Men are people, women are body parts

How we see men and women doesn't change according to our own gender. Image: Werner Heiber/Shutterstock

Our brains process images of men and women differently.

When you look at a photo mosaic, you will either see it in its entirety or as a collection of parts. This is controlled by two separate mental functions — local processing is usually used for objects such as houses and cars, while global processing helps us see things as a whole. But scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, US, have found that this doesn’t seem to apply to how we view women.

“We don’t break people down to their parts — except when it comes to women, which is really striking,” says assistant professor Sarah Gervais, lead author of the study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. “Women were perceived in the same ways that objects are viewed.”

To test this theory of objectification, Gervais and her colleagues presented their study participants with a series of images featuring fully clothed, average-looking men and women. After a brief pause, the participants were then shown two new images — one was the original image, the other had been slightly modified — and asked to identify which image they had seen previously.

This is a sample of the images that were shown to the participants. Image: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

When they were presented with images of men, the participants relied on global cognitive processing to see the person as a whole and were able to recognise sexual body parts better in the context of the entire person. However, women were analysed with local cognitive processing, which breaks the object down into its component parts and made sexual body parts more recognisable when they were presented in isolation.

And before anyone says “typical males”, the results show that women also perceive other women this way. “It could be related to different motives,” Gervais suggests. “Men might be doing it because they’re interested in potential mates, while women may do it as more of a comparison with themselves. But what we do know is that they’re both doing it.”

But there’s good news for women who are sick of trying to get people to keep their eyes on their face, as the researchers found a way to alleviate this sexual body part recognition bias. When the experiment was adjusted to create a condition where it was easier for the participants to use global processing, making a woman’s whole body more easily recognisable than her various sexual body parts.

Source: Eureka Alert

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