Female intrasexual competition: Self-promotion, social media, sabotage and spending

Melinda Williams

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

12032 Downloads (Pure)


People seek partners, pair up, reproduce, and rear offspring. The selection of the optimal mate is integral to maximising the benefits of partnership, hence people exhibit sophisticated physical and psychological mechanisms signalling adaptations to these challenges. Opposite-sex attraction and intrasexual competition are the two broad processes interacting to maximise reproductive success. In this thesis I explore ways in which women compete with other women to secure and retain high quality partners and the resources such partners contribute.
In the first study I explored the combined effects of makeup and ovulation on ratings of female faces on characteristics related to intrasexual competition (like physical attractiveness, flirtatiousness) and characteristics not expected to be related to intrasexual competition (like trustworthiness and conscientiousness). Women were found to rate faces as more physically attractive than men. Women rated faces with makeup as more attractive than bare faces, and this was especially true for women with low intrasexual competitiveness. Intrasexual competitiveness negatively predicted attractiveness ratings of made-up faces for women, but positively predicted attractiveness ratings of made-up faces for men. Contrary to predictions, women and men both rated non-fertile bare-faces as more physically attractive than fertile faces but differences decreased with makeup, suggesting that makeup obscured the effect of ovulation. Ratings on non-competitive characteristics like conscientiousness and trustworthiness, were not affected by intrasexual competitiveness.
In the second study I explored the use of social media as a vector for female intrasexual competition. Firstly, using a mock-up Instagram feed I investigated the effect of mate value and intrasexual competitiveness on participants’ likelihood of posting, “liking” or commenting on different types of photos, and secondly by analysing the actual photos posted by a subset of consenting participants. More competitive women were less likely to “like” another woman’s photo of herself, but more likely to post a solo-appearance photo of their own. In the second study, high mate value-high intrasexual competitiveness caused a decrease in number of photos posted. But for low and medium mate value women, photos posted increased with increased intrasexual competitiveness, suggesting that those women who have the most to gain by manipulating/curating their online image are the ones who post more photos on Instagram. Overall, in both studies, men were more likely to post photos of luxury products than women, while women were more likely to post solo-appearance photos.
In the third study I explored how women sabotage hypothetical hairdressing clients through disingenuous beauty advice which would detrimentally impact the clients’ physical attractiveness. Both lay women and female professional hairdressers cut most hair off women who were of the same-attractiveness level as them. They sabotaged women whose hair was in good condition and had requested a smaller amount cut off to a greater extent than women with hair in poor condition. Client makeup caused lower mate value lay women to cut off less hair, suggesting the dominance incited by women wearing makeup resulted in reduced sabotage. More intrasexually competitive women (including hairdressers) cut off more hair confirming competitor manipulation as an intrasexual competitiveness strategy being employed.
The final study explored conspicuous consumption as a female competitive strategy using women’s spending on non-essential items in two different scenarios – in preparation for a women-only social event to be hosted in their home, and at a charity function. In the first scenario high intrasexual competitiveness resulted in an increase in spending on all three items – the kitchen, the outfit and makeup. Women between 35 and 45 years of age spent more if they had children, but the sexes of the children did not make a difference. In the second study, giving to a charity increased with intrasexual competitiveness, perception of judgement by the women around them and whether there was an audience. Women were compelled to buy more tickets when the women around them spent more. We explain these findings in terms of manipulative consumption in which wealthier women seek to deplete the resources of rivals.
Across this thesis I compare ways in which women compete with rivals and highlight how competitor manipulation (in various forms), though less-explored, is likely to be as important as self-promotion and derogation as an effective female intrasexual competitive strategy.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Sulikowski, Dani, Principal Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2023


Dive into the research topics of 'Female intrasexual competition: Self-promotion, social media, sabotage and spending'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this