Since time began, there has been a relentless undertone in every society that objectifies women. Although women have fought hard against this chauvinistic act, it remains. Many fingers point blame at toys, like Barbie dolls, or at advertisements - which blatantly display women as sex objects. Today, pointing fingers may have to redirect their angst in a different, unexpected direction.
A new study, published yesterday in the European Journal of Social Psychology, suggests that the difference in perception of men and women is an innate part of human cognitive processing. In other words, male or female, you perceive men as a whole being and women as body parts.
The study presented groups of men and women with images of average looking individuals as a whole and then in parts. When shown the images of parts, researchers gave subjects the choice between an original picture and a modified picture. Consistently, both men and women recognized the original body parts of women over those of men. This suggests that when perceiving men, individuals use global cognitive processing, while when perceiving women – male or female – everyone reverts to local cognitive processing or seeing things in parts.
The study is the first of its kind, and lead author, Sarah Gervais, told Science Daily, “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. 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."
This may seem like bad news for feminism, but Gervais is hopeful that it will help science determine effective ways to break down these perceptions.
"Our findings suggest people fundamentally process women and men differently, but we are also showing that a very simple manipulation counteracts this effect, and perceivers can be prompted to see women globally, just as they do men," Gervais said. "Based on these findings, there are several new avenues to explore."
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