Men buzzed from booze are more likely to see women as sexual objects, and that’s science talking — not your BFF about his weekend.
And if it sounds obvious, new research goes beyond earlier anecdotal reporting to explore factors at work in the science of objectification.
“Understanding why the objectifying gaze occurs in the first place is an initial step toward stopping its incidence and its damaging effects,” said lead author Abigail Riemer of the University of Nebraska- Lincoln.
In the small but timely study — “Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beer Holder” — 49 twentysomething men were studied in a lab setting. Just over half of the subjects were given two alcoholic drinks so they’d get mildly intoxicated. The rest of the group’s drinks were booze-free.
Subjects were shown photographs of 80 undergraduate women dressed to go out and instructed to rate the women’s appearances and personalities. An independent panel had previously rated the pictured women as high, average or low in attractiveness, warmth and competence.
Using eye-tracking technology, investigators traced which parts of the women’s bodies men focused on. When asked to assess photos in terms of appearance, men spent less time looking at women’s faces than they did at their chests and waists.
“Objectifying gazes were greatest among intoxicated men viewing photographs of women who they perceived to be lower in warmth and competence.”
“Objectifying gazes were greatest among intoxicated men viewing photographs of women who they perceived to be lower in warmth and competence,” researchers said. That suggests “that alcohol may further disinhibit the already increased objectifying gazes toward women who are seen to be lower in humanness.”
The findings suggest that whether a man will sexually objectify a woman depends on his alcohol intoxication, as well as how attractive, warm and competent a woman is perceived to be.
“The sum of these results supports the notion that being perceived as high in humanizing attributes, such as warmth and competence, or being average in attractiveness provides a buffer that protects women from sexual objectification,” said Riemer.
The study, published in the journal Sex Roles, does more than validate the notion of beer goggles — and could down the road help inform programs dealing with sexual harassment and violence.
Researchers acknowledged that at present there the study has limitations.“People may be attracted to and attend to the bodies of women in various ways for many reasons,” they concluded. “Examining sexual objectification in larger and more diverse samples is a critical next step before generalizing the present findings to other populations.”