Sunday, 14 February 2010

Bikinis Make Men See Women as Objects, Scans Confirm

Christine Dell'Amore in Chicago
February 16, 2009

Sexy women in bikinis really do inspire some men to see them as objects, according to a new study of male behavior. Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.

Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as "I push, I grasp, I handle," said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.

And in a "shocking" finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another's intentions.

This means that these men see women "as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds," Fiske said. "The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens."


Fiske and colleagues asked 21 heterosexual male volunteers to first take a test that scores people based on different types of sexist attitudes. The subjects were then shown pictures of both skimpily dressed and fully clothed men and women.

Most of the men best remembered headless photographs of women in bikinis, even if they'd only seen the image for two-tenths of a second, Fiske reported this weekend in Chicago during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

And the men who scored higher as "hostile sexists"—those who view women as controlling and invaders of male space—didn't show brain activity that indicates they saw the women in bikinis as humans with thoughts and intentions.

Scientists have seen this absence of activation only once before, in a study where people were shown off-putting photographs of homeless people and drug addicts.

(Related: "Sex-Based Roles Gave Modern Humans an Edge, Study Says.")

If a similar study were done with women, Fiske told National Geographic News, it would be hard to predict whether a woman shown a scantily clad male body would dehumanize him in the same way.

Evolutionary psychologists have proposed that women tend to look for mates who have wealth and power, so some of Fiske's colleagues have suggested running a similar test where women are shown pictures of men next to expensive cars or other affluent symbols.

But Fiske doesn't think such an experiment would work the same way, because women usually react to men they desire by "interpreting their minds, thinking about what they're interested in, and then trying to please them," she said.


Rabiya Khan said...

Muslim women such as myself have always known what scientists are just now realizing (or ready to admit): Men are visual creatures who lack depth!!!

Enzyme said...

Woo hoo. Men's brains light up when we see a woman in a bikini. That's hardly a surprise; but the phrase "see women as objects" is morally loaded, and I'm suspicious of that.

You can't draw a moral lesson from bare science.

Nor can you tell much about the science by repeating a Nat Geog story, which seems only to be a report of a conference paper. It might perhaps be wise to wait until the peer-reviewed version is published before getting all excited...

Anonymous said...


A study like that supports the idea of a woman covering up but there is also a danger of removing accountability from men in terms of their behaviour to women by saying "Ah well they were made that way."

Yes on a core human level we have biology and physiology that controls us, i.e. stimulus seen by an eye interpreted by the brain causes physical responses.

But the beauty of Islam doesn't just lie in the fact that we acknowledge this. I think since the beginning of time everyone knows men react in different ways to a women dressed provocatively and a woman dressed conservatively.

However, Islam not only acknowledges the way a mans brain works but gives a way of life, a mindset, a philosophy and a persepctive to interpreting that.

Therefore a man of faith, committed and focused on his personal development, would look at the women and most certainly feel something but the extent of that feeling, the amount it controls and affects him I believe is CHOICE.

I'm a woman and what I find attractive or how I perceive a male is centred around my faith and my own qualities. If I am a God fearing person with modesty and humility then thats what I will be drawn to.

Shallow people like shallow things!

The men in these studies - who are their role models, what are their views on women, and what social norms have they been raised in?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and the eyes are the windows of the soul.

A soul subjugated to Allah perceives things in a very different way to the mass of society.


Idealistic maybe slightly naive Muslimah!

Enzyme said...

@Idealistic maybe slightly naive Muslimah -
How does this study support any idea about covering? Assuming the brain-scans are reliable, all they do is tell us a bare fact about how one aspect of the world works. There's nothing morally important about it, and it would be a mistake to impute any moral importance to it.

But even if you're willing to make that mistake, it still doesn't tell us anything about covering up. Your argument, if it were to work, would have to go like this:
1. Men's brains behave in this way when they see a woman in a bikini.
2. The nature of that behaviour is morally significant, and problematic.
3. Therefore the idea of women covering up is good.

But 3. doesn't follow from 1. or 2.; and, moreover, we also know that Sharia is frequently interpreted as to imply that women covering up is not just a good idea in something like the same way that it's a good idea to shut your front door when you go out, but that it's a good idea in the sense of a duty - and that's very different indeed, and an utterly false move. Enforced modesty isn't modesty at all.

(Of course, there's still an open question concerning what counts as modesty, even assuming, for the sake of the argument, a rule of some sort saying that we ought to be modest. People half-naked on a Meditteranean beach would deny that they're being immodest: they'd say that their dress, or lack of it, is perfectly acceptable and appropriate in the context. It's hard to see how they'd be mistaken.)

Your other points are good, of course, but they don't seem to have much to do with god, Islam, souls or anything like that. If women's brains respond to different stimuli, that isn't wholly a surprise - though it would be a surprise if male and female brains were completely different, since women are just as capable of going a bit silly over naked men as men are capable of going a bit silly over naked women. And a world in which we're supposed to feel bad about that seems a bit dreary... wouldn't it?