Flipping through your television channels for just five minutes will make it clear that female objectification exists, and that it manifests itself in various ways. When women derive most of their self-worth from their looks, they score lower on math tests and have increased instances of self-esteem issues. One recent study showed that even six-year-old girls want to be sexy. Now one study recently published in the European Journal of Social Psychology indicates that there is a reason for this objectification: while women are seen by the brain as a sum of their parts, men are seen as a whole.
Psychologist Sarah Gervais, from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and her colleagues sought to answer the question of whether women are more objectified than men are. They focused on two types of visual processing: global and local. Global visual processing is used to discern whole figures, like human faces; it is important not to see just a mouth, but where the mouth is in relation to the face. (It also explains why some people have a really, really tough time in discerning haircuts.) Local visual processing is used to pick out just a part, like a green door on a white house.
Researchers theorized that, if a certain group is objectified, it is because people are using local visual processing more often to view them.
The team conducted two nearly identical studies using 227 undergraduate participants. In the first, participants were shown pictures of the whole bodies of men and women. They were then shown the same picture with sexualized areas like the chest and waist slightly altered. Sometimes they were shown close-up pictures of people with a slight alteration and had to answer what they thought remained the same.
Researchers found that both men and women were better able to distinguish the subtle differences made to pictures of women than they were of pictures of men. This was because they were paying more attention to women's individual body parts, they theorized.
The second experiment asked participants to look at pictures of letters made up of smaller letters: for example, the letter B made up of C's. Some participants were asked to identify the larger letter, using their global processing ability; the others were asked to identify the smaller letter, using their local processing ability. Then they completed the earlier experiment of identifying body parts. Researchers found that people who had sharpened their global processing ability by looking at the larger letter objectified women much less than occurred in the first experiment.
The second experiment indicated that objectification is an easy habit to wipe away. Gervais also said that good moods help as well; when you can remind yourself to see the big picture, you will see people in a more holistic way.