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Uncommon Knowledge

Objectifying the mystery woman

And more surprising insights from the social sciences

Hello, you mysterious object

Why do men objectify women? Maybe they’re just confused by them. New research from male psychologists at the University of Kansas suggests that objectification can result from well-intentioned but uncertain social interaction. In one experiment, men who wanted to get along well with women but were assigned to write about uncertainty in dealing with women were subsequently more likely to report that a woman’s appearance was more important than her personal background. Likewise, men who read an article promoting positive relationships with women but then read an article arguing that it’s hard for men to know what women want were subsequently more likely to think about women in terms of physical characteristics rather than personality. And this wasn’t just about objectifying women. Both men and women who were assigned to role-play as managers but were given an indeterminate assessment of their management skills subsequently reported being more concerned with their ability to manage employees’ personality quirks and, as a result, were more likely to objectify their employees and punish an employee who violated company policy.

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