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The Effect of Sexual Objectification on Perceptions of Intelligence: An Eye Movement Study
Pages: 1187-1193
Year: Issue:  5
Journal: Psychological Science

Keyword:  sexual objectificationobjectifying gazeperson perceptionbody image;
Abstract: Sexual objectification occurs when a woman’s body, body parts, or sexual functions are separated, thus reducing her status to that of a mere instrument, as if this was capable of representing an entire person. Numerous studies have demonstrated that sexual objectification affects the perceptions of others, and this is related to both diminished perceptions of mind and dehumanization. Objectification theory holds that when people are sexually objectified, they are perceived as mere objects that lack the mental states. However, there is no direct evidence showing that diminished social perceptions are affected by sexual objectification. Moreover, previous studies have been primarily conducted with samples of white women. Very few have explored non-Western samples. Therefore, in this study, we aim to examine the effect of sexual objectification on perceptions of intelligence and to explore the existence of sexual objectification in the process of perceptions via eye tracking of Chinese college students.A total of 50(25 women, 25 men) undergraduates, aged18-24, took part in the study. A 2(picture type: objectified, non-objectified) × 2(target gender: male, female) × 2(participant gender: male, female) mixed model design was utilized. Consistent with previous research, in each objectified photograph, the target wore either a swimsuit or underwear. In each non-objectified photo, the target was fully clothed in a long sleeved t-shirt and dark pants. All images were of people of Chinese nationality, who stood and faced the camera with neutral facial expressions. The participants then rated the intelligence of the person portrayed in each picture. Eye movements were recorded while participants individually viewed and rated the picture with an Eyelink 1000 eye tracker.The results showed that both objectified women and men were attributed with less intelligence than non-objectified targets, which is consistent with the previous findings suggesting that sexual objectification is related to diminished perceptions of mental capacity and increased dehumanization. Eye movement showed that the fixation count on chests of objectified targets was significantly higher than on objectified targets. Both of the dwell time and first fixation duration for the faces of objectified targets were significantly shorter than non-objectified targets. But the dwell time and first fixation duration for the chests of objectified targets were significantly longer than non-objectified targets. These results suggested participants focused more on the chests and less on the faces of the objectified targets, which is consistent with the nature of the objectifying gaze.In conclusion, sexual objectification affected perceptions of the intelligence of both women and men. Moreover, there was evidence showing an objectifying gaze in the process of their perceptions. Our findings extend the previous research on Fredrickson and Roberts’ s(1997) objectification theory, suggesting that the influence of sexual objectification is not limited only to Western women. Further, we also offer direct evidence for the existence of sexual objectification in the process of intelligence perceptions. Thus, the findings of the present study have important practical significance and considerable cross-cultural implications.
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