Study: The Objectification of Women Is a Real, Measurable Phenomenon

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Both male and female subjects in a recent experiment perceived near-naked men in sexualized ads as human beings, but could only see attractive women as objects.

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PROBLEM: Women's bare bodies are on display in billboards, movie posters, and many other kinds of ads. Though plenty of studies have looked at the ramifications of this pervasive sexual objectification, it's unclear if we see near-naked people as human beings or if we really do view them as mere objects.

METHODOLOGY: Researchers led by Philippe Bernard presented participants pictures of men and women in sexualized poses, wearing a swimsuit or underwear, one by one on a computer screen. Since pictures of people present a recognition problem when they're turned upside down, but images of objects don't have that problem, some of the photos were presented right side up and others upside down. After each picture, there was a second of black screen before each participant was shown two images and was asked to choose the one that matched the one he or she had just seen.

RESULTS: The male and female subjects matched the photos similarly. They recognized right-side-up men better than upside-down men, suggesting that they saw the sexualized men as persons. On the contrary, the women in underwear weren't any harder to recognize when they appeared upside down, indicating that the sexy women were consistently identified as objects.

CONCLUSION: People objectify women in sexualized photos, but not men.

SOURCE: The full study, "Integrating Sexual Objectification With Object Versus Person Recognition: The Sexualized-Body-Inversion Hypothesis," is published in the journal Psychological Science.

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Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

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