“Don’t Bother Your Pretty Little Head”: Appearance Compliments Lead to Improved Mood but Impaired Cognitive Performance

Rotem Kahalon, Nurit Shnabel, Julia C. Becker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


We examined whether appearance compliments, despite their flattery, undermine cognitive performance. In Study 1, women participants (N = 88 Israeli university students) who wrote about past situations in which they had received appearance compliments (but not competence-related compliments) showed worse math performance than women in a control/no compliment condition—especially if they scored high on trait self-objectification (TSO). In Study 2, men and women participants (nwomen = 73, nmen = 75 Israeli university students) received bogus occupational evaluation feedback, which did or did not include an appearance compliment. Although appearance compliments led to mood improvement among participants with high TSO, they also undermined math performance among both women and men. Because receiving appearance compliments is a common experience for women (whereas men are typically complimented for their competencies), our findings suggest that appearance compliments serve as a mechanism that might subtly perpetuate gender inequality. For the promotion of societal gender equality, it is important that the public is aware that appearance compliments, even if meant well, may create sexist environments. Online slides for instructors who want to use this article for teaching are available on PWQ's website at http://journals.sagepub.com/page/pwq/suppl/index.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-150
Number of pages15
JournalPsychology of Women Quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, © The Author(s) 2018.


  • appearance compliments
  • cognitive performance
  • objectification
  • subtle mechanisms of gender bias
  • women in math


Dive into the research topics of '“Don’t Bother Your Pretty Little Head”: Appearance Compliments Lead to Improved Mood but Impaired Cognitive Performance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this