Power, Objectification, and Recognition of Sexualized Women and Men Academic Article uri icon

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abstract

  • In contemporary society, sexual objectification is usually thought of as something that men do to women. However, this notion risks conflating the gender of the perpetrator with the fact that men often hold more social power than women. In the current study, we investigated whether power itself was associated with changes in processing of sexualized human targets, independent of the gender of the power holder. In Experiment 1, we primed separate groups of female participants to high-, low-, or neutral-power. We then engaged them in a recognition task involving upright or inverted sexualized images of men and women. Previous research using stimulus inversion manipulations has found that inversion of faces/bodies, but not of objects, disrupts recognition performance, suggesting a reliance on more configural processing in face/body perception compared to object perception. We found that women primed to high-power did not show an inversion effect for sexualized men but did show an inversion effect for sexualized women. In contrast, women primed to low-power showed an inversion effect for sexualized men and women. In Experiment 2, we replicated this finding and found a similar effect of power for male participants perceiving sexualized images of women. We discuss our results with reference to the literatures on objectification and the cognitive processes involved in the perception of sexualized men and women. Our study provides seminal evidence that power, rather than gender per se, may play a central role in sexual objectification. Online slides for instructors who want to use this article for teaching are available to PWQ subscribers on PWQ's website at http://pwq.sagepub.com/supplemental

publication date

  • June 2016