Sexual objectification influences visual perception

April 12, 2018, University of Vienna
By recording eye movements, Silani and her colleagues confirm that the sexualized body inversion hypothesis is quite likely correct. Credit: Anatolich1 [CC BY-SA 3.0], from Wikimedia Commons

It has been suggested that sexually objectified women or men are visually processed in the same fashion as objects. Far from being unanimously accepted, this claim has been criticized by a lack of scientific rigor. A team led by Giorgia Silani, in collaboration with Helmut Leder, of the University of Vienna, and scientists of the University of Trieste and SISSA have explored the conditions under which this phenomenon persists. The results of the study were recently published in the renowned scientific journal PLOS One.

A controversial hypothesis called the sexualized body inversion hypothesis (SBIH) claims similar visual processing of sexually objectified women or men (i.e., with a focus on the sexual body parts) and inanimate objects, suggesting a possible cognitive mechanism behind human sexual objectification. Far from being unanimously accepted, this hypothesis has been criticized by a lack of scientific rigor. A team led by Giorgia Silani, in collaboration with Helmut Leder, of the Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna, and scientists of the University of Trieste and SISSA have explored, in a series of four experiments, show that low-level perceptual features and visual exploration strategies can facilitate the occurrence of this phenomenon.

The study

The study used a well-known visual matching task in order to detect the occurrence of the inversion (i.e., lower performance when stimuli are presented in the unusual upside-down orientation, usually observed when processing faces or human bodies vs. objects) in different stimulus categories: sexualized targets, non-sexualized targets and real objects. By varying the low-level visual properties of the stimuli, Cogoni and colleagues explored whether this effect is driven by differences in stimulus asymmetry.

The authors observed that symmetry plays a moderating role in shaping the inversion effect, in that presentation of more asymmetrical stimuli (i.e., with a pronounced difference between the left and right side of the image regarding the position of body parts such as arms, legs, ankles) led to lower inversion effect (due to ease in recognizing the stimuli both in the upward and inverted position) independently from the level of sexualization of the .

Notably, a difference in the occurrence of the inversion effect between sexualized and non-sexualized targets emerged when the stimuli were equally difficult to recognize (i.e., when the images were very symmetrical in their position), suggesting the tendency to visually process sexualized individuals similarly to objects, as indicated by an absence of inversion effect for only sexualized targets. By using eye tracker devices, the authors could further link this difference to a specific pattern of visual exploration of the images. Indeed, lower a number of fixations in the face region of sexualized targets compared to the non-sexualized targets was detected, suggesting a deviation from the face to other as a possible mechanism for the sexualized inversion hypothesis.

Explore further: Objectification of women results in lack of empathy

More information: Carlotta Cogoni et al. Understanding the mechanisms behind the sexualized-body inversion hypothesis: The role of asymmetry and attention biases, PLOS ONE (2018). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0193944

Related Stories

Objectification of women results in lack of empathy

January 11, 2018
Sexualized representations, especially the emphasis of secondary sexual characteristics, can change the way we perceive an individual. An international team of researchers led by Giorgia Silani from the Faculty of Psychology ...

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 ...

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

August 10, 2011
A study by University at Buffalo sociologists has found that the portrayal of women in the popular media over the last several decades has become increasingly sexualized, even "pornified." The same is not true of the portrayal ...

Women as decorative accessories: Keep silent or take a stance?

January 4, 2017
How do Italian women react once they are made aware that using bikini-clad models draped over sports cars or scantily dressed actresses on television actually degrades and objectifies the female sex into mere sexual objects? ...

Want a satisfying relationship? Don't present yourself as a sex object

June 30, 2017
When Joan Holloway – the bombshell office worker on the show "Mad Men" – enters a room, she knows she looks good and is going to turn heads. Every morning, Joan meticulously does her makeup and hair and puts on a skintight ...

Sexualized avatars affect the real world, researchers find

October 10, 2013
(Phys.org) —A Stanford study shows that after women wear sexualized avatars in a virtual reality world, they feel objectified and are more likely to accept rape myths in the real world. The research could have implications ...

Recommended for you

Scientists identify method to study resilience to pain

December 14, 2018
Scientists at the Yale School of Medicine and Veterans Affairs Connecticut Healthcare System have successfully demonstrated that it is possible to pinpoint genes that contribute to inter-individual differences in pain.

Parents' brain activity 'echoes' their infant's brain activity when they play together

December 13, 2018
When infants are playing with objects, their early attempts to pay attention to things are accompanied by bursts of high-frequency activity in their brain. But what happens when parents play together with them? New research, ...

Researchers discover abundant source for neuronal cells

December 13, 2018
USC researchers seeking a way to study genetic activity associated with psychiatric disorders have discovered an abundant source of human cells—the nose.

In the developing brain, scientists find roots of neuropsychiatric diseases

December 13, 2018
The most comprehensive genomic analysis of the human brain ever undertaken has revealed new insights into the changes it undergoes through development, how it varies among individuals, and the roots of neuropsychiatric illnesses ...

Researchers find the cause of and cure for brain injury associated with gut condition

December 13, 2018
Using a mouse model of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)—a potentially fatal condition that causes a premature infant's gut to suddenly die—researchers at Johns Hopkins say they have uncovered the molecular causes of the ...

How the brain tells you to scratch that itch

December 13, 2018
It's a maddening cycle that has affected us all: it starts with an itch that triggers scratching, but scratching only makes the itchiness worse. Now, researchers have revealed the brain mechanism driving this uncontrollable ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.