Understanding the mechanisms behind the sexualized-body inversion hypothesis

Carlotta Cogoni, Andrea Carnaghi, Aleksandra Mitrovic, Helmut Leder, Carlo Fantoni, Giorgia Silani

A controversial hypothesis, named the Sexualized Body Inversion Hypothesis (SBIH), claims similar visual processing of sexually objectified women (i.e., with a focus on the sexual body parts) and inanimate objects as indicated by an absence of the inversion effect for both type of stimuli. The current study aims at shedding light into the mechanisms behind the SBIH in a series of 4 experiments. Using a modified version of Bernard et al.´s (2012) visual-matching task, first we tested the core assumption of the SBIH, namely that a similar processing style occurs for sexualized human bodies and objects. In Experiments 1 and 2 a non-sexualized (personalized) condition plus two object-control conditions (mannequins, and houses) were included in the experimental design. Results showed an inversion effect for images of personalized women and mannequins, but not for sexualized women and houses. Second, we explored whether this effect was driven by differences in stimulus asymmetry, by testing the mediating and moderating role of this visual feature. In Experiment 3, we provided the first evidence that not only the sexual attributes of the images but also additional perceptual features of the stimuli, such as their asymmetry, played a moderating role in shaping the inversion effect. Lastly, we investigated the strategy adopted in the visual-matching task by tracking eye movements of the participants. Results of Experiment 4 suggest an association between a specific pattern of visual exploration of the images and the presence of the inversion effect. Findings are discussed with respect to the literature on sexual objectification.

Department of Cognition, Emotion, and Methods in Psychology, Department of Clinical and Health Psychology
External organisation(s)
Università degli Studi di Trento, Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati, Università degli Studi di Trieste
Publication date
Peer reviewed
Austrian Fields of Science 2012
501001 General psychology, 501011 Cognitive psychology
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