Washington: Men are perceived as whole while women are sexually objectified and seen as an assemblage of their body parts by both the genders, according to a new study.
Researchers from University of Nebraska-Lincoln found in a series of experiments that participants processed images of men and women in very different ways, providing clues as to why women are often the targets of sexual objectification.
When presented with images of men, perceivers tended to rely more on “global” cognitive processing, the mental method in which a person is perceived as a whole.
Meanwhile, images of women were more often the subject of “local” cognitive processing, or the objectifying perception of something as an assemblage of its various parts.
The study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology is the first to link such cognitive processes to objectification theory, said Sarah Gervais, assistant professor of psychology at the University and the study’s lead
“Local processing underlies the way we think about objects: houses, cars and so on. But global processing should prevent us from that when it comes to people,” Gervais said.
“We don’t break people down to their parts except when it comes to women, which is really striking. Women were perceived in the same ways that objects are viewed,” Gervais said.
In the study, participants were randomly presented with dozens of images of fully clothed, average-looking men and women. Each person was shown from head to knee, standing, with eyes focused on the camera.
After a brief pause, participants then saw two new images on their screen, one was unmodified and contained the original image, while the other was a slightly modified version of the original image that comprised a sexual body part.
Participants then quickly indicated which of the two images they had previously seen.
The results were consistent, women’s sexual body parts were more easily recognised when presented in isolation than when they were presented in the context of their entire bodies. Men’s sexual body parts were recognised better when presented in the context of their entire bodies than they were
“We always hear that women are reduced to their sexual body parts; you hear about examples in the media all the time. This research takes it a step further and finds that this perception spills over to everyday women, too,” Gervais said
in a statement.
Also notable is that the gender of participants doing the observing had no effect on the outcome. The participant pool was evenly divided between men and women, who processed each gender’s bodies similarly.