Monday, December 09, 2013

Naked bodies and mind perception.

Numerous studies have found that viewing people’s bodies, as opposed to their faces, makes us judge them as less intelligent, ambitious, likable, and competent. Kurt Gray, Paul Bloom, and collaborators have published a neat study in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that shows further than naked bodies are viewed as having less purposeful agency, but stronger feelings and emotional responses They obtained this result by questioning subjects who were shown pictures of 30 porn stars, with each star represented in an identical pose in two photographs, one naked and the other fully dressed. (Simply revealing more flesh by something as simple as taking off a sweater also could change the way a mind was perceived.)  Here is their 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 when comparing targets represented by both revealing versus nonrevealing pictures (Experiments 1, 3, and 4) or by simply directing attention toward physical characteristics (Experiment 2). The 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; Experiments 5 and 6). These effects suggest that a body focus does not cause objectification per se but, instead, leads to a redistribution of perceived mind.
Below I include one graphic showing pictures and data from experiment 3, in which subjects were shown naked or clothed people and than asked to rate the person's mental capacities by answering 12 questions with the following beginning: “Compared to the average person, how much is this person capable of X?” In the place of “X” were six agency-related words (self-control, acting morally, planning, communication, memory, and thought) and six experience-related words (feeling pain, feeling pleasure, feeling desire, feeling fear, feeling rage, feeling joy).
Pictures and data from Experiment 3. Ratings of agency and experience for clothed and naked portraits. Error bars are ±1 SE. From XXX: 30 Porn-Star Portraits, by T. Greenfield-Sanders and G. Vidal, 2004, pp. 14, 15, 18–21, 30, 31, 44, 45, 80–85, 92, 93, 102, 103.

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