Study: Ogling women makes them worse at math
A new study has found that women who have been ogled by men before taking a math quiz perform worse than those who were not subject to subtle objectification.
Getting the once-over from a man causes women to score lower on a math test, a new study finds.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite this drop in performance, women were more motivated to interact with men who ogled them, perhaps because they were trying to boost their sense of belonging, psychologists report in the February issue of the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly.
"It creates this vicious cycle for women in which they're underperforming in math or work domains, but they're continuing to want to interact with the person who is making them underperform in the first place," study researcher Sarah Gervais, a psychologist at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, told LiveScience.
The objectifying gaze
According to researchers, objectification happens when a person is judged on body parts or sexual function without regard to other aspects of their personality. Previous studies have found that women experience objectification frequently: One to two times a week, according to a 2001 study of U.S. college students that was published in the Journal of Social Issues. [Read: Negative Stereotypes Have a Lasting Effect]
But although people have come to regard blatant sexual harassment as a problem, the consequences of subtle objectification are less well understood, Gervais said. She and her colleagues decided to investigate whether "sneaking a peek" at an opposite-sex workmate might affect that person's job performance.
To do so, Gervais and her colleagues trained research assistants to do a quick up-and-down look at a person's body and to train their gaze at the other person's chest for a consistent period of a few seconds during conversations. It was harder than it sounds, Gervais said.
"For people that are doing this — even the men who are presumably doing this pretty frequently — actually having to slow down and do it is pretty hard," Gervais said. It was also somewhat awkward, she added.
After the assistants had undergone close to 30 hours of gaze-training apiece, the researchers asked 67 women and 83 men, all college students, to come to the lab. The volunteers were told the study was about teamwork. After this briefing, each volunteer was assigned to an opposite-sex partner — actually a trained research assistant posing as another volunteer.
The research assistants then gave the real volunteers a five-question interview, ostensibly as part of the teamwork exercise. In some cases, the assistant started the interview by gazing from the volunteer's head to waist and back again, and then stared at the volunteer's chest for a few seconds between some questions. (Although the chest is a more sensitive area for women, men are becoming increasingly self-conscious about chest muscularity, the researchers explained.) In other cases, the assistant simply made eye contact. The volunteers then had 10 minutes to complete 12 math problems.