Men are more likely to think of women as sex objects if they have looked at sexy pictures of females, psychologists say. Through brain scans analysis, researchers are able to show that when men look at pictures of bikin-clad women, the areas of the brain that normally light up in anticipation of using tools like wrenches and screwdrivers are activated and that the part of the brain associated with empathy for other people’s emotions and wishes are shut down.
Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told the group that measured changes in brain activity suggest sexy images can shift the way men perceive women from people to interact with to objects to act upon.
MRI brain scans and bikinis
The study team put men into MRI brain scanners and showed them images of clothed as well as scantily clad women. Taking memory tests afterward, the men best remembered images of bikini-clad women whose heads had been digitally removed.
The images of the women’s bodies increased brain activity in the premotor cortex area of the brain which is involved in urges to take action. The same area of the brain lights up before men use power tools. “It’s as if they immediately thought to act on theses bodies,” Fiske said.
The study also revealed that the higher the man scored in “sexism”, the less regard they had for a person’s feelings. They had very little activity in the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions that are involved with understanding another person’s emotions and intentions. “They’re reacting to these women as if they’re not fully human,” Fiske said.
Fiske said the findings call into question the impact of sexualised images of women that might be pinned on workplace walls or sent around offices where there is a strong locker-room culture. “I’m not saying there should be censorship, but people need to be aware of the associations people will have in their minds,” Fiske said.
For a fascinating and spot-on look at society’s gradual acceptance of once forbidden norms, check out The Evolution of the Swimsuit by Jessica Rey.