Men see scantily clad women as objects according to new research.
To be entirely scientific, the research, presented at the AAAS annual meeting , showed that the parts of the brain responsible for tool use and action lit up when Princeton college undergrads were shown images of women in bikinis (without their faces) for a fraction of a second.
"This is just the first study which was focused on the idea that men of a certain age view sex as a highly desirable goal, and if you present them with a provocative woman, then that will tend to prime goal-related responses," said presenter Susan Fiske (quoted by CNN).
To see the brain's reaction to the images, researchers had 21 undergraduate males take surveys to determine their level of sexism. They then showed them images of women in bikinis while scanning their brains using fMRI. Not only did the area for tool use light up, the area for social interactions, which lights up when trying to see things from another's perspective, didn't. Additional study found that male undergraduates also associate bikini-wearing women with first-person action verbs instead of third person ones (I do this not she does this). The opposite was true of fully clothed images and for women viewing both images.
In other words, the men viewed the women in bikinis as objects, not people.
I know, I know. "Duh".
But it's always good to have science behind the obvious. What this means for women is that we should think about what we're wearing and how we will be perceived. The reactions the men had in these studies weren't conscious, so they're likely unavoidable. Wearing provocative clothing will make them change how they think of you, and if you have a problem with that, don't wear it. Men, on the other hand, should think about how they automatically judge women. Don't let your other head get in the way of getting to know someone or treating them like a human being.
I would like to see similar studies carried out with women instead of men. Do women do the same dehumanizing to a scantily-clad, beefy babe? Or to a clearly rich, powerful man? I also wonder if men would react the same way to their close friends or significant others in bikinis. The CNN article suggests that they probably wouldn't, but I'd tend to disagree. I think any attractive woman in a bikini will get the response - but I guess only future research will tell.