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.