What drives female objectification? An investigation of appearance-based interpersonal perceptions and the objectification of women

Previous research finds that both men and women perceive sexualized women as lacking in certain human qualities such as mental capacity and moral status. The mechanism underlying this effect, however, is unclear. The present two studies test how appearance-based judgements affect the degree to which a broad sample of women are objectified. In Study 1 (N = 279), full-body images of women wearing different clothing outfits were rated by male and female participants on perceived attractiveness, sexual intent and age. In Study 2, male and female participants (N = 1,695) viewed these same images from Study 1 and rated them on two dimensions of objectification (agency and patiency). We analyzed associations between these dimensions of objectification and the averaged appearance-based perceptions from Study 1. We find that women perceived as more open to casual sex are attributed less mental capacity and less moral status. We also find that participants tend to associate attractiveness with greater mental and moral status in women, but we find only limited evidence that perceived age influences objectification. Our findings suggest that although positive attractiveness biases may mitigate the amount a woman is objectified, greater female objectification may be prompted by observers’ negative stereotypes of promiscuous women.