More Makeup Equals … More Competence on the Job?

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Makeup’s most obvious purpose is to boost the attractiveness of women. A new study also shows that people perceive women to be more trustworthy and competent when they wear more makeup.

The study, which just so happens to have been paid for by Procter & Gamble (makers of CoverGirl, among other cosmetics), was designed and administered by respected researchers from Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, among other institutions. Participants were asked to look at the faces of women with varying levels of makeup—none, minimal, professional, and glamorous—and then rate them for attractiveness, competence, likeability, and trustworthiness.

When the participants were shown the faces quickly and asked to make a snap judgment—which happens all the time in the real world—the ratings were higher in all categories for the faces with more makeup. Even when participants were given unlimited time to examine the faces, those with more makeup (even when done up in “glamorous” style) were rated higher in terms of competence than the barefaced no-makeup look.

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It’s not news that appearance plays a role in career success and lifetime earnings. One U.K. study showed that blonde women earn more money than brunettes and redheads, even after removing factors including height, weight, and education. Another study theorized that beautiful people are happier mainly because their good looks helped them become wealthier than the general population.

On the one hand, makeup can be viewed as a strategy to hide or cover something up—which might lead the observer to judge the individual with more makeup as less trustworthy. But, so long as the makeup isn’t over the top and applied in Joker-like fashion, cosmetics seem to make women not only more attractive, but capable, likeable, and worthy of trust as well.

Why is this? Why wouldn’t people be more inclined to view the natural, no-nonsense, no-makeup faces as more competent and trustworthy? There’s no definitive explanation. For whatever reason, human beings respond more positively to women who are attractive, or who at least make efforts to make themselves more attractive. At the very least, makeup demonstrates that you care—about your appearance, and perhaps by extension a customer, client, boss, or co-worker.

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In any event, Procter & Gamble must be happy with the results, which make a strong case for wearing more makeup. As Sarah Vickery, one of the study’s authors, told the New York Times, makeup …

“can significantly change how people see you, how smart people think you are on first impression, or how warm and approachable, and that look is completely within a woman’s control, when there are so many things you cannot control.”

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.