"It's both men and women doing this to women," Gervais said. "So don't blame the men here."
In the second experiment, researchers preceded the body-part task with images of letters made up of a mosaic of tiny letters — an H made up of hundreds of little Ts, for example. They told some participants to identify the tiny letters, prompting their brains to engage in local processing. Other participants were asked to identify the big letter, revving up global processing. This latter group became less likely to objectify women, the researchers found. They no longer were better at recognizing a woman's parts than her whole body.
There could be evolutionary reasons that men and women process female bodies differently, Gervais said, but because both genders do it, "the media is probably a prime suspect."
"Women's bodies and their body parts are used to sell all sorts of products, but we are now for everyday, ordinary women, processing them in a similar way," she said.
Fortunately, the fact that the simple letter-mosaic task swept the effect away suggests that it's an easy habit to overcome, Gervais said. Being in a happy mood is related to global processing, she said, so avoiding blue funks could help you see people in a holistic way, as could simply reminding yourself to step back and look at the bigger picture.
- 5 Myths About Women's Bodies
- The Sex Quiz: Myths, Taboos and Bizarre Facts
- Awkward Anatomy: 10 Odd Facts About the Female Body
Copyright 2012 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.