research methods come from a field known as experimental economics, which uses experimental methods to explain economic ideas. Grebitus focuses on determining the actual willingness to pay for a more sustainable product.

Picture yourself striding down the aisle at your go-to grocery store. You see $3-per-pound locally grown, organic heirloom tomatoes on your left and $1-per-pound conventionally grown tomatoes in front of you. If asked on a survey, you might say you would purchase the sustainable $3-per-pound tomato. You care about the planet, after all. But experimental economics incentivizes consumers to answer truthfully by requiring an actual purchase. You might choose cheaper tomatoes when real money is at stake.

Sometimes, however, labeling can make consumers willing to pay more. In a study on beef purchases, Grebitus and her colleagues found that consumers who did not know the United States Department of Agriculture definition of “natural” would pay over a dollar more per pound for beef labeled as such. Those who knew the definition were not willing to pay a cent more, unless “natural” was combined with other labels such as “no growth hormones.”

To face the grocery aisles with confidence, Grebitus recommends understanding labels, in addition to considering the origin and seasonality of products.

Where we get our food matters

Origin labeling indicates the country in which many fresh foods (such as produce and some meats) were produced. Grebitus feels confident in the safety of her homeland’s products and in American food, too.

“When it’s from Germany I’m just assuming that they were audited and therefore it’s fine, and I would assume the same in the U.S. if it is grown here,” she said. “I have done a lot of research on trust. I trust U.S. farmers, I trust the Food and Drug Administration, I trust that everything is controlled.”

Yet she has found that her faith is not shared as widely amongst consumers. In a recent study, Grebitus and a doctoral student found that consumers trust farmers significantly more than food manufacturers and the government when it comes to food safety practices.

Of course, locally produced foods also travel less distance to reach your plate, which reduces pollution and carbon emissions from transporting them. Seasonality is another factor that plays into reducing these “food miles.” If you buy foods during seasons when they are not grown locally, they must be imported from somewhere with a different climate. For example, blackberries and blueberries are fruits of the summer — buying them in the spring would necessitate many additional miles of rubber on the road. (Check out this seasonal produce guide to make sustainable and in-season purchases.)

Urban farming in Phoenix

Urban farming can connect city dwellers with their food. A vacant lot in downtown Phoenix was transformed to a community space, including urban farming, as part the PHXRenews initiative.

Urban farming growing fast

One increasingly popular way to access locally grown, seasonal foods is through urban farming. Urban farmers grow crops and raise animals within and around cities. Grebitus is currently engaged in a cross-disciplinary project on urban farming, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the USDAUrban farming research at ASU is supported by USDA-NIFA, Grant No. 2015-67003-23508 and NSF-MPS-DMS, Award No. 1419593. .

In the study, mathematicians, geographers and agricultural economists are developing a physics-based model to predict the impacts of increased urban agriculture. The final results of this study will reveal environmental, economic and socioeconomic impacts of developing urban agriculture in certain areas. Grebitus’ role specifically involves examining the social and economic aspects of urban farming to understand how it will affect neighborhoods and the environment.

“If you have agriculture in the city, you can lower the temperature of the urban heat island, but can it be successful from a business standpoint?” she said. “How can we get consumers to accept or even participate in urban agriculture, for example, by buying or growing their own food at urban farms?”

By supporting urban farming, consumers can get to know their local farmers or even become farmers themselves. This involvement can bring awareness to the high labor demands in the food production sector and expose the reality of choices and demands we make as consumers.

“Personally, I find it important that consumers or citizens aren’t so alienated when it comes to food production because the perception of farming and actual food growing is really different! So to get people to see how much labor goes into producing food would be really beneficial — and might alleviate some of their demands, many of which are often not aligned with the prices they are willing to pay,” Grebitus said.

The growing popularity of community gardens is a notable step in heightening awareness and encouraging consumer involvement. ASU’s Polytechnic campus boasts its very own Poly Gardens. Grebitus also admires the model of Agritopia, a neighborhood in Gilbert that practices traditional farming and has its own farm-to-table restaurant, Joe’s Farm Grill. On the menu, diners find appealing and healthy food choices — from a mouthwatering gouda garlic bacon burger stack to hand-breaded zucchini slices, all sourced directly from the surrounding farm.

Paying attention to what we eat and why

Grebitus also believes that nutrition education is a crucial step in promoting healthier diets. She suggests that we get people back in the kitchen by reinstating cooking lessons.

“It’s a big skill and I think so many people don’t really know how to cook anymore,” she said. “I feel like I learned so much from my parents and grandparents in terms of preparing meals. For me that is where nutrition education really would start.”

Although Grebitus’ research on sustainable eating and healthy food choice naturally encourages healthy eating habits, her guilty pleasure food will always be Nutella.

Laughing, she admitted, “I am not always as influenced by my research as I probably could be.”

And while we all have our one guilty pleasure (or more), Grebitus’ findings serve as food for thought to be digested as we consume our daily meals.

“I would hope that people are encouraged to eat healthier,” she said. “Also, that we have less food waste and more environmentally friendly behavior, and recognize how important the production sector is, the farming sector, how much work goes into it, and to be supportive of that.”

ASU offers a wide array of resources to support healthy eating and sustainable choices, including events and the Live Well blog. ASU also practices menu labeling to promote conscious meal choices and provides countless opportunities for staying active.

This article was written by Samantha Matta. Top photo courtesy