New study reveals what revealing clothing reveals
In one of the more interesting news items we’ve seen today, a new study reveals that body focus affects how both men and women see others—not that we didn’t know that, but scientific evidence is now backing that revealing skin changes the way the revealer’s mind is perceived.
For both men and women, wearing revealing attire causes them to be seen as more sensitive but less competent, says a new study by University of Maryland psychologist Kurt Gray and colleagues from Yale and Northeastern University and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“An important thing about our study is that, unlike much previous research, ours applies to both sexes. It also calls into question the nature of objectification because people without clothes are not seen as mindless objects, but they are instead attributed a different kind of mind,” says UMD’s Gray. “We also show that this effect can happen even without the removal of clothes. Simply focusing on someone’s attractiveness, in essence concentrating on their body rather than their mind, makes you see her or him as less of an agent [someone who acts and plans] more of an experiencer.”
In multiple experiments, the researchers found that when men and women in the study focused on someone’s body, perceptions of agency (self-control and action) were reduced, and perceptions of experience (emotion and sensation) were increased. Gray and colleagues suggest that this effect occurs because people unconsciously think of minds and bodies as distinct, or even opposite, with the capacity to act and plan tied to the “mind” and the ability to experience or feel tied to the body. According to Gray, their findings indicate that the change in perception that results from showing skin is not all bad. “A focus on the body, and the increased perception of sensitivity and emotion it elicits might be good for lovers in the bedroom,” he says.
Their study also found that a body focus can actually increase moral standing. Although those wearing little or no clothes—or otherwise represented as a body—were seen to be less morally responsible, they also were seen to be more sensitive to harm and hence deserving of more protection. “Others appear to be less inclined to harm people with bare skin and more inclined to protect them.
In one experiment, for example, people viewing male subjects with their shirts off were less inclined to give those subjects uncomfortable electric shocks than when the men had their shirts on,” Gray says. However, Gray and his coauthors note that in work or academic contexts, where people are primarily evaluated on their capacity to plan and act, a body focus clearly has negative effects. Seeing someone as a body strips him or her of competence and leadership, potentially impacting job evaluations.
In a society so focused on body image, it’s interesting research. Will it change the way you approach dressing for business or dates?
Image from VictoriasSecret.com