The Sweet Color of an Implicit Request: Women's Hair Color and Spontaneous Helping Behavior

Article excerpt

Results of previous researchers' studies on the effect of blond hair color on helping behavior have been inconsistent. In addition, spontaneous helping behavior has not been examined. In this study, female confederates wearing blond, brown, or dark wigs accidentally dropped a glove while walking in pedestrian streets and then walked away, apparently not aware of their loss. It was found that male and not female pedestrians helped the confederates wearing blond wigs more often. An explanation for these results is that a greater degree of youth and good health is associated with women who have blond hair.

Keywords: hair color, implicit request, spontaneous helping behavior, pedestrians, gender.

Previous researchers have focused on the effect of hair color on helping behavior, gaining mixed results. Juni and Roth (1985) asked male and female confederates wearing either brunette or blond wigs to encounter male and female street pedestrians and solicit money. Results showed that the hair color of male and female confederates did not affect helping behavior of either male or female participants. Price (2008) and Guéguen and Lamy (2011) found that blond women who engaged in door-to-door fundraising received more donations than did their brunette counterparts. Lynn (2009) found that higher tips were received by blond-haired waitresses. Guéguen and Lamy (2009) instructed a group of female confederates aged between 20 and 22 years to hitchhike while wearing a blond, brown, or black wig and found that blond hair, compared with brown and black hair, was associated with a small but significant increase in the number of male drivers who stopped to offer a ride. Hair color had no effect on the female drivers who stopped.

These inconsistent results may be explained by different methodological factors. In Juni and Roth's (1985) research, the sample size and attractiveness of the female confederates were not controlled, and blond and dark hair only were evaluated. In Lynn's (2009) study, data were collapsed across the male and female patrons, patron analysis was correlational, and an experimental design was not used. The physical attractiveness of the fundraisers was not controlled in Price's (2008) study and also the race of a potential donor was critical for the effect of hair color on helping. Guéguen and Lamy (2009) found that blond hair color had a positive effect on men's responses to hitchhikers whereas hair color had no effect on women.

To address the issues of methodological differences and divergent results, a more controlled experimental study with a large sample size was undertaken. In addition, the effect of hair color on spontaneous helping behavior had not been previously tested. Most researchers had used compliance of individuals to an actual request by confederates with different hair color, for example, by asking for money or for a ride.

Method

Participants

The participants (N = 600 men and 600 women) were aged between approximately 20 and 50 years and chosen at random while they were walking alone on pedestrian streets.

Procedure

Ten young women (M = 20.8 years, SD = 1.4) were selected as confederates because they were rated by 22 male students to possess an average physical attractiveness and because they all had brown hair. In the three experimental conditions, the three different wigs all had midlength hair and a current style, varying only in the hair color, that is, blond, dark, or brown. Confederates wore similar clothes, that is, neat jeans, sneakers of a light color, and a white figure-hugging shirt. The confederate chose a single participant walking in her direction, while standing in front of a store apparently looking for something in her bag. If the passerby was a child, an adolescent, or an older adult, the confederate ignored them. Once the participant was identified, the confederate began walking in the same direction about three meters ahead of the participant, holding a handbag. …