Study shows Men focus on the body of woman more than the face, suprisingly women do it too

Posted on October 30, 2013

But how, exactly, does that “objectifying gaze” play out? Despite plenty of anecdotal evidence, research had yet to empirically document the nature of roving eyes when it came to women’s bodies — until now.

A new study by UNL psychologists Sarah Gervais and Michael Dodd employed eyetracking technology to intricately map the visual behavior of both men and women as they viewed images of different females with different body types.

When asked to focus on a woman’s appearance, study participants largely looked at women in that way — they quickly moved their eyes to and then dwelled on a woman’s breasts and other sexualized body parts.

Though the men in the study exhibited such visual behavior consistently, the researchers found that women’s eye patterns actually were similar to men’s. However, male participants regarded the curvaceous women more positively than women with fewer curves, whereas female participants viewed these women similarly.

The researchers outfitted 65 college students with an eyetracking device and asked them to look at 30 photos of 10 college-aged women and to either rate the appearance or personality of the female in each picture. Each original image was manipulated to enhance or decrease the woman’s sexualized body parts in an attempt to determine whether specific body types were more or less likely to be objectified.

Though the results were consistent with anecdotal expectations of gaze behavior, Gervais said she was surprised with some of the findings, especially how strongly women’s visual patterns suggest they objectify other women.

“We do have a slightly different pattern for men than women, but when we looked at their overall dwell times – how long they focused on each body part – we find the exact same effects for both groups,” she said. “Women, we think, do it often for social comparison purposes.”

Whereas men were fast to fixate on both the bodies and faces of female targets, women in some circumstances were more likely to focus more quickly on faces.

Another key finding related to the role of body shape. Even when study instructions encouraged the participants to focus on the personality of the female target – a manipulation that would seem likely to lead to additional focus on the images’ faces – women with hourglass figures were perceived more positively than women with straighter figures by male participants, the researchers found.


Source material from The University of Nebraska-Lincoln


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