Do Images of Attractive Women Influence Behaviour?
Images of beautiful of models are often used on websites to get attention and sell product. This is probably because sex is one of our strongest and most basic instincts. We sometimes make decisions on the possibility of having sex, having more sex or being more sexually attractive. However, brand guardians sometimes challenge the use of pictures of attractive women as distracting and not consistent with the brand.
Women and the game of chess:
If used inappropriately images of glamorous women can certainly be counter productive and reduce conversion. But what does the evidence show regarding the power of beautiful women on men? Let’s take chess, one of the most rational and strategic games that one can play. Should the physical characteristics of an opponent you play at Chess affect your performance?
As heterosexual men tend to produce more testosterone when in the presence of a beautiful woman, researchers wanted to understand if this would induce them to take more risk when playing chess against a woman they find physically attractive. To test this hypothesis they got a group of adults to rate the attractiveness of accomplished chess players aged between twenty-five and thirty-four using official competition head shots. They then analysed data from hundreds of chess games between 1997 and 2007 to see how male players perform when drawn against a physically attractive female competitor.
The study used two indicators of riskiness during a chess match. Firstly, the riskiness of each player’s opening moves. Statistics shown that certain opening moves are much more risky than others. Secondly, whether the game ended in a draw. Draws are risk-averse because two experienced chess players can easily steer a game towards a draw with little chance of losing or winning the match.
The research results confirmed that male chess players who were drawn against attractive female competitor tended to use riskier opening moves and were much less likely to draw their matches. Their risky game play also meant that the male competitors lost more matches compared to their counterparts who were playing members of their same sex or less attractive females.
Statistics show that men are more than three and half times more likely to suffer a fatal accident than women. Evolutionary psychologists suggest that this is a direct result of men taking more risks to impress women. Researchers in Australia decided to put this to the test in a Brisbane skate boarding park.
They asked almost a hundred skateboarders to complete a number of easy and difficult tricks whilst being monitored by an experimenter. As the more difficult tricks have a higher chance of injury skateboarders are normally more likely to abort these moves to avoid injury.
The researchers recorded how many tricks were successfully completed, but also how often the skateboarders aborted the more difficult routines. Initially a male researcher monitored the performance of the skateboarders, but later on he was replaced by an attractive 18 year-old female experimenter. The ability of the skateboarders to complete the easy tricks was not affected by the sex of the experimenter. However, for the more difficult routines the presence of the female researcher led to the skateboarders to fail more tricks and abort a lot less often.
They also measured the testosterone levels of the skateboarder immediately after they completed their tricks by taking a sample of their saliva. As expected the testosterone levels of the participants in the study who performed in front of the female experimenter were significantly higher. The research findings confirmed that mating instincts were triggered by the attractive female experimenter and this led them to abort fewer tricks that were doomed to fail.
Are women a distraction?
However, is this type of behaviour due to sexual arousal or simply distraction? To answer the question three psychologists decided to study the earning power of eighteen topless models who worked at an Albuquerque lap-dancing club. As lap dancers earn most of their money comes from tips the researchers wanted to understand if men tipped models purely because of their attractiveness or were evolutionary motivations relating to the ability to bear children also at play.
The analysis demonstrated that men were subconsciously giving more generous tips to models who were fertile, but not taking the contraceptive pill and so had the ability to conceive. The average income of models who were not taking the pill peaked at $355 during the fertile oestrus phase, compared to $260 during the infertile luteal phase and only $185 when they were menstruating. These large differences in earnings were not present for those women who were taking the pill.
The research findings concluded that men were responding to subtle “leaked cues” when women were in their fertile phase. Men appear to be more pretentious and likely to flaunt their wealth when in the presence of a women who is biologically able to conceive.
Can men predict their behaviour when aroused?
In 2001 researchers at Berkeley collaborated with the behavioural economist Dan Ariely to explore how well men are at predicting how they respond when aroused. Students were asked to indicate what their sexual and moral decisions would be in a variety of somewhat odd sexual activities.
Participants were asked the same questions when they were in a normal unaroused state, and also again when in a state of high sexually arousal. The researchers found that respondents predicted that their willingness to participate in a range of more risky and odd sexual behaviours increased by around three quarters (72% higher).
Ariely’s study concluded that when men are unaroused they are in-capable of accurately predicting their desire to engage in different sexual activities. Once they are aroused though conservatism, morality, prevention and protection appear to completely disappear from their thoughts.
Are Men more Impulsive When Shown Images of Attractive Women?
Further, research by psychologists Margo Wilson and Martin Daly found that when men are shown images of attractive women they become more impatient and prone to impulsive decisions. The images put men in a mating frame of mind which causes them to discount future rewards more and seek instant gratification.
Discounting is the process where we reduce the value of benefits we could receive in the future against what we can get now. Men generally have a higher discount rate than women (i.e. men are more short-term focused). The psychologists hypothesized that men have evolved a higher discount rate than women because successful reproduction requires much greater and prolonged investment by women.
Implications for digital marketing:
- When appropriate images of beautiful women can help improve engagement and sell product. Men are more likely to act impulsively and take risks when shown such images. This is ideal for products and services which offer the potential for instant gratification such as music and movie download sites, online games, casinos, loans and credit cards.
- People relate to other people and we have a tendency to associate attractive people with intelligence and honesty. Use images of attractive people to convey relevant emotions and context to your product or service.
- Although we like to think of ourselves as rational, logical thinkers, in reality we are not. Sure we are driven by explicit goals (e.g. we need a cold drink), but our brand choice is driven by implicit or psychological goals (e.g. adventure, enjoyment, safety etc – see Decode goal map below), what we think other people are doing, context (i.e. what we are doing & our environment), habit and our emotions. Use images to create positive context and emotions for your brand by communicating how it will help them meet important psychological goals.
- A/B test different models to see which ones resonate most with your audience. Adore Me, a lingerie website, discovered through testing that blonde models reduce conversion, props are a distraction, but couches are fine. The model can be more important than price as even a $10 price cut won’t encourage a customer to buy if an item is worn by a model they don’t like.
- Through their A/B testing results they also found that popular models can help sell more expensive versions of the same item which can potentially add millions to the revenues.
- Where your target audience is men and you want to discourage risky behaviour avoid using beautiful models to arouse visitors. For example where your product requires using current disposable income to put money aside for future gain, such as pensions and long-term investments, using images of attractive women could be counter productive.
- So, attractive women do influence behaviour, whether we are male or female. The evidence is fairly conclusive and suggests that we can improve conversion by using appropriate images of beautiful women on websites to engage visitors and convey relevant contextual and emotional cues. When you can though A/B test images as if you use the wrong image this can have a detrimental impact on conversion.
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- About the author: Neal provides digital optimisation consultancy services and has worked for brands such as Deezer.com, Foxybingo.com, Very.co.uk and partypoker.com. He identifies areas for improvement using a combination of approaches including web analytics, heuristic analysis, customer journey mapping, usability testing, and Voice of Customer feedback.
- Neal has had articles published on website optimisation on Usabilla.com and as an ex-research and insight manager on the GreenBook Blog research website. If you wish to contact Neal please send an email to email@example.com. You can follow Neal on Twitter @northresearch, see his LinkedIn profile or connect on Facebook.