Men, their perception of women, and their tools

Research out of Princeton University and noted at this past weekend’s annual AAAS meeting gives weight to an idea that cognitive and social scientists have tentatively considered for years: Given sufficient provocation, men view women as sex objects.

Men are more likely to think of women as objects if they have looked at sexy pictures of females beforehand, psychologists said yesterday.
Researchers used brain scans to show that when straight men looked at pictures of women in bikinis, areas of the brain that normally light up in anticipation of using tools, like spanners and screwdrivers, were activated.
Scans of some of the men found that a part of the brain associated with empathy for other peoples’ emotions and wishes shut down after looking at the pictures.
Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, said the changes in brain activity suggest sexy images can shift the way men perceive women, turning them from people to interact with, to objects to act upon.

This makes perfect sense, given that when males view pictures of NASCAR events, daffodils, and human waste, anecdotal evidence suggests that they are inclined to think of not only various power tools, but also limitless varieties of copulatory activity.

In the study, Fiske’s team put straight men into an MRI brain scanner and showed them images of either clothed men and women, or more scantily clad men and women. When they took a memory test afterwards, the men best remembered images of bikini-clad women whose heads had been digitally removed.

This is merely a symbolic leveling of the playing field. If men in lust-struck states are operating without benefit of their brains, then it is only just that the objects of their lust be rendered similarly decerebrate.

In the final part of the study, Fiske asked the men to fill in a questionnaire that was used to assess how sexist they were. The brain scans showed that men who scored highest had very little activity in the prefrontal cortex and other brain regions that are involved with understanding another person’s feelings and intentions. “They’re reacting to these women as if they’re not fully human,” Fiske said.

“Not fully human” is as likely to mean “superhuman” as “subhuman,” correct? Looks like further research is needed.

Advertisements
  1. #1 by John on February 17, 2009 - 10:29 am

    What a remarkably one-sided study.
    “Let’s confirm our predjudices about how men view women. There’s no point in doing the same study on women because we know they never view men as objects and their empathy centers never shut down.”

  2. #2 by John on February 17, 2009 - 10:35 am

    Not to mention gay men and women.
    I guess what I’m saying is: what does the study really teach us if we have nothing to compare this group to.

  3. #3 by catgirl on February 17, 2009 - 1:14 pm

    Yeah, it would have been pretty easy to test a few women too. Also, I wonder how they decided what amount of clothing is considered revealing, since that is pretty subjective.

  4. #4 by Bill from Dover on February 17, 2009 - 2:09 pm

    Yo catgirl,
    Yeah, every time I get into the shower my wife can’t stop thinking about spatulas and egg beaters.

  5. #5 by antipodean on February 17, 2009 - 4:31 pm

    An alternative explanation given what you’ve described is this.
    Heterosexual men like looking at pictures of women more than they like pictures of other men. As a result men find that pictures of Women’s With Their Heads Cut-Off are disturbing and tend to remember them better.
    Also given that it’s Psychology “research” it probably means that ‘men’ in this case are undergraduate psychology students at one University.

  6. #6 by antipodean on February 17, 2009 - 4:31 pm

    An alternative explanation given what you’ve described is this.
    Heterosexual men like looking at pictures of women more than they like pictures of other men. As a result men find that pictures of Women’s With Their Heads Cut-Off are disturbing and tend to remember them better.
    Also given that it’s Psychology “research” it probably means that ‘men’ in this case are undergraduate psychology students at one University.

  7. #7 by Erin on February 17, 2009 - 4:34 pm

    Surely they are only thinking of tools because looking at scantily clad women reminds them that they need to repair the roof, clean the gutters, or change the tires on the car for their sweethearts?

  8. #8 by John on February 17, 2009 - 4:53 pm

    “…this memory correlated with activation in part of the brain that is a pre-motor, having intentions to act on something, so it was as if they immediately thought about how they might act on these bodies.”
    Another way to look at it. In the age of pornography, a picture of a scantily clad woman is a “tool” – i.e. a means to an end.
    There’s no point in wondering about the picture’s “feelings” as the picture is not the woman. So all you have left is what you’d like to do with the picture. For example take it into the bathroom for a while.
    Of course a quick scan of history shows that in the “right” circumstances men do look at women as nothing more than a means to an end. And at other men as being in the way of that end.

  9. #9 by antipodean on February 17, 2009 - 8:08 pm

    Good point John.
    And given that it’s well established that females pick mates based on fitness -which in humans is correlated with earnings/power I wonder what part of a woman’s brain might light-up?
    For instance if you show a woman a picture of Donald Trump does the “tool” section of her brain get a work-out?

  10. #10 by Ari on May 4, 2009 - 5:05 pm

    The very first thing I thought when I heard about this study was “of course!” Have you ever seen men in the Sears tool section? C’mon, the look on their faces is not too different from when they’re looking at women in bikinis! And we won’t even get into power washers. I would expect women have similar brain reactions to pics of shoes and pics of Brad Pitt.
    Re:the “headless women” pics, all those attentional studies with infants – infants look longer at pictures with something unexpected (faces with missing features etc.). So I would expect men to remember pics with missing heads more – they’re different from expected and therefore memorable, right? or are those infant studies a bunch of psycho-babble-just-so-stories too?

%d bloggers like this: