People see sexy pictures of women as objects, not people

May 15, 2012

Perfume ads, beer billboards, movie posters: everywhere you look, women's sexualized bodies are on display. A new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, finds that both men and women see images of sexy women's bodies as objects, while they see sexy-looking men as people.

Sexual objectification has been well studied, but most of the research is about looking at the effects of this objectification. "What's unclear is, we don't actually know whether people at a basic level recognize sexualized or sexualized males as objects," says Philippe Bernard of Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium. Bernard cowrote the new paper with Sarah Gervais, Jill Allen, Sophie Campomizzi, and Olivier Klein.

Psychological research has worked out that our brains see people and objects in different ways. For example, while we're good at recognizing a whole face, just part of a face is a bit baffling. On the other hand, recognizing part of a chair is just as easy as recognizing a whole chair.

One way that psychologists have found to test whether something is seen as an object is by turning it upside down. Pictures of people present a recognition problem when they're turned upside down, but pictures of objects don't have that problem. So Bernard and his colleagues used a test where they presented pictures of in sexualized poses, wearing underwear. Each participant watched the pictures appear one by one on a computer screen. Some of the pictures were right side up and some were upside down. After each picture, there was a second of black screen, then the participant was shown two images. They were supposed to choose the one that matched the one they had just seen.

People recognized right-side-up men better than upside-down men, suggesting that they were seeing the sexualized men as people. But the women in underwear weren't any harder to recognize when they were upside down—which is consistent with the idea that people see sexy women as objects. There was no difference between male and female participants.

We see sexualized women every day on , buildings, and the sides of buses and this study suggests that we think of these images as if they were objects, not people. "What is motivating this study is to understand to what extent people are perceiving these as human or not," Bernard says. The next step, he says, is to study how seeing all these influences how people treat real .

Explore further: Study finds marked rise in intensely sexualized images of women, not men

More information: www.psychologicalscience.org/i … sychological_science

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5 comments

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mrlewish
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2012
I suspect a misinterpretation of data. I suspect that we are hardwired to recognize female forms quicker then male forms. Hense less "confusion". The scientist are presenting a false dilemma in my humble opinion.
mezmama
1 / 5 (1) May 15, 2012
I am curious as to what evidence you may have as to a whether a recognition ability regarding women's form is hard-wired or a cultural artifact. I don't think the authors of this study addressed that issue.
I cannot see how there would be genetic selection for such recognition only for female bodies by both men and women.
zz6549
1 / 5 (1) May 16, 2012
This study is seriously flawed.

Sexualized images of women might just be easier to recognize upside-down because of other properties; perhaps even the shape of the body or the nature of their underwear (two parts vs. one part for men). Or maybe women are just easier to recognize to both genders. But concluding that they're interpreted as objects? You're going to need way more evidence than what they found.

What's worse is that they're so sure in their conclusion that they want to base further research on it. Any scientist with merit would seek to verify such a ground-breaking hypothesis through a separate means (e.g. fMRI) prior to taking it as fact.

zz6549
not rated yet May 16, 2012
Addendum:

The media is going to have fun with this one. Forget my concerns about further research..they shouldn't have even released this because of the potential societal implications of the headline
"Scientists prove women are objectified"
danmaftei
not rated yet May 16, 2012
So, I actually read the paper before commenting. The configurational vs analytic processing theory of person vs object recognition, and the difficulty in performing the former for inverted images, are not by any means radical theories. Further, the ANOVA results showed that the recognition difference occurred ONLY with inverted images, NOT between males and females over-all (as mrlewish and zz6549 suggested).

Regarding mezmama's comment, whether this is a genetic or cultural phenomenon is of course interesting, but this study did not address that, it simply presented the fact of objectification and related it to two different styles of processing & recognizing images.

Regarding zz6549's comment, first, do re-read the article... it's not "easier" to recognize inverted female images, it's harder. Second, fMRI's are not the silver bullet of cognitive research, and are as easily interpretable as the study presented here. Third, what are some of these properties you're suggesting?

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