Understanding the Cognitive Benefits of Makeup


Makeup has long played a role in American society, particularly for women. But when you study the benefits of wearing makeup, an evolving body of research suggests that these perks aren’t just physical. They actually provide many cognitive benefits as well.

The Psychology Behind Makeup

Cosmetic products are designed for beauty. They can accentuate key features, cover up blemishes, or enhance perception. But while much of the discussion surrounding makeup is attached to the perceptions of others, it has just as much of an impact on the wearer.

How much of an impact depends on the individual, but here are some interesting revelations:

  1. Makeup Influences Perceptions

For starters, research clearly shows that makeup influences the perceptions of others, which ultimately comes back to benefit the wearer. This increases confidence and creates a cycle of success. But the irony is that people don’t even have to actually be wearing makeup to get these results. Sometimes picturing yourself wearing makeup is enough.

In a study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, researchers asked 42 female college students to imagine themselves in a variety of situations. Some were asked to think of themselves wearing makeup, while others were told to imagine they were not wearing makeup. The study showed that those wearing “imaginary” makeup tended to be more self-confident and sociable.

Other studies have shown that women wearing makeup are perceived as being more attractive, which makes them more likely to be hired for jobs. This leads to greater health and financial success.

  1. Makeup Enhances Performance

Whether it’s lip gloss, eye shadow, or nail polish, cosmetics products are designed to help people feel like the best, most attractive versions of themselves. Of course, this naturally has an impact on confidence, which ultimately drives performance in other areas as well. Makeup does wonders for a person’s confidence.

Researchers often call this the “lipstick effect,” and it’s supported by multiple research studies. One of the more famous was carried out by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Chieti in Italy.

In this study, female undergraduate students were placed into multiple groups and given a series of tests to complete. These tests consisted of answering multiple choice questions from a school textbook.

Before taking the test, members of the first group were asked to apply makeup. Members of the second group listened to upbeat music. Individuals in the third group colored a drawing of a human face.

The results of the test showed that, while those listening to positive music performed slightly better, it was the makeup group who performed significantly better than the other two groups. The researchers believe this shows a concrete connection between makeup and cognitive performance.

This increased cognitive performance is likely a result of mental stability. When an individual is at peace with who she is, she’s freed from external pressures and is able to focus on the task at hand. This generally leads to more favorable results.

  1. Makeup Boost Self-Esteem

Makeup clearly benefits an individual’s self-esteem, but it’s not necessarily a “more is better” equation. In fact, less makeup often has a greater impact than more makeup.

When someone wears lots of makeup, they’re generally trying to hide some sort of perceived flaw. This usually indicates self-esteem issues that need to be dealt with in other ways. Makeup isn’t going to provide enough tangible results to make a difference.

When someone wears just a little bit of makeup, they’re usually trying to accentuate features that are naturally beautiful. As a result, they feel even more confident in who they are. In this case, makeup serves as a complementary product.

It’s important to note that makeup doesn’t provide a permanent boost in self-esteem. Instead, it provides a momentary boost that can be leveraged for immediate results.

Set Yourself Up for Success

It’s also important to note that makeup is what you make it. Just as many women find it provides cognitive benefits, others discover that it’s emotionally taxing. As is often the case, there’s a fine line between the two.

“Women who feel that makeup use is obligatory but unwanted, that it requires a forced confrontation with the mirror when they’d rather put their attention elsewhere, do not feel more confident after using it,” explains Nancy Etcoff, assistant clinical professor at Harvard Medical School. “Research suggests that women can feel objectified by makeup, and for such women, any potential advantage may be offset by the emotional labor of wearing it.”

It’s important for you, as an individual, to form a personal opinion on makeup. If it makes you feel good, wear it. If it holds you back, don’t. Just know that your beauty and grooming habits affect more than your outward appearance. As research shows, they also influence your inward feelings.

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