Alumni Authors

Sarah S. Kramer '17, Gettysburg College

Caroline G. DeAngelis '17, Gettysburg College

Document Type


Publication Date


Department 1



Previous studies have found a positive effect of cosmetics on certain behavioral measures, such as the tip given to waitresses by male patrons. These studies have employed confederates who usually wear cosmetics. We therefore sought to examine whether the positive effect found in these studies could, in part, be explained by a change in behavior. In order to test the possibility of a ‘cosmetics placebo effect’, we employed a confederate to solicit donations from passersby. On some days our confederate would not have any cosmetics applied to her face (i.e., no cosmetics condition), on some days cosmetics were pretended to be applied to her face (i.e., placebo cosmetics condition), and on other days cosmetics were actually applied to her face (i.e., cosmetics condition). In line with previous research, we found that across conditions men donated significantly more than women to our female solicitor, providing support for the ‘showoff hypothesis’, in which male generosity serves as a mating tactic. When investigating men’s donations in more detail, we found that the highest percentage of donations came in the cosmetics condition, followed by the placebo cosmetics condition, and then by no cosmetics condition. The effect of condition on donation rates, however, was not statistically significant. Our study was limited to one solicitor and one dependent variable (i.e., percentage of people approached who donated) and therefore future research would benefit from using more confederates as well as examining other behavioral measures. Given the influence of cosmetics use on so many real-world outcomes, we believe that further exploration into a possible ‘cosmetics placebo effect’ would be valuable.

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