From Women to Objects: Appearance Focus, Target Gender, and Perceptions of Warmth, Morality and Competence

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Objectification, Dehumanization, Human nature, Stereotype content model, Infrahumanization, Appearance focus

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Most literally, objectification refers to perceiving a person as an object, and consequently, less than fully human. Research on perceptions of humanness and the stereotype content model suggests that humanness is linked to perceptions of warmth, morality and competence. Merging these insights with objectification theory, we hypothesized that focusing on a woman's, but not a man's, appearance should induce objectification, and thus reduce perceptions of these characteristics. In three studies, females, but not males, were perceived as less competent (Studies 2 and 3) and less warm and moral (Studies 1, 2 and 3) when participants were instructed to focus on their appearance. These findings support our position and help rule out stereotype activation as an alternative explanation to dehumanization. Further, they generalized to targets of different races, familiarity, physical attractiveness and occupational status. Implications for gender inequity and the perpetuation of objectification of women are discussed.

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Citation / Publisher Attribution

Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, v. 47, issue 3, p. 572-581