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You may tell yourself that the woman on the other side of the bar is more than a great pair of legs and a nice smile, but what your brain sees is just that—a collection of body parts.
A new study found that our brains use two different kinds of processing when we look at images of men and women. While we view men as single, whole objects, we tend to see women as a collection of body parts. This is the difference between seeing a Ferrari as a car, and mainly noticing the wheels, tires, and windshield.
In the study, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, participants first viewed head-to-knee shots of average-looking men and women. After a brief pause, they saw two body images—the original and a slightly modified version—both of which contained a sexual body part.
People identified the original images of women more easily when viewing the body parts in isolation. The original images of men, however, were recognized more easily when seen as a whole. This, say the researchers, indicates that the brain works differently when looking at women and men.
Checking out a woman’s chest isn’t just a thing men do when picking up women at the bar. Women in the study also tended to see women as a collection of body parts, and men as whole people. More research is needed, but this may help explain why our society tends to sexually objectify women more than men.