Researchers at the University of Nebraska have confirmed what has been up until now only anecdotally observed: men are more likely to view women as sex objects after drinking alcohol. The results could help policymakers develop better messaging around alcohol-related behaviours, say the study’s authors.
We all know that alcohol can make us act in ways we might not otherwise behave — and not merely because of booze’s social lubricating effects. One recent study found that even just smelling alcohol can lower a person’s inhibitions and increase impulsive behaviour.
Scientists say that alcohol also has a myopic effect on cognition, in that intoxication constricts the amount of information that people are able to take in, which causes a narrowing of one’s focus to only the immediate and most important (we believe) details of our surroundings. That’s how drinking and driving scenarios can occur, for instance, when an intoxicated individual leaving a bar might concentrate more on the keys in his or her hands and where the car is parked rather than on the more far-off potentials of getting arrested or injuring others.
The same thinking (or lack thereof) goes into our perceptions of other people, as the myopia-related behaviour can cause us to focus on bodies more than faces, even when this objectifying behaviour is known to be socially unacceptable.
For men, this is a well-observed condition, say the authors of a new study published in the journal Sex Roles. “Intoxicated individuals often struggle to inhibit socially inappropriate behaviours,” write the authors, researchers in the Department of Psychology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “Alcohol’s myopic effects, however, may further inhibit the perceiver’s ability to draw his attention away from women’s sexually salient body parts.”
To study that possibility, researchers recruited 49 men in their twenties and had 29 of them drink two alcoholic drinks while the others received placebo drinks. Participants were asked to look at photographs of women and to rate them by appearance and personality. By using eye-tracking technology, the researchers were able to conclude that the participants who consumed alcohol spent more time looking at the women’s bodies and less on their faces than those who did not have alcohol. That extra time spent on women’s bodies, the researchers say, amounts to an objectifying gaze.
“Consistent with objectification theory, objectifying gazes were operationalized by a greater focus on targets’ sexual body parts (i.e., chests and waists) as well as a lesser focus on targets’ faces,” write the researchers, who say that theirs is the first study to empirically examine the link between alcohol and objectification, as the only other previous study on the topic was based on participants’ first-hand description of instance of being objectified.
The authors say that their results can be used to inform policies around drinking and behaviour as well as clinical interventions aimed at curbing socially inappropriate behaviour. “Understanding why the objectifying gaze occurs in the first place is an initial step toward stopping its incidence and its damaging effects,” says Abigail Riemer, lead author of the study from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in a press release.