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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I feel like I'm in the wrong sub-area.

Researchers at Princeton University have, apparently, completed exciting new research that seems to indicate that looking at scantily clad women makes men become pushy assholes:

Brain scans revealed that when men are shown pictures of scantily clad women, the region of the brain associated with tool use lights up.

Men were also more likely to associate images of sexualized women with first-person action verbs such as "I push, I grasp, I handle," said lead researcher Susan Fiske, a psychologist at Princeton University.

And in a "shocking" finding, Fiske noted, some of the men studied showed no activity in the part of the brain that usually responds when a person ponders another's intentions.

This means that these men see women "as sexually inviting, but they are not thinking about their minds," Fiske said. "The lack of activation in this social cognition area is really odd, because it hardly ever happens."

Some of you are doubtless unsurprised to hear about this.* Leaving aside the myriad "tool" jokes that leap unbidden into my puerile little brain, we should not place too much faith in this research just yet. It involved a mere 21 subjects and, as such, is not as conclusive as we might like. Additionally we still don't understand everything about how brain activation correlates with intentionality or behavior and, really, we shouldn't be too hard on most men as some of us seem to have more issues with this than others:

...the men who scored higher as "hostile sexists"—those who view women as controlling and invaders of male space—didn't show brain activity that indicates they saw the women in bikinis as humans with thoughts and intentions.

Scientists have seen this absence of activation only once before, in a study where people were shown off-putting photographs of homeless people and drug addicts.

So, in another shocking finding, men who don't like women are more likely to view women as things. And it's not just the men who seem to be impacted by bikinis- you will recall that I've previously mentioned a study that finds that women perform less well on math exercises when dressed in bikinis. In sum, this research seems to indicate that bikinis make men view women as unintelligent things and, indeed, make women act less intelligent than they really are.**

Really, though, I just find myself wondering if I should have picked an academic field that involves less concern with inequality and more concern with studying women in bikinis.***

* On a more serious note, I wonder very much what the results would have been if the heads of the pictures hadn't been omitted, given that the face provides so much information on intent. Additionally, I wonder if there is a difference in response to exposure to pictures of strangers in bikinis versus people the subjects know. Because, really, how many of us develop an elaborate theory of mind about people we pass on the street?

** Yes, this is a horrendously simplistic rendering of the research picture. C'mon, what do you expect from me?

*** No, I'm not serious, and yes, I do love my wife very, very much.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The heads were omitted? The researchers did that, and then made inferences about the test subjects? Wow.

As usual, the image seems to be of confident men with big dicks and perfect pecs performing ably as soon as bikinis are in view. In my less perfect experience, and Woody Allen's, thinking too much about what the woman is thinking is not so performatively productive, unless of course she is shrieking with delight at which point the thought transfers to the consequences of setting such a high bar of expectation, etc.

Saturday, February 21, 2009 12:23:00 PM  

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