Exemplar Study: How Does Attire Influence Perceptions of Women in the Workplace? (Factorial Design)

This study sought to determine if a woman’s appearance influences perceptions of her ability to perform a job. Undergraduates rated photographs of women as part of a 2 (Career: office assistant vs. CEO ) X 2 (Appearance: professional attire vs. sexual attire) design. Participants rated photos along several dimensions such as grade point average, organizational skills, leadership, dependability, and intelligence. The findings, that a sexually dressed CEO was perceived most negatively, replicated a previous study.

Wookey, M. L., Graves, N. A., & Butler, J. C., (2009). Effects of a sexy appearance on perceived competence of women. The Journal of Social Psychology, 149, 116-118. doi:10.3200/SOCP.149.1.116-118

Discussion Starters:
• What are the design elements (IV, DV) and operational definitions?
• What are the potential confounds?
• What are the strengths and weaknesses of the study design?
• Would these findings generalize to other types of jobs? Provide examples to support the ideas.
• Could other types of attire lead to unfavorable impressions? Provide examples to support the ideas.
• How could the researchers measure the participants’ perceptions without using self-report? Why might new measures be a good idea?
• In what contexts can appearance be negative for men? Provide examples to support the ideas.

In-class Activities:
• Ask students how they could study similar variables using confederates. What contexts would work? How would the confederate(s) need to act?
• Give students a general research question: What other factors might influence perceptions of an individual? As a class or in small groups, generate a feasible and ethical study to test their ideas.
o Suggestions in case students get stuck: how the presence of a tattoo influences helping behavior, how the appearance of a professor influences
students’ perceptions of the professor, how the appearance of a college application influences acceptance, how a student’s appearance influences a
professor’s perception of the student.

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