By Hilary White

April 1, 2009 ( – Researchers in psychology at Stanford and Princeton universities have found that semi-nude images of women can cause men to view them as objects.

The research, conducted by a team including Princeton psychologist Susan Fiske, who first presented the findings in mid-February at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, found that pictures of bikini-clad women activated brain regions associated with objects or tools.

A lead researcher in the project said, “What the brain scans show is that they are reacting to this photograph as people react to objects. It is as if they are not fully human.”

“They are not treating them as fully three dimensional humans.”

21 undergraduate male students at the University, who identified themselves as heterosexual, were shown images of men and women, some fully clothed and some wearing only bikinis. Areas of the brain associated with empathy for other people’s emotions and wishes shut down after looking at the pictures. Brain scans showed that with some of the group, those identified by questionnaires as having “sexist” tendencies, a part of the brain that usually activated during social interaction actually de-activated when they were shown pictures of semi-nude women.

The study found that the images of the semi-nude women remained in the memories of the subjects longer than other images, with the men particularly recalling the bodies rather than the faces most clearly.

Dr. Susan Fiske said that men’s perceptions of scantily clad women may be closely related to the ways people “dehumanize” groups from which they wish to distance themselves, such as homeless people and drug addicts.

The study “does relate to the effects of having pornography and sexualized images of women around and in the media because they spill over into how people treat women in general.”

“You have to be aware of the effect of these images on people,” Fiske explained. “They’re not neutral. They do have an effect on how people think about other women.”

Daniel Weiss, senior analyst for media and sexuality at Focus on the Family Action, told, “Women are viewed as less than human, or they’re viewed as objects to be used or acted upon rather than as human beings to interact with.”

Weiss said that the images used in the study “were not what most people would consider to be pornography, but they still have an effect.”

“That type of sexualized imagery is all around us,” he said. “This study gives us pause to consider the impact of all this sexualized media, particularly as it applies to young people.”