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Gramazio, Sarah (2018) From human beings to sexual objects: effects of sexualised portrayals of women (and men). [Ph.D. thesis]

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Abstract (english)

Sexual objectification is perpetrated whenever someone is reduced to a thing, thus seen and treated like a sexual object. The body or body parts are separated out from the identity and used for pleasure and consumption of others (Bartky, 1990; Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). According to the literature, when people become objects or instruments for others’ appreciation they can be denied their humanity, inner mental life, and moral standing (e.g., Heflick, Goldenberg, Cooper, & Puvia, 2011; Loughnan, Haslam, Murnane, Vaes, Reynolds, & Suitner, 2010; Vaes, Paladino, & Puvia, 2011). Moreover, previous objectification research suggests that experiences of sexual objectification are translated into problems that undermine psychological well-being, such as increased body shame, appearance anxiety, depression, eating and sexual disorders (Moradi & Huang, 2008). From the perspective of objectification theory, the most insidious way in which objectifying gaze infuses Western culture is through visual media (e.g., magazines, advertisements, television, music video, movies). On a daily basis, we are constantly surrounded by sexually objectified images. Examples are advertising in which male and female bodies are denuded to attract and sell products (Zotos & Tsichla, 2014) and visual media delivering sexual harassment or rape news, in which victims are often portrayed in a sexualised manner (Zanardo, 2010). Given the scarcity of specific research and the serious repercussions of sexual objectification on people’s well-being, the present work sought to expand the objectification theoretical framework by empirically testing the causal role of sexual objectification in the under-investigated areas of sexual harassment and advertising. First, in Chapter 1 we provide a brief overview of previous research grounded in the objectification theoretical framework.
In Chapter 2, we present our first set of studies with the general aim to merge sexual objectification and sexual harassment research areas. Our work starts by noticing that these two areas are developed mostly independently to each other. Indeed, although extensive research has investigated the negative consequences of sexual objectification, surprisingly far less research has examined the consequences of sexual objectification in the context of sexual harassment. Specifically, we aimed to examine the effects of victims’ sexualised appearance on bystanders’ reactions to an episode of workplace sexual harassment. Our findings generally support the idea that sexualisation lead to biased perception, providing evidence that sexualised victims (i.e., wearing sexy clothes) are perceived as more immoral and blameful for being sexually harassed than non sexualised victims (i.e., wearing jeans and sweater). More important, we provide novel evidence that these biased perceptions in turn reduce bystanders’ willingness to offer support and help to the sexualised victims of sexual harassment. In addition, we show that endorsement of traditional masculine norms (i.e., ambivalent sexism toward women and non-relational attitudes toward sexuality) further enhanced biased perception of the sexualised than non-sexualised victims.
In Chapter 3, we present a set of six studies that have systematically examined how both men and women react to sexually objectifying advertising. The underlying premise governing the use of sexualized images in advertisement is that “sex sells”. Indeed, although it has been shown that advertising acts as catalyst for a multitude of problematic behaviours (e.g., Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002), sex in advertising has long been used to sell just about everything. Surprisingly, even though brand attitudes and purchasing intention are the two crucial antecedents to purchasing behaviour (Shimp & Gresham, 1983), very little research has empirically investigated these antecedents to test whether sex actually works. Therefore, we investigated both female and male participants’ product attractiveness and purchasing intentions after exposure to female or male sexually objectified (versus neutral) ads. Importantly, the overall pattern of results contradicts current sexualising marketing strategies: women negatively reacted to both female and male sexually objectifying ads showing higher negative emotions, that in turn disinclined them to purchase the sexualised product; surprisingly, men were indifferent and did not show any significant increment either on product attractiveness or purchasing intention after exposure to female sexually objectifying than neutral ads. More importantly, our findings suggest that advertising may create an environment that implicitly primes viewers to appraise negatively a sexualised target. For example, sexually objectified ads primed male beliefs that women enjoy being sexualised, and also led to higher benevolent sexism compared to men exposed to neutral ads. Other results showed the effects that exposure to specific female sexualised images may have on the dehumanisation of the whole women category. Importantly, we showed that exposure to female sexually objectified ads increases women body surveillance (i.e., self-objectification) and their internalisation of beauty standards. Thus our findings support the notion that exposure to female sexually objectifying ads not only has negative consequences on how people (specifically men) view women, but also on how women view themselves (i.e., thinking that their look matters). Lastly, both men and women who endorsed traditional beliefs on gender relationships (i.e., men are sex-driven and have trouble being faithful) and men higher in hostile sexism showed higher purchasing intention after viewing sexually objectified than neutral ads. Overall, our findings extend previous research by empirically demonstrating the vicious cycle of sexual objectification.
Finally, in Chapter 4 we discuss the implications of the present findings within the objectification theoretical framework and suggest future directions. Our first set of findings suggest that the appraisal of sexual harassment incidents as the result of sexualised women’s appearance, which is also associated with traditional norms on gender roles, may have serious consequences. First of all, this perception may be dangerous for the victims because it decreases significantly the actual probability of receiving support. Furthermore, the present findings are worrisome at the societal level considering the widespread manifestation of both sexualisation and sexual harassment on a daily basis, especially in the workplace (e.g., Page & Pina, 2015). Furthermore, in the second set of studies, our findings show the paradox of sexual objectification in advertising: not only it has negative outcomes for women, but it is also questionable regarding the main purpose of advertising, that is selling products. These findings should be a stimulus to reflect on alternative marketing strategies, possibly more effective and less harmful than using sexually objectifying images.

Abstract (italian)

L’oggetivazione sessuale si presenta tutte le volte in cui una persona è pensata e trattata come un oggetto, strumento, merce che serve scopi specifici dell’osservatore. Le parti del corpo o le sue funzioni sessuali sono separate dal resto della persona, ridotte allo status di mero strumento utile per l’uso e il piacere sessuale altrui (Bartky, 1990; Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). In accordo con la letteratura, quando le persone diventano oggetti o strumenti per il raggiungimento di fini altrui, vengono percepite come meno umane, meno competenti e meno morali (e.g., Heflick, Goldenberg, Cooper, & Puvia, 2011; Loughnan, Haslam, Murnane, Vaes, Reynolds, & Suitner, 2010; Vaes, Paladino, & Puvia, 2011). Inoltre, secondo il modello teorico dell’oggettivazione, le esperienze di oggettivazione sessuale si traducono in problemi che minano il benessere psicologico (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). In accordo, precedenti studi dimostrano come esperienze sessualmente oggettivanti siano collegate a maggiore vergogna per il proprio corpo, all’ansia legata all’apparenza e all’insorgenza di depressione, disordini alimentari e sessuali (Moradi & Huang, 2008). Dal punto di vista della teoria dell'oggettivazione, il modo più insidioso in cui lo sguardo oggettivante infonde la cultura occidentale è attraverso i mass media (e.g., riviste, pubblicità, televisione, video musicali, film). Di fatto, ogni giorno, siamo costantemente circondati da immagini sessualmente oggettivate, per esempio, nella pubblicità in cui corpi maschili e femminili sono denudati per attirare e vendere prodotti (Zotos & Tsichla, 2014) oppure nei media che riportano notizie di molestie sessuali o stupri, in cui le vittime sono spesso ritratte in modo sessualizzato (Zanardo, 2010). Pertanto, il presente lavoro si propone di ampliare il quadro teorico dell’oggettivazione, analizzando empiricamente il ruolo causale dell'oggettivazione sessuale sia nel contesto della pubblicità sia in quello delle molestie sessuali. In primo luogo, nel primo capitolo è fornita una breve rassegna delle ricerche precedenti che hanno indagato il processo di oggettivazione sessuale.
Nel secondo capitolo, sono presentati due studi che avevano come obiettivo generale quello di unire empiricamente l’area di ricerca dell'oggettivazione sessuale e quella delle molestie sessuali. Il nostro lavoro è iniziato notando che le due aree si sono sviluppate per lo più in modo indipendente l’una dall’altra. Infatti, sebbene in letteratura siano presenti numerose ricerche che hanno indagato le conseguenze negative dell'oggettivazione sessuale, molto meno numerose sono le ricerche che ne hanno indagato le conseguenze nel contesto della molestia sessuale. In particolare, abbiamo esaminato come l’aspetto sessualizzato della vittima possa influenzare le reazioni di potenziali testimoni a episodi di molestie sessuali in ambito lavorativo. I due studi hanno fornito forti evidenze a sostegno dell'idea che la sessualizzazione causa percezioni distorte, mostrando che la vittima sessualizzata (i.e., fotografata con abiti succinti) è percepita come più immorale e colpevole per essere stata sessualmente molestata rispetto alla vittima non sessualizzata (i.e., fotografata con jeans e maglione). Inoltre, i risultati hanno dimostrato, per la prima volta, che queste percezioni distorte riducono a loro volta la disponibilità dei testimoni a offrire il proprio aiuto e sostegno alla vittima sessualizzata (rispetto alla vittima non-sessualizzata). Successivamente, abbiamo dimostrato che l'approvazione di norme tradizionali maschili (i.e., sessismo ambivalente nei confronti delle donne e atteggiamenti non relazionali verso la sessualità) ha ulteriormente rafforzato la percezione distorta della vittima sessualizzata rispetto a quella non sessualizzata.
Nel terzo capitolo, è presentata una serie di sei studi che hanno sistematicamente esaminato come uomini e donne reagiscono alla pubblicità sessualmente oggettivata. La premessa sottostante all'uso di immagini sessualizzate in pubblicità è che "il sesso vende". Infatti, benché sia stato dimostrato che la pubblicità sessualizzata agisce come catalizzatore di una moltitudine di comportamenti problematici (e.g., Groesz, Levine, & Murnen, 2002), il sesso è da tempo utilizzato nella pubblicità per vendere qualsiasi tipo di prodotto. Nonostante sia stato dimostrato che gli atteggiamenti verso il prodotto e l'intenzione di acquisto siano i due antecedenti cruciali del comportamento d’acquisto (Shimp & Gresham, 1983), un numero sorprendentemente esiguo di ricerche li ha analizzati empiricamente per testare se il sesso effettivamente vende. Pertanto, nei nostri studi, abbiamo esaminato sia l'attrattiva del prodotto sia l'intenzione di acquisto manifestate dai partecipanti (uomini e donne) dopo l'esposizione a pubblicità sessualmente oggettivate (sia maschili sia femminili) oppure neutre. Nel complesso, è interessante notare che i risultati ottenuti contraddicono le attuali strategie di marketing focalizzate sulla sessualizzazione. Infatti, le donne hanno reagito negativamente alle pubblicità sessualmente oggettivanti (indipendentemente dal genere del target), mostrando maggiori emozioni negative che, a loro volta, hanno diminuito le loro intenzioni di acquisto rispetto alle pubblicità neutre. Inaspettatamente, gli uomini si sono mostrati indifferenti, vale a dire che dopo l'esposizione a pubblicità femminili sessualmente oggettivate (anziché neutre) non hanno manifestato alcun incremento significativo né sull'attrazione verso il prodotto né sull'intenzione di acquisto. Ancora più importante, abbiamo mostrato risultati che suggeriscono che la pubblicità può creare un ambiente che induce implicitamente alla categorizzazione negativa di un target sessualizzato. I risultati dimostrano che l’esposizione a pubblicità femminili sessualmente oggettivate (anziché neutre) ha innescato negli uomini la credenza che alle donne piaccia essere sessualizzate. Inoltre, gli uomini esposti a pubblicità femminili sessualmente oggettivanti hanno mostrato livelli più alti di sessismo benevolo rispetto agli uomini esposti a pubblicità neutre. Altri dati hanno mostrato gli effetti che l’esposizione a specifiche immagini femminili sessualizzate può avere sulla deumanizzazione dell’intera categoria delle donne. Inoltre, mostriamo evidenze a sostegno dell’idea che l'esposizione a pubblicità femminili sessualmente oggettivanti non solo ha conseguenze negative su come le persone (in particolare gli uomini) percepiscono le donne, ma anche su come le donne percepiscono se stesse (i.e., pensando che l’aspetto fisico le rappresenti come persone). I risultati mostrano come l'esposizione a pubblicità femminili sessualmente oggettivate (anziché neutre) abbia portato le donne a monitorare maggiormente il proprio corpo (i.e., auto-oggettivazione) e ad interiorizzare maggiormente i canoni di bellezza socio-culturali. Infine, gli uomini con livelli più alti di sessismo ostile e gli uomini e le donne che hanno maggiormente interiorizzato credenze tradizionali sulle relazioni di genere (i.e., gli uomini sono guidati dal sesso e hanno difficoltà a essere fedeli) hanno mostrato maggiore intenzione d'acquisto nella condizione di oggettivazione sessuale rispetto alla neutra. Più in generale, i nostri risultati estendono i risultati delle ricerche precedenti dimostrando empiricamente il circolo vizioso dell’oggettivazione sessuale.
Infine, nel quarto capitolo, discuteremo le implicazioni dei risultati ottenuti e le direzioni di ricerca future all'interno del quadro teorico dell'oggettivazione. I risultati dei nostri primi studi suggeriscono che la valutazione di episodi di molestia sessuale sulla base dell’aspetto sessualizzato delle vittime può avere gravi conseguenze. Conseguenze che sono state corroborate dal risultato sull’ulteriore aumento dell’interiorizzazione di norme tradizionali sui ruoli di genere. In primo luogo, le percezioni distorte causate dalla sessualizzazione possono essere pericolose per le vittime, diminuendo significativamente la probabilità reale di ricevere sostegno. In secondo luogo, i risultati sono preoccupanti a livello sociale, considerando la diffusa e quotidiana manifestazione sia della sessualizzazione che delle molestie sessuali, soprattutto in ambito lavorativo (e.g., Page & Pina, 2015). Inoltre, nella seconda serie di studi, i risultati mostrano il paradosso dell’oggettivazione sessuale in pubblicità: non solo ha conseguenze negative sulle donne, ma anche su quello che dovrebbe essere il suo fine ultimo, vale a dire vendere prodotti. I nostri risultati dovrebbero essere uno stimolo per riflettere su strategie di marketing alternative, forse più efficaci sul piano economico e sicuramente meno nocive sulle donne, rispetto all'utilizzo di immagini sessualizzate.

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EPrint type:Ph.D. thesis
Tutor:Cadinu, Mara
Supervisor:Maass, Anne
Ph.D. course:Ciclo 30 > Corsi 30 > SCIENZE PSICOLOGICHE
Data di deposito della tesi:11 January 2018
Anno di Pubblicazione:11 January 2018
Key Words:sexual objectification, sexual harassment, advertising
Settori scientifico-disciplinari MIUR:Area 11 - Scienze storiche, filosofiche, pedagogiche e psicologiche > M-PSI/05 Psicologia sociale
Struttura di riferimento:Dipartimenti > Dipartimento di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione
Codice ID:10673
Depositato il:26 Oct 2018 08:55
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