Reputational Harm to Women

The Influence of Relationship Status and Sexual Orientation on Reputational Punishment of Other Women’s Behaviour - Amanda Champion, Flora Oswald, Cassandra Hesse, Shelby Hughes, Kailie Brown & Cory L. Pedersen

The denigration of competitors is an evolved strategy used to give the impression that a rival female is less appealing (Buss & Dedden, 1990; Walters & Crawford, 1994). Females denigrate other females principally on appearance and sexual fidelity because males value these qualities in partners (Buss, 1989; Shackelford et al., 2002).  Reynolds and Baumeister (2017) revealed that women transmit one another’s personal information strategically. For instance, female participants were more likely to spread reputation harming information about target females who were physically attractive or provocatively dressed. This relationship was mediated by perceptions of how “threatening” the female target was rated (i.e., perceived as a romantic rival).


Though much female sexual selection research is rooted in evolutionary theory, the evolutionary perspective does not seem applicable to gay partnerships, and the literature has often ignored strategies employed by gay males and females (Dillon & Saleh, 2012). However, limited evidence does suggest that gay males and females utilize mate selection strategies similar to their straight counterparts (Bailey et al., 1997; Lippa, 2007; Smith & Stillman, 2002). The purpose of the current investigation was to examine whether indirect aggression – that is, the spreading of reputation harming information about a rival female – is a strategy utilized by gay females, or whether gay females differ from their straight female counterparts. In addition, we explored whether indirect aggression was influenced by factors such as the relationship status of the participant, and the extent to which rival female targets were identified by participants as “threatening”.


After completion of an online demographic questionnaire and a measure of personal competitiveness, participants were assigned to one of four possible target female vignette/photographic conditions (gay/neutral, gay/sexy, straight/neutral, straight/sexy), based on their self-identified sexual orientation. All participants were provided the same information about the target female’s social life, asked whether they would share that information with others, and completed a threat assessment. Results indicated that sexual orientation predicted the likelihood of transmitting reputation harming information in the sexy condition only.  Further, 

while perception of threat influenced information transmission, lesbian participants did not perceive more threat in the sexy condition.  Amongst straight women, perception of threat and relationship status both influenced transmission of information.

Oral presentation delivered at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality, Montreal QC, 2018.