When a 'she' becomes an 'it'

April 30, 2019

When a "she" becomes an "it". The most basic definition of sexual objectification, a risk that mostly targets women when they are reduced to their bodies or body parts. A view that represents a powerful and potentially damaging way in which we can see and treat women. The theme has been analyzed experimentally in a study conducted at the University of Trento, Italy. Its results are published today in the journal Scientific Reports and represent an important contribution to the literature on sexual objectification.

The discussion on why women are more exposed than men to the risk of being considered an object involves both evolutionary and socio-cultural theories and interests various scientific disciplines. The research team of the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science and the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences (CiMEC) has analyzed what happens in the human brain when an object appears in two different contexts: among a group of women or a group of men. The brain activity, measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG), shows that the object is noticed less when shown among a group of scarcely dressed women.

Jeroen Vaes, professor of the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science and first author of the current article, states: "Studies conducted in the past decades on the impact of sexual objectification revealed that growing up in a society in which women are mainly judged on their looks makes women doubt their physical appearance. In the long run, this might even lead to eating disorders and sexual dysfunctions. Little, however, is known about the way our perception changes when a woman is objectified. We have shown that a woman in bikini or underwear is perceived more similar to an object compared to a man, both in the brain of male and female participants. For the first time, we managed to show that the perception of women, when objectified, changes in essence beyond the metaphor becoming more similar to a real object".

How was this result obtained? In the experiments, both male and female participants were exposed to images of male and female, scarcely or fully-dressed models together with their doll-like avatars that were created on the basis of the same models. Brain activity was measured with an electroencephalogram (EEG).

On a scale from fully human to object, Vaes explains that the brain of both men and women tends to perceive a lower degree of humanity or a stronger resemblance with an object in women rather than in men when they are dressed in a swimsuit or underwear.

The implications of the result that the human brain associates "women" and "objects", are numerous. First of all, such perceptions might trigger treatments that are typically observed in our interactions with objects (like ownership and violation) and result in gender violence. Secondly, the recurrent sexualization of women in the media and in video games might have stronger effects in real life given that female doll-like avatars are less clearly differentiated from real women. Finally, the current paradigm might be adopted in other contexts. Vaes highlights: «Adopting a paradigm that measures whether human and non-human entities are perceived similarly, allows us to show processes of dehumanization beyond the metaphor in racial contexts as well». The current results could, therefore, provide new instruments to gauge racial prejudice and stereotypes and increase our understanding of gender and racial violence.
-end-
The article

The research work for the article, entitled "Assessing neural responses towards objectified human targets and objects to identify processes of sexual objectification that go beyond the metaphor", was conducted by Jeroen Vaes, Daniela Ruzzante and Carlotta Cogoni (of the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Science, UniTrento) and by Giulia Cristoforetti and Veronica Mazza (of CIMeC, UniTrento).

Published on 30th April 2019 in Scientific Reports, it is available in Open Access at the following link: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-42928-x

Università di Trento

Related Brain Activity Articles from Brightsurf:

Inhibiting epileptic activity in the brain
A new study shows that a protein -- called DUSP4 -- was increased in healthy brain tissue directly adjacent to epileptic tissue.

What is your attitude towards a humanoid robot? Your brain activity can tell us!
Researchers at IIT-Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia in Italy found that people's bias towards robots, that is, attributing them intentionality or considering them as 'mindless things', can be correlated with distinct brain activity patterns.

Using personal frequency to control brain activity
Individual frequency can be used to specifically influence certain areas of the brain and thus the abilities processed in them - solely by electrical stimulation on the scalp, without any surgical intervention.

Rats' brain activity reveals their alcohol preference
The brain's response to alcohol varies based on individual preferences, according to new research in rats published in eNeuro.

Studies of brain activity aren't as useful as scientists thought
Hundreds of published studies over the last decade have claimed it's possible to predict an individual's patterns of thoughts and feelings by scanning their brain in an MRI machine as they perform some mental tasks.

A child's brain activity reveals their memory ability
A child's unique brain activity reveals how good their memories are, according to research recently published in JNeurosci.

How dopamine drives brain activity
Using a specialized magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) sensor that can track dopamine levels, MIT neuroscientists have discovered how dopamine released deep within the brain influences distant brain regions.

Brain activity intensity drives need for sleep
The intensity of brain activity during the day, notwithstanding how long we've been awake, appears to increase our need for sleep, according to a new UCL study in zebrafish, published in Neuron.

Do babies like yawning? Evidence from brain activity
Contagious yawning is observed in many mammals, but there is no such report in human babies.

Understanding brain activity when you name what you see
Using complex statistical methods and fast measurement techniques, researchers found how the brain network comes up with the right word and enables us to say it.

Read More: Brain Activity News and Brain Activity Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.