Physical attractiveness influences the interpretation of harassment

Scientific evidence platform Scientific evidence Physical attractiveness influences the interpretation of harassment


  • Agthe, M., Spörrle, M., & Maner, J. K. (2011). Does being attractive always help? Positive and negative effects of attractiveness on social decision making. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 1042–1054. doi:10.1177/0146167211410355
  • Eagly, A. H., Ashmore, R. D., Makhijani, M. G., & Longo, L. C. (1991). What is beautiful is good, but…: A meta-analytic review of research on the physical attractiveness stereotype. Psychological Bulletin, 110, 109–128. doi:10.1037/0033- 2909.110.1.109
  • Golden, J. H., Johnson, C. A., & Lopez, R. A. (2002). Sexual harassment in the workplace: Exploring the effects of attractiveness on the perception of harassment. Sex Roles, 45, 767–784. doi:10.1023/A:1015688303023
  • Herrera, A., Herrera, M. C., and Expósito, F. (2016). Is the beautiful always so good? Influence of physical attractiveness on the social perception of sexual harassment / ¿Es lo bello siempre tan bueno? Influencia del atractivo físico en la percepción social del acoso sexual. Soc. Psychol. Educ. 31, 224–253. doi:10.1080/02134748.2016.1143179.
  • Cleveland, J. N., & Kerst, M. E. (1993). Sexual harassment and perceptions of power: An underarticulated relationship. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 42, 49–67. doi:10.1006/ jvbe.1993.1004
  • Popovich, P., Gehaulf, D., Jelton, J., Everton, W., Godinho, R., Mastrangelo, P., & Somers, J. (1996). Physical attractiveness and sexual harassment: Does every picture tell a story, or every story draw a picture? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 26, 520–542. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.1996.tb02729.x



One of the variables most related to the process of social perception is physical attractiveness (Agthe, Spörrle, & Maner, 2011). Thus, society tends to assign positive traits to attractive people (Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longo, 1991).

This physical attractiveness also influences the interpretation of harassment, so society does not usually recognize behaviour as sexual harassment when it comes from an attractive physical person (Golden, Johnson and Lopez, 2002).

Participants in the study conducted by Herrera et al. (2016) tended to think that when a physically attractive harass to demonstrate their power (Cleveland & Kerst, 1993). However, when the aggressor is not physically attractive, he is held accountable to a greater extent. Thus there is a social tendency that bullying is reduced when the victim is attractive, and the bully is unattractive (Popovich et al., 1996). This perception is part of the harassment myths related to sexual harassment and physical attractiveness.

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