According to an article from Scientific American journal, psychological research suggests that men cognitively register women as objects that they can use or act on, like power tools, if they have looked at sexy pictures of women before. At the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Chicago, Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske spoke of her research that focused on “…heterosexual men’s perceptions of scantily clad women, scantily clad men, and fully clothed men and women.” It is no surprise the research found that men had the best memory for the scantily clad women. But, what is surprising is how they remembered the images of the sexy, bikini clad women. Through the use of brain scans, the researchers identified the region of the brain the men used to recall memories of the pictures as the premotor region. Activation of this area of their brain in memory recall indicates that they intended to act on or use the stimulus—in this case, the pictured woman. Additionally, brain scans revealed that the part of the brain associated with empathy for other’s emotions and wishes shut down after viewing pictures of the women.
The result of the study begs the question: are men becoming physiologically hardwired to perceive women as sex objects. If we take a look through history, there has always been a market for the objectification of women. The historical perception of women was the bearers of children for their husbands and caretakers of his home and offspring. The ultimate objectification of women, prostitution, is often described as the world’s “oldest profession.” In today’s world, societal objectification of women is rampant, particularly in advertising which plays an integral role in men’s perception of women physiologically. As with many psychological issues, theories tend to split between environmental factors or biological factors. However, many fail to acknowledge that both the innate biological factors along with environmental factors help physically shape the human brain, particularly in our youth. The young mind is often likened to a “sponge,” in that environmental factors can determine biological changes in the brain’s structure. Although Fiske’s study shows the biological hardwiring of the male brain, we have to consider that this neurological reaction could be a result of societal, environmental input.
Beginning at an early age we are constantly surrounded by the objectification of women in advertising, movies and television. As media and marketing advance with increasing sexual innuendo, children are exposed to the objectification of women at an increasingly early age. Cartoons made for 5 year-olds contain sexual jokes and images, that should never be seen by children. A YouTube search for the Nickelodeon cartoon, Sponge bob Square pants, elicits results that imply the show is riddled with sexual comments and imagery that children absorb and can potentially transfer to real-life situations. This hyper-sexualized imagery follows a child into adulthood with pornography. Men who frequently watch pornography are particularly primed to objectify women. Fiske commented on this phenomenon and called it the “spill over effect.” This occurs when men view a lot of sex or scantily clad women and then this perception “spills over” onto real women in their lives: coworkers, female friends, etc.
Further studies similar to Fiske’s will contribute more information on the matter as to why men remember sexy images of women with the premotor region of their brain and what we as a society can do to correct this image. We must make a change in a broad sense, as a society, and eliminate the mass public objectification of women. In the end we will find this to have an effect on the individual brain, and ultimately how men perceive women.