What do you see when you look at a woman? It turns out, people – both men and women – see a collection of body parts.
That’s according to a recent study in the European Journal of Social Psychology, which suggests that we do actually look at women differently than we do men, objectifying females by reducing them to sexual body parts.
Participants in the study were shown images of fully dressed, average-looking men and women. After a short pause, they then looked at two images: the original (showing the person from head to knee) and one that zoomed in on a sexual body part, such as a woman’s stomach. The participants had to quickly identify which image they had originally seen. The experiment was also reversed so the participant first looked at the “sexual” body part, and then the full version.
The results: Women’s sexual body parts were more easily recognized when they were shown in isolation. But men’s sexual body parts were easier to recognize in the context of their whole bodies.
According to the Atlantic, the test was designed so researchers could determine whether participants were using “global or local cognitive processing” when they looked at the pictures – or in simple terms, “whether they perceived the individuals as a whole or as an assemblage of their various parts.”
“We always hear that women are reduced to their sexual body parts; you hear about examples in the media all the time,” said lead author Sarah Gervais, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in a press release. “This research takes it a step further and finds that this perception spills over to everyday women, too."
The pool of participants was split evenly between men and women, both of which processed the images in the same way. “We can’t just pin this on the men. Women are perceiving women this way, too,” Ms. Gervais said, suggesting the motives behind it may differ according to each gender. “Men might be doing it because they’re interested in potential mates, while women may do it as more of a comparison with themselves.”
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