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Preteen girls who dress in sexualized clothing are judged as less competent and less moral than kids in age-appropriate garb, new research finds.
Earlier studies have found that adult women who dress in revealing clothing are seen as less competent than women who are more buttoned-up. One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in November even found that scantily clad men suffer similar judgment。
Clothing for young girls has become increasing sexualized, said Sarah Murnen, a social psychologist at Kenyon College in Ohio and the senior author of the new study. Last year, a study by Murnen and colleagues found that 30 percent of children's clothing at major retailers had sexualizing characteristics。
The researchers recruited 162 students, 106 of them women, to view photographs of a prepubescent blonde white girl wearing one of three different outfits and rate them on traits such as competence and intelligence. In the "childlike" condition, the girl wore a gray shirt with ruffled sleeves, jeans and Mary Jane-style shoes. In the "ambiguously sexualized" condition, the girl wore a modest-length dress with a leopard-print pattern — a pattern that is often associated with sexy clothes, but is not overtly sexual。
In the final condition, the girl wore an obviously sexualized outfit: a very short dress with a leopard-print cardigan and purse。
In some photos, the girl was described as an average fifth-grader who enjoys reading and is a member of the student council. In others, she was described as being a top reader at the top of her class and president of the student council。
Describing the girl as a higher achiever did prompt people to rate her as more intelligent and capable, as you might expect, Murnen said. But across the board, people's rankings of the girl's capability, competence, determination and intelligence dropped when she wore the obviously sexualizing outfit. They also ranked her as having lower self-respect and less morality than more modestly dressed versions。
In fact, when the researchers asked participants for feedback after the experiment, many were quite aware of their judgments。
"I formed my assumptions based on her outfit even after being aware of her accomplishments," one woman wrote。
"Seems like a caricature of a Bratz doll," wrote another man, referring to a line of sultry-eyed, mini-skirted fashion dolls. "Overall first impression isn't strong."