The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

The Sexual Objectification Spillover Effect

Sexual Images of Women Impact Perceptions of Other Women

Sexualized imagery of women is virtually everywhere. But, when men view these images, does this typically impact how they perceive these women? And more interestingly perhaps, do these perceptions spillover to other women, even when they are dressed modestly?

A wide range of research addresses these questions.

In terms of the first question - "do people percieve sexualized women differently?" - the answer is a resounding "yes." As I have talked about in previous posts (here, here, and here), research (here) shows that men and women rate these women as less intelligent, and even have less concern for their physical well-being. Women who are scantily dressed are even implcitly dehumanized (likened more to animals) compared to women who are not scantilly dressed. In fact (here and here), even having men and women focus on a woman's appearance reduces perceptions of the woman's intelligence, morality and competence, even if she is modestly dressed.

In terms of the second question - "do sexualized images of women impact how other women are perceived?" - the answer is again a resounding "yes," at least for men. Specifically, in one study researchers randomly assigned men to view sexualized or nuetral images of women. They were then told that they would have to rate the female experimenter for a task unrelated to the images. When the men had just viewed sexualized images of different women, they rated the experimenter, even though she was modestly dressed, as less competent and intelligent.

These studies are important because every time someone sees a sexualized image of a woman (which studies show are far more frequent than those of sexualized men), this likely is detrimental to how women are perceived.

And, just like doctors could not cure a disease without understanding the factors that lead to the disease, so too do psychologists need to understand the causes and effects of these social problems in order to one day alleviate them.

Even if a woman dresses modestly, to an extent, she is likely to be perceived more negatively (on average) just because other women are depicted sexually. 

It is a sexual objectification spillover effect.

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

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