Whether an individual perceives an appearance compliment in the workplace as sexual harassment may depend on a number of factors such as the gender and/or status of the complimenter. Three hundred eighty-three (130 males, 253 females) participants completed an online survey in which they read and rated six different hypothetical vignettes imagining themselves as the recipient of an appearance compliment from a male superior, subordinate, and peer, as well as a female in each of those three status positions. Participants also filled out the Big Five Inventory (BFI; see John, Naumann, & Soto, 2008) in order to assess how personality may influence harassment perceptions. Females perceived opposite-sex appearance compliments as more harassing than males did (p < .001, d = 1.33), and males perceived same-sex compliments as more harassing than females did (p < .001, d = 0.85). Appearance compliments from those in the three status positions were also perceived differently (p < .001, np2 = .29) with compliments from superiors perceived as more harassing than from peers (p < .001) and subordinates (p < .001), and subordinates perceived as more harassing than peers (p < .001). Three of the Big Five personality factors (Conscientiousness, b = 9.93, p < .001; Neuroticism, b = 9.46, p < .001; and Openness, b = -5.04, p = .04) were predictive of harassment perceptions (R2 = .087, p < .001). Based on these findings, it is recommended that males and those in superior status positions avoid giving appearance compliments in the workplace.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Psychology



Date Submitted


Document Type





compliments, sexual harassment, gender, status, personality

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Psychology Commons