Sunday, September 5, 2010

Pale is Pretty


Let's see, how to make South Beach scientific....hmmmm...

You know I found a paper. It has a pretty amazing title too: "Bronze is beautiful but pale can be pretty: The effects of appearance standards and mortality salience on sun-tanning outcomes." *Grin* See I told ya.

Ok, seriously. A huge number of people expose themselves to harmful amounts of ultraviolet (UV) radiation in an effort to tan their skin. Such exposure can heighten the risk of skin cancer. Why do this? I think we all know. Tanned skin is perceived as physically attractive. I, for one, have been exposed to enough UV radiation and the resulting sunburns (including earlier this summer) to last me a lifetime. This trip, though, the three of us went through three bottles of sunscreen in four days. Sun and skin conscious? Oh yeah.

The introduction of this paper introduces terror management theory (TMT) which argues that "individuals are motivated to live up to culturally derived standards because doing so confers self-esteem, which helps manage the potential for anxiety inherent in the awareness of personal mortality." Translated: People do things they know are not necessarily good or safe in order to live up to society's standards and in doing so it makes them feel better about themselves. Also, there is the terror management health model (TMHM) which "posits that when thoughts of mortality are accessible in the context of health decisions, outcomes should reflect motives oriented toward self-esteem rather than health protection." Translated: Decisions are influenced by how people perceive the behavior to be attractive. Now let's relate that to sun-tanning.

The paper actually consists of two studies:

Study 1 tested whether telling people that a tan is more attractive would increase tanning intentions and whether telling people that "pale is pretty" would reduce tanning intentions. First, they "reminded" 101 female (because they are more likely to report investing self-esteem in their appearance than males are) psychology students of their mortality  Did you pick up on the same bit I did? The reminded of their mortality part? How exactly do you do that anyway? The researchers here used the "Fear of Death Scale" where participants responded either "true" or "false" to 15 items about the extent to which they fear death. Lovely. Next, they had the participants read articles ostensibly taken from a fashion magazine reporting on the appeal of tanned or pale skin. These articles came in three varieties: "Bronze is Beautiful,"  "Style: The Fair-Skinned, Natural Look Is In," and "Style: The Simple Natural Look Is In" (the control group). They featured headshot photographs of tan and fair-skinned celebrities, respectively, along with text on the subject. Afterwards, the participants were asked to complete a five-item assessment of sun-tanning intentions. Study 1 concluded that the effect of mortality salience varied as a function of the article. Women reading articles about how bronze is beautiful showed an increase in their tanning intentions. Similar results occurred with the pale is pretty group. It appears that awareness of what society considers to be attractive greatly influences people's behavior even as it relates to their health, positively or negatively.

Study 2 was conducted on a public beach and tested whether mortality reminders and the "pale is pretty" would increase the desire for sunscreen with a higher SPF and the intention to use it. This study was designed to test Study 1 in a real world setting. The test was conducted at a public beach in South Florida during Spring Break. They recruited 53 Caucasian women to fill out a short survey consisting of a packet of questionnaires containing similar questions to those in Study 1 including the fashion articles. After reading an article the participants were given a questionnaire divided by a line. Above the line was a set of instructions explaining that as a token of appreciation they were to be given a sun product of their choosing upon filling out the below-line portion. After tearing off and handing in the top half they were to fill out the below-line portion which asked them to check a box next to 1 of 10 different skin products characterized by their SPF (50, 45, 30, 15, 10) and whether they were described as sun block or tanning lotion. The participants' sunscreen intentions were also measured by questionnaire. Study 2 concluded that reminders of death increased the level of SPF chosen, and the association between attractiveness and fair skin increased the level of SPF chosen. Also, after people were primed to associate fair skin with attractiveness the reminders of death increased sunscreen use intentions and intentions to use it in the future.

Alright, so how should we start out the letter to the fashion magazines? "Dear Promoters of Skin Cancer..." Well, perhaps we should work on that one.

ResearchBlogging.orgCox, C., Cooper, D., Vess, M., Arndt, J., Goldenberg, J., & Routledge, C. (2009). Bronze is beautiful but pale can be pretty: The effects of appearance standards and mortality salience on sun-tanning outcomes. Health Psychology, 28 (6), 746-752 DOI: 10.1037/a0016388

(image from goddesspraytanning.com.au)
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