Do Images of Beautiful Women Influence Behaviour?
Images of beautiful women are often used on websites to get attention and sell products. 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 images of beautiful 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 attractive. To test this hypothesis they got a group of adults to rate the attractiveness of players between 25 and 34. They 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 show that certain opening moves are much more risky than others. Secondly, whether the game ended in a draw. Draws are risk-averse because two chess players can easily steer a game towards a draw with little chance of losing or winning.
Male chess players who drew against attractive female competitors used riskier opening moves. 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 a 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 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 successful, but also how often the skateboarders aborted the difficult routines. Initially a male researcher monitored the performance of the skateboarders, but later on 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 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 who performed in front of the female experimenter were significantly higher. Mating instincts were triggered which 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? 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 from tips, researchers wanted to understand if men tipped models because of their attractiveness or if there were motivations relating to the ability to bear children.
The analysis demonstrated that men were giving more 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. Compared to $260 during the infertile 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. Could images of beautiful of women trigger similar responses on sites and apps?
Can men predict their behaviour when aroused?
In 2001 researchers at Berkeley and behavioural economist Dan Ariely explored 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 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 arousal. The researchers found that respondents predicted that their willingness to participate in a range of risky and odd sexual behaviours increased by around three quarters (72% higher).
When men are unaroused they are in-capable of accurately predicting their desire to engage in sexual activities. Once in an arousing state conservatism, morality, prevention and protection 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 beautiful 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 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 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 products. 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 others and we have a tendency to associate attractive people with intelligence and honesty. Using images of beautiful women to convey relevant emotions and context to your product or service can be powerful motivators of behaviours.
- 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. belonging, certainty, sexuality etc), what we think other people are doing (herd instinct), context (i.e. what we are doing & our environment), habit and our emotions. Use images of beautiful women to create positive context and emotions for your brand. Sexuality is an important psychological goal.
- 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 and props are a distraction. The model can be more important than price. Even a $10 price cut won’t encourage a customer to buy if an item is worn by a model they dislike.
- Through their A/B testing results they also found that popular models can help sell more expensive versions of the same item. This can potentially add millions to the revenues. So images of beautiful women can help sell more in certain circumstances for products where it is appropriate.
- Where your target audience is men and you want to discourage risky behaviour, avoid using images of beautiful women. 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, images of beautiful women do influence behaviour, whether we are male or female. The evidence suggests that we can improve conversion by using appropriate images of beautiful women to engage visitors and convey contextual and emotional cues. When you can, A/B test images. If you use the wrong image this can have a detrimental impact on conversion.