Do people’s mental capacities fundamentally change when they remove a sweater? This seems absurd: How could removing a piece of clothing change one’s capacity for acting or feeling? In six studies, however, we show that taking off a sweater—or otherwise revealing flesh—can significantly change the way a mind is perceived. In this article, we suggest that the kind of mind ascribed to another person depends on the relative salience of his or her body—that the perceived capacity for both pain and planned action depends on whether someone wears a sweater or tank-top.The abstract:
According to models of objectification, viewing someone as a body induces de-mentalization, stripping away their psychological traits. Here evidence is presented for an alternative account, where a body focus does not diminish the attribution of all mental capacities but, instead, leads perceivers to infer a different kind of mind. Drawing on the distinction in mind perception between agency and experience, it is found that focusing on someone's body reduces perceptions of agency (self-control and action) but increases perceptions of experience (emotion and sensation). These effects were found in three experiments when comparing targets represented by both revealing versus nonrevealing pictures or by simply directing attention toward physical characteristics. In two further experiments he effect of a body focus on mind perception also influenced moral intuitions, with those represented as a body seen to be less morally responsible (i.e., lesser moral agents) but more sensitive to harm (i.e., greater moral patients). These effects suggest that a body focus does not cause objectification per se but, instead, leads to a redistribution of perceived mind.