Study shows people view women as a collection of body parts

July 25, 2012 by Bob Yirka, Medical Xpress report

(Medical Xpress) -- A small group of researchers has found that true to stereotype, people really do tend to look at women as a collection of body parts, rather than as a whole person. What’s perhaps most surprising though, is that the phenomenon is not confined to men, women do it too. The research team made up of Sarah Gervais, Theresa Vescio, Jens Förster, Anne Maass and Caterina Suitner, set out to see if the commonly held belief that women are objectified by others was true or if it was just myth. They set up experiments using undergraduate student volunteers of both genders using photographs and found, as they describe in their paper published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, that not only does the belief hold true, but that the conventional mode of viewing can be switched off given the right circumstances.

Many studies have been conducted regarding the impact feeling objectified by others has on . Most commonly it can lead to negative body issues and eating and mood disorders. But, the researchers found, little work has been done to find out if the feeling of being objectified is something that exists only in the minds of those that feel it, or if in fact, it’s really the way people look at women.

To find out, they enlisted the help of 227 undergraduate students of both genders. Each was asked to look at photographs of people near their own age from the knees up; again, of both genders. Following the display of each photograph, each volunteer was then shown two , side by side. One of the pictures was identical to the first picture shown while the other was slightly altered; the bust/chest or waist was changed just a little bit. The volunteers were asked to choose which was the same as the original. A second experiment was conducted in the same way as the first except when the side-by-side pictures were displayed, they were zoomed in to show just the torso.

In a new study that examined our cognitive process in how we perceive men and women, participants saw a fully clothed person from head to knee. After a brief pause, they then saw two new images on their screen: One that was unmodified and contained the original image, the other a slightly modified version of the original image with a sexual body part changed. Participants then quickly indicated which of the two images they had previously seen. They made decisions about entire bodies in some trials and body parts in other trials. Credit: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

After reviewing the results, the researchers found a clear difference between the way people of both genders view women. They found that the volunteers were better at recognizing body parts of women versus men when viewing both whole images, and images of just those . When viewing pictures of men, they found things were reversed, most of the volunteers were much better at recognizing men if they saw the whole person.

Next, the researchers tried something else. They showed volunteers pictures of letters that were made up of other different tiny letters before showing them the pictures in the first experiments. Some were asked to identify the tiny letters inside the letters, others were asked to identify which letter the little ones formed as a whole. One forced local brain processing the other global. They found that those that were forced to think globally before viewing the photographs were much less likely to objectify the women in the pictures.

The researchers don’t know why objectify women, but speculate that it’s either because of mating behaviors in our distant past, or perhaps because of more recent trends, such as the way modern media portray women.

Explore further: People see sexy pictures of women as objects, not people

More information: Seeing women as objects: The sexual body part recognition bias, European Journal of Social Psychology, DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.1890

Objectification theory suggests that the bodies of women are sometimes reduced to their sexual body parts. As well, an extensive literature in cognitive psychology suggests that global processing underlies person recognition, whereas local processing underlies object recognition. Integrating these literatures, we introduced and tested the sexual body part recognition bias hypothesis that women's (versus men's) bodies would be reduced to their sexual body parts in the minds of perceivers. Specifically, we adopted the parts versus whole body recognition paradigm, which is a robust indicator of local versus global processing. The findings across two experiments showed that women's bodies were reduced to their sexual body parts in perceivers' minds. We also found that local processing contributed to the sexual body part recognition bias, whereas global processing tempered it. Implications for sexual objectification and its underlying processes and motives are discussed.

Press release

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5 / 5 (6) Jul 25, 2012
That woman in the picture has nice breasts!
5 / 5 (5) Jul 25, 2012
and legs.
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 25, 2012
Feminists would love to forbid the entire planet from seeing the woman as parts. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them actually tried.
5 / 5 (4) Jul 25, 2012
I preferred her face and legs.

Parts add up to a whole.

The whole is more than the sum of the parts. So cliche.

Women objectify themselves and one another, and view themselves in parts as well, just look at any number of bra commercials or hair dye commercials or shampoo commercials, or a women's magazine, or a Special K cereal commercial; they made a brand by marketing to women trying to fit into a size smaller bikini, allegedly.
3 / 5 (2) Jul 25, 2012
I view them as individual parts. Looks, legs and brains. Not necessarily in that order.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2012
Men are 'hard-wired' to focus on women's "round" body parts, especially those that occur in pairs, and very especially when they can be seen to move.
Men don't have as many pairs of round body parts that can be seen to move.
5 / 5 (4) Jul 25, 2012
Read the Song of Solomon.


Both the male and female speaker focus almost entirely on body parts. It is nothing new obviously.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 25, 2012
Go read "The Naked Ape: A Zoologist's Study of the Human Animal" © 1967.

Lips are red, why? Breasts are pendulous, why? Answer? It's for the children.
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2012
Women also see men in parts but in a different way... our character/personality.

Hes funny,smart,romantic etc

Its still all parts. So its not a negative thing its just how humans are, we still respect women even if they think it seems a bit objectified.... us men just like what we see, we are visual.

Any smart woman should not see this as a bad thing.
1 / 5 (4) Jul 25, 2012
This stems from our early education. We are taught the words for arm, leg, head, torso, waist, etc. as very young and impressionable children. When learning new languages, these lessons are repeated. It's no wonder that we subconsciously break down the person we see approaching us on the sidewalk into their respective body parts. Like a computer's CPU, our brains are also comparators, and this is what we do when we see someone else, male or female - we mentally and judgmentally superimpose our ideal of the human form on the person.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 25, 2012
Women are generally far more self conscious - of all their body parts - than men. I would interpret the results as the men assessing aspects of sexual attractiveness / fitness, as we're wont to do, while the women are checking how they themselves compare to others / the competition...
4.4 / 5 (7) Jul 25, 2012
tadchem: You are correct but a lot of modern women see men as a collect of bank account numbers!
5 / 5 (2) Jul 25, 2012
Could it be just because women have more distinctive and variable body parts? Women are shapely and have fairly obvious 'features' on their torso. Men in comparison are fairly uniform.
5 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2012
tadchem: You are correct but a lot of modern women see men as a collect of bank account numbers!

Interestingly I recall the theory that men evaluate women by their fitness to bear children, this resolves to breasts, skin tone, general body features etc etc

Women evaluate men by their ability to support them and their children, this resolves to big cars, fat wallets, general success etc etc.
1 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2012
Now the cause: No man is born with approach anxiety it is actively created by 7's and above. In this united states of fat girls where the FDA is corrupt and incompetent big food is allowed to create a country of fat girls and the ones that have an attractive face and figure act totally arrogant towards men in public treating them like a problem.
Why don't you women dress up with makeup as a middle aged man and move to another city and cut off ties with your friends for a year (no daddy or BF pays for your rent and no answering the low rent ads only for females you have to pay man rent) and see what it feels like to get treated like a problem in public while running your errands.
not rated yet Jul 29, 2012
I think its harder to identify a slight modification if the image is zoomed in rather than when showing the whole picture. That fact that people can pick out those details better if the zoomed in image is of a woman just means that we pay more attention to detail if the image is a woman. They should have done the same experiment with pictures of fish and cows and puppies and cars. The conclusion of the study is wrong.

Attention to detail =/= objectification

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