College students love boobs. Did we need a study to tell us that? Probably not -- but the results of a University of Nebraska-Lincoln study now published in the journal Sex Roles does offer one surprise: women look at boobs just as much as men.
Using eye-tracking technology, psychologists Sarah Gervais and Michael Dodd recently found that among 29 female and 36 male college students, the women were just as guilty of the "objectifying gaze" as their male peers.
The eye-tracker measures, down to the milliseconds, how long the eyes are fixed on certain spots. Gervais and Dodd had subjects look at 10 college-aged females.
They were shown three images of each woman -- one unretouched photo, one manipulated to look more curvaceous, and one less curvaceous. To create the curvaceous look, certain body parts -- the chest, hips and rear ends -- were enhanced. The study participants were asked to rate the women in the photos on personality or appearance.
When asked to focus on appearance, the males and females equally zoned in on the areas of the enhanced parts of the body, especially the waists and chests. They spent more time looking there than they did looking at faces. The images showing larger breasts, narrower waists and bigger hips prompted the longest looks.
"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," Gervais said in a statement. "Women, we think, do it often for social comparison purposes." Men, they say, might be doing it because, based on evolution, they are more drawn to curves because they imply better childbearing abilities.
While both had wandering eyes, they rated what they saw differently. Even when they were asked to rate the women in the images on personality, the men rated the curvier women more positively.
Gervais and Dodd hope the study leads to a better understanding of why people objectify women, so that the behavior can be controlled.
"By characterizing the manner in which people fixate on the body when engaging in objectifying behavior, it also becomes possible to determine methods of reducing this behavior. That's what the personality manipulation part of the study did -- that's a huge positive," Dodd said. "It's not as though looking at the body of someone has to be, or is, a default behavior. It just may be the case that cognitive control is required to engage in more appropriate, and less damaging, visual behavior."
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