URJHS Volume 8


Effects of Sorority Participation on Artificial Tanning Habits in College Students

Allison L. Attal
Baylor University


The effect of sorority affiliation on artificial tanning frequencies was investigated. Variables were measured using an artificial tanning survey developed for this research. The results indicated that while the proportion of participants that had used a tanning bed at least once was higher for the sample of sorority members than for the sample of non-sorority members, there appears to be no connection between sorority affiliation and frequency of tanning bed use over the past month and past six months. That is, on a monthly and semi-annual basis, sorority members are not more likely to use a tanning bed more frequently than non-sorority members. The findings are consistent with theories of the effects of peer crowd identification and appearance motivation on artificial tanning habits.


Each year, over 1 million cases of skin cancer occur worldwide. The most deadly form of skin cancer, malignant melanoma, continues to increase at a rate of 3 percent per year. (American Cancer Society, 2005). In the two decades between 1960 and 1980, the incidence of skin cancer quadrupled (Fears & Scotto, 1982). This increasing occurrence coincides with the introduction of the first tanning salon in 1978 (Fleischer, Lee, Adams, & Zanolli, 1993), leading to the inference that artificial tanning is actually more harmful than natural sun tanning due to the more intense, concentrated UV exposure. Westerdahl, Olsson, Masback, Ingvar, Jonsson, Brandt, Jonsson and Moller (1994) found that individuals under the age of 30 years who artificially tanned 10 or more times per year had an almost 8 times increased risk of developing cancerous melanoma. Skin cancer is not the only risk of tanning; eye problems, including cataracts and eye burns, also occur. Evidence links the occurrence of these ailments to excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation leading healthcare authorities, such as the World Health Organization (2009), to recommend limited exposure to these harmful rays (Elwood, Whitehead, & Gallagher, 1989). Extensive research is now being conducted to determine why people continue to use tanning beds in spite of the many risks in order to find the most effective preventative measures.

Despite the warnings, many people continue to pursue sunlight exposure in order to develop a tan, often through indoor tanning beds. Each year, approximately 10 percent of the American population visits indoor tanning salons, bringing in almost $5 million (Indoor Tanning Association, 2005). These tanning salons promote a “safer tan than the sun” and instant gratification to patrons who wish for maximum UV exposure in a minimum amount of time. A study done in a suburb of Minnesota by Oliphant, Forster, and McBride (1994) found that 34 percent of 987 adolescents used a tanning bed on a regular basis. This finding is consistent with current reported rates of national tanning bed use: approximately 30 to 50 percent of young adults (Brooks, Brooks, Dajani, Swetter, Powers & Pagoto, 2006). It has become clear that the amount of UV exposure people are subjecting themselves to has risen over the past decade and continues to climb.

A number of studies have been conducted to examine the motivation factors for indoor tanning. Some indicate that UV tanning is highly motivated by social influences and the desire to be perceived as attractive. In a study by Banerjee, Campo and Greene (2008), researchers investigated the differences in perceptions of men and women towards women with different levels of tan. They manipulated photos in a quasi-experimental design. The photos were identical except for the darkness of the woman’s skin. It was found that both men and women perceived tanned females as more physically attractive, healthier, and thinner. This association, called the theory of appearance messages or appearance motivation, is thought to be one of the main factors that motivate people to pursue a tan. Tanning may be seen as a possible way to enhance physical attractiveness, motivating people to use tanning beds despite the dangers. Thus, it is inferred that the greater emphasis people put on their level of physical attractiveness, the less influenced they are by evidence that tanning has a harmful long-term effect on their physical attractiveness (Jones & Leary, 1994). The apparent link between appearance motivation and artificial tanning led to research to investigate whether different groups of people vary in regards to appearance motivation.

Many studies have been conducted in regard to peer crowd identification and appearance motivation. In a study by Ashmore, Del Boca and Beebe (2002), participants were asked to associate themselves with one of the following groups: athletes, populars, brains, partiers, or no association. These peer crowds were differentiated from each other based on physical appearance and perceived social status (Brown, 1990). Research found that the “popular” crowd was perceived as being image conscious and that there were more pressures within this crowd to maintain an attractive appearance than other peer groups. A separate study showed that identification with image conscious peer crowds that are perceived as having high social status, such as the “popular” crowd, is linked to risky health behaviors such as drinking and smoking (Mackey & La Greca, 2007). The link between groups with high appearance motivation and risky behavior led to another study by Stapleton, Turrisi, and Hillhouse (2008) that investigated a possible connection between peer crowd identification and indoor tanning. Consistent with the association between peer crowd identification and risky behavior, it was found that participants who identified with the “popular” peer crowd were more likely to artificially tan and had more positive tanning attitudes than those of other groups.

National Panhellenic Sororities are an example of such groups which are said to put emphasis on image and are stereotyped by the typical “sorority girl.” Biernat, Green and Vescio (1996) conducted an experiment that explored stereotypes of sorority members. They found that while 78 percent of the total participating sorority members at the University of Florida agreed to the stereotype that sorority members are “pretty,” only 50 percent of non-sorority members agreed. This dramatic increase in attractiveness perception by sorority participants indicates that appearance motivation is most likely strong within sororities. Due to the high rate of self-perception that sorority members are “pretty” in general, sorority members may feel pressure to find ways to enhance their appearance in order to remain consistent with the desired group image.

The present study is an extension of the studies conducted to assess the association between peer group identification and tanning tendencies. In search of an association between identification with an image conscious group and increased artificial tanning, this study will examine the relationship between sorority participation and tanning bed use. Thus, it is hypothesized that those who participate in Greek sororities will have a significantly higher likelihood of using artificial tanning beds than those who do not participate in Greek organizations.



Two hundred and forty-six undergraduate Baylor University students were sampled, all female. Of the total two hundred and forty-six participants, one hundred and thirty-five were sorority affiliated and one hundred and eleven were unaffiliated. However, nineteen had to be discarded due to incompletion: Eleven were of sorority affiliates and eight were of non-sorority affiliates. Participants were recruited in the atrium of the Baylor Science Building and in various chapter rooms of the Stacy Riddle Panhellenic Forum and were not compensated monetarily or otherwise.

Data Collection

Both a consent form and a survey to assess the artificial tanning habits and other tanning related issues were given to all participants. The survey, titled “Artificial Tanning” survey, was developed for the research and consisted of thirteen questions. Six of the thirteen were multiple choice, while the remaining seven were short answer. Questions addressed basic demographics such as school year classification, major, living situation, sorority participation, sunscreen use, family history of skin cancer, skin type, tanning bed use, amount of money spent on tanning each month, age at time of first tanning bed use, and reasons tanning beds are used (see Appendixes A for complete survey).


Data were collected over the span of approximately three weeks, starting March 18, 2009 and ending April 9, 2009. Females were approached in either the Baylor Science Building or the Stacey Riddle Panhellenic Forum who did not appear to be busy. Potential participants were asked if they would be willing to complete a survey to assess the artificial tanning and sun care habits of students at Baylor University: They were not informed that the purpose of the study was to explore whether or not sorority participation influenced those habits. Once a potential participant agreed to take part in the study, they were given a standard consent form that explained the nature of the study, informed the participant that the survey should take no longer than five minutes to complete, and gave contact information should questions arise. Once signed, participants were given the thirteen-question survey and instructed to fill out all parts. Upon completion, surveys were collected and filed in a binder.


For sorority participants, the mean score on the tanning bed use within the last month variable was 1.94 (SD=3.09) while the mean score on the tanning bed use within the last six months variable was 9.38 (SD=22.31). For non-sorority participants, the mean scores for tanning bed use within the last month and last six months were 1.38 (SD=3.82) and 5.58 (SD=17.41), respectively. A two-way contingency table analysis using crosstabs was conducted to evaluate whether sorority membership affected artificial tanning bed use. The two variables were sorority affiliation (Greek, not Greek) and tanning bed use (yes, never). Sorority affiliation and tanning bed use were found to be significantly related, Pearson X 2 (1, N-227)=14.3, p=.000, Cramér’s V=.25. Of the total one hundred and twenty-four sorority members surveyed, seventy-seven answered yes to whether they had ever used a tanning bed, while sixty-five of the one hundred and three non-sorority members answered yes to the same question. This significant difference is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. A clustered bar chart of tanning bed use within the sorority affiliation categories.

A one-way multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) was also conducted to determine the effect of sorority affiliation on two dependent variables (tanning frequency in the past month, tanning frequency in the past six months). The F test for Box’s test was found to be significant, F(3,84500000)=10.596 , p=.000. This indicates that we may be allowed to reject the homogeneity hypothesis. However, the results of the MANOVA test were insignificant, Wilks’s L=.99, F(2, 224)=1.087, p=.229.


As the rate of malignant skin melanoma continues to rise, professionals in the skin cancer prevention field are utilizing behavioral messages when developing preventative programs. This study was designed to examine whether or not peer crowds are an important motivator of UV tanning. The findings of the two-way contingency table analysis led us to infer that there is indeed a relationship between sorority affiliation and tanning bed use. The results imply that girls who are sorority members are more likely to have used a tanning bed. This relationship was expected based on previous studies, indicating that individuals in more image conscious groups place greater importance on their physical appearance (La Greca, Prinstein, & Fetter, 2001) and that identification with a popular peer crowd increases tanning bed usage (Stapleton et al., 2008). Thus, it seems appropriate to infer that members of the popular crowd see tanning as a way to enhance their appearance

After analyzing the relationship between tanning bed use ever and sorority affiliation, frequency of use within the past month and past six months was tested by means of a MANOVA test. However, no significant difference was found. That is, while girls in sororities have a higher likelihood of using a tanning bed one or more times ever, the monthly and semi-annual frequency of using a tanning bed is not affected by sorority affiliation. In summary, the results indicated that while the proportion of participants that had used a tanning bed at least once was higher for the sample of sorority members than for the sample of non-sorority members, there appears to be no connection between sorority affiliation and frequency of tanning bed use.

These results may have importance for the design of preventative programs that use an appearance message to discourage tanning bed use. Since members of the popular crows are more motivated to tan in order to enhance their appearance, programs can be targeted at these high-risk groups. Showing these appearance oriented individuals the long-term damage that tanning causes to one’s body may be an effective way to decrease tanning bed use.

There are some limitations of this research that need be addressed. The ability to generalize the findings may be limited due to the small sample size and the lack of random sampling. The study was also limited to one generally Caucasian university in Texas and may not be representative of national demographics. Experimenter bias may influence the results, because potential participants were not approached if they appeared to be busy or studying. Also, while the whole intent of the study was not disclosed to participants, some could have realized what was being researched and not answered truthfully.

In conclusion, this research identifies a population of young adults, those that identify with an image conscious and high social status group, who are more likely than others to tan artificially despite the risks. In this population, tanning may be seen as a way to increase physical attractiveness, which may be an important aspect of their social identity (Stapleton et al., 2008). By targeting members of this population and designing preventative programs with messages that mirror their values, skin cancer prevention efforts may be more effective, ideally leading to a decrease in tanning bed use and perhaps a decrease in the occurrence of malignant skin melanomas each year.

Appendix A

Artificial Tanning Survey

1) What is your classification?





2) What is your major?


3) Do you live on campus or off campus?

-On campus

-Off campus

4) Are you a member of a National Panhellenic Sorority?

-Yes: _________________________________________


5) How often do you use sunscreen?

-Whenever I leave the house (this includes makeup and moisturizers with SPF)

-Whenever I know I will be in the sun for an extended period

-When I sunbathe outside


6) Has anyone you know (family member, friend etc.) ever been diagnosed with skin cancer?



7) What is your skin type?

-Always burn, never tan

-Usually burn, sometimes tan

-Usually tan, sometimes burn

-Always tan, never burn

8) Have you ever used a tanning bed?



9) How many times in the last month have you used a tanning bed?


10) Approximately how many times in the last 6 months have you used a tanning bed?


11) Approximately how much money do you spend on tanning each month?


12) How old were you the first time you used a tanning bed?


13) For what reasons do you use tanning beds?



American Cancer Society (2005). Cancer facts and figures. http://www.cancer.org.

docroot/PED/content/ped_7_1_What_You_Need_To_Know_About_Skin_Cancer.asp?sitearea=&level=(accessed March 2009).

Ashmore, R. D., Del Broca, F.K., & Beebe, M. (2002). ‘Alkie,’ ‘Frat Brother,’ and ‘jock’: Perceived types of college students and stereotypes about drinking. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32, 885-907.

Banerjee, S. C., Campo, S., & Greene, K. (2008). Fact or Wishful Thinking? Biased Expectations in “I Think I look Better When I’m Tanned.” American Journal of Health Behavior, 32, 243-252.

Biernat, M., Green, M. L., & Vescio, T. K. (1996). Selective Self-Stereotyping. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 1194-1209.

Brooks, K., Brooks, D., Dajani, Z., Swetter, S. M., Powers, E., & Pagoto, S. (2006). Use of artificial tanning products among young adults. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 54, 1060-1066

Brown, B. B. (1990). Peer groups and peer cultures. In S. S. Geldman & G. R. Elliot (Eds.), At the threshold: The developing adolescent (pp. 171-196). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Elwood, J. M., Whitehead, S. M., & Gallagher, R. P. (1989). Epidemiology of human malignant skin tumors with special reference to natural and artificial radiation exposures. In C. J. Conti, T. J. Slaga, & A. J. P. Klein-Szanto (Eds.), Skin Tumors: Experimental and Clinical Aspects (pp. 55-84). New York: Raven.

Fears, T. R., & Scotto, J. (1982). Changes in skin cancer morbidity between 1971-1972 and 1977-1978. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 69, 365-370.

Fleischer, A. B., Lee, W. J. Adams, D. P., & Zanolli, M. D. (1993). Tanning facility compliance with sate and federal regulations in North Carolina: A poor performance. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 28, 212-217.

Indoor Tanning Association (2005). Indoor Tanning FAQs. Retrieved March 20, 2009 from http://www.theita.com/indoor/faq.cfm

Jones, J. L., & Leary M. R. (1994). The social psychology of tanning and sunscreen use: self-presentational motives as a predictor of health risk. Health Psychology, 13, 86-90.

La Greca, A. M., Prinstein, M. J., & Fetter, M. D. (2001). Adolescent peer crowd affiliation: Linkages with health-risk behaviors and close friendships. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 26, 131-143.

Mackey, E. R., & La Greca, A. M. (2007). Adolescents’ eating, exercise and weight control behaviors: Does peer crowd affiliation play a role? Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 32, 13-23.

Oliphant, J.A., Forster, J.L., & McBride, C.M. (1994). The use of commercial tanning facilities by suburban Minnesota adolescents. American Journal of Public Health, 81, 176-178.

Stapleton, J., Turrisi, R., & Hillhouse, J. (2008). Peer crowd identification and indoor artificial UV tanning behavioral tendencies. Journal of Health Psychology, 30, 940-945.

Westerdahl, J., Olsson, H., Masback, A., Ingvar, C., Jonsson, N., Brandt, L., Jonsson, P., & Moller, T. (1994). Use of sun beds or sunlamps and malignant melanoma in southern Sweden. American Journal of Epidemiology, 140, 691-699.

World Health Organization (2009). Artificial tanning sun beds: risk and guidance. Retrieved March 20, 2009 from http://www.who.int/uv/publications/ sunbedpubl/en/


©2002-2021 All rights reserved by the Undergraduate Research Community.

Research Journal: Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Vol. 3 Vol. 4 Vol. 5 Vol. 6 Vol. 7 Vol. 8 Vol. 9 Vol. 10 Vol. 11 Vol. 12 Vol. 13 Vol. 14 Vol. 15
High School Edition

Call for Papers ¦ URC Home ¦ Kappa Omicron Nu

KONbutton K O N KONbutton