60-Second Mind

How We View Half-Naked Men and Women

Research finds that scantily-clad women and men are judged in similar ways. Christie Nicholson reports

We typically think of women as the targets of body objectification. In fact, research by psychologist Helen Fisher found that men viewed bikini-clad women much as they would a set of tools.

But a new study finds there’s more subtlety in how we view scantily dressed people. And that it’s not just women who are objectified.


In six separate experiments, subjects looked at photos of fully clothed men and women versus men and women exposing varying amounts of flesh. And the participants rated the mental capacities of both genders in the same ways.


Gender aside, subjects rated clothed people as having more self-control, better communication and better morals than half naked people. But subjects rated scantily-clad women and men as having a higher capacity for experiencing pleasure, as well as fear and pain. This latter group was also, curiously enough, thought of as more sensitive and needing more protection from fear or pain.

For example, subjects were asked if they’d administer harmless but painful electric shocks to another person. They chose to shock those fully clothed significantly more often than those exposed above the waist. So if you’re looking for sympathy, maybe show a little skin.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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