Women are looked at more often and for longer durations by both male and female viewers, a new study has found.
Mary Jean Amon, a doctoral student in the University of Cincinnati’s psychology programme, studied same and mixed-gender gaze patterns and found that women were viewed more frequently and for longer periods of time – even when their photos were blended in groups of both genders – and that the women were viewed more often and for longer durations by both men and women.
The findings emphasise how women can be evaluated in society and how that in turn can have negative impacts on their self-esteem and behaviour, Amon said.
Participants in the study were divided into two groups. The first group involved 100 college-age men and women (50 participants from each gender) who were photographed portrait-style in front of a white background.
The second group was represented by 76 college-age students who were informed that they would be taking part in an investigation of psychological responses to visual stimuli, and that they would view random pictures of people, art, landscapes, animals or cartoons.
The viewing group was then seated in front of a computer monitor to view the photos. The viewing patterns of the participants were unknowingly being measured by a remote eye-tracking device to record and measure their point of gaze.
For viewing, the portrait photos were grouped in different scenarios including single photos and groups of two, four or six photos which varied in gender composition.
“What we found was that women overall were looked at more frequently. They were looked at first, they were looked at last, and they were looked at for longer durations, and this was the case for both male and female viewers,” Amon said.
Amon said the findings reflect objectification theory that suggests that women are frequently evaluated by their physical appearance.
“This often relates to sexualisation or even treating women as mere body parts, and that obviously can hold negative consequences over time,” said Amon.
“Short-term effects, for example, can involve lower self-esteem and reduced cognitive functioning. Long-term effects are actually more difficult for women. They actually start objectifying and evaluating themselves in terms of their physical appearance,” Amon said.
The study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.