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Study: Brain Objectifies Women As Body Parts, Men As Whole

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File photo of a model in a bikini. (credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2013)

File photo of a model in a bikini. (credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim 2013)

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LINCOLN, Neb. (CBS St. Louis) — A recent study finds that our brain objectifies women as different body parts, while viewing men as a whole.

The study, published in June’s European Journal of Social Psychology, was conducted by Sarah Gervais, a psychology professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

She conducted experiments by presenting 227 participants of the study with images of men and women, finding that men were perceived as a “global” – or whole – cognitive processing level, while women were seen on a “local” cognitive processing level.

“Local processing underlies the way we think about objects: houses, cars and so on. But global processing should prevent us from that when it comes to people,” Gervais said in the study. “We don’t break people down to their parts, except when it comes to women, which is really striking. Women were perceived in the same ways that objects are viewed.”

The participant pool, which was evenly divided between men and women, were first provided images of fully-clothed people. They were then shown two images: the original clothed image from before and then an image of a sexual body part. The study found that the participants more easily identified a woman’s body part shown in isolation than presented in the context of her entire body, and vice versa for men.

“We always hear that women are reduced to their sexual body parts; you hear about examples in the media all the time,” Gervais said in the study. “This research takes it a step further and finds that this perception spills over to everyday women, too.”

Gervais said that this is the first study to link cognitive processes to objectification theory.

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