face & body woman image

Most women have long since figured this one on their own, but a new study confirms that men look at women’s bodies more than their faces. Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that participants, when asked to look at full-body images of women, spend more time on breasts and waists before heading north.

Publishing their findings in academic journal Sex Roles, psychologists Sarah Gervais and Michael Dodd recruited 65 college-aged students in an attempt to discover the amount of time spent ogling the female form. Fitting them with an eye-tracking device, researchers asked the students to look at three photos of 10 different women while they measured the amount of time each recruit dwelt on various parts of the women’s bodies. The participants were then asked to rate the appearance or personality of each female pictured. In order to ascertain preference for a particular body type, the original image was manipulated – enhancing or decreasing sexualised body parts—in an effort to see which body type was more likely to draw attention. Responses show that men prefer curvier silhouettes, and judged their personalities more favourably.

“Although objectification theory suggests that women frequently experience the objectifying gaze with many adverse consequences, there is scant research examining the nature and causes of the objectifying gaze for perceivers,” explain the authors in the study’s abstract. “The main purpose of this work was to examine the objectifying gaze towards women via eye tracking technology. A secondary purpose was to examine the impact of body shape on this objectifying gaze.”

Beyond the confirmation of stereotypes, Gervais and Dodd seek to understand the mechanics behind the objectification of women in an attempt to prevent the limitations that come from reducing them into sexual objects. “It can undermine work performance,” said Gervais. “It can cause [women] to self-silence and it’s related to increased perceptions of sexual harassment. If you think about all of the negative consequences, figuring out what’s triggering all of those consequences, that’s the first step towards stopping it from happening.”

But it’s not only men who have been caught out; women are equally culpable when it comes to objectifying the bodies of other women. “We do have a slightly different pattern for men than women, but when we looked at their overall dwell times—how long they focused on each body part – we find the exact same effects for both groups,” added Gervais. “Women, we think, do it often for social comparison purposes.”

To reduce objectification, regardless of gender, Dodd says people first need to become aware of how they look at women – and make behavioural adjustments as necessary.

“By characterising the manner in which people fixate on the body when engaging in objectifying behaviour, it also becomes possible to determine methods of reducing this behaviour,” he said. “It’s not as though looking at the body of someone has to be, or is, a default behaviour. It just may be the case that cognitive control is required to engage in more appropriate, and less damaging, visual behaviour.”


Henry Sapiecha


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