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Women subject to objectifying gazes show decreased math ability

04 February 2011 SAGE Publications

Women who are looked at as sexual objects not only react as sexual objects, they also exhibit less proficiency with math, according to a new study published in the March 2011 issue of the journal Psychology of Women Quarterly (now published by SAGE).

The study examined the effect of the objectifying gaze (the visual inspection of one’s body by another person) on undergraduates’ math performance. Motivation to interact with the objectifying person in the future was also measured as well as body image outcomes, including body surveillance, body shame, and body dissatisfaction.

One hundred and fifty undergraduates (67 women and 83 men) from a large U.S. Midwestern university participated in the study.

Researchers found that the objectifying gaze lowered women’s math performance, but not men’s. The objectifying gaze also increased women’s, but not men’s, motivation to have further interactions with their partner. Finally, the research found that an objectifying gaze did not influence body surveillance, body shame, or body dissatisfaction for women or men.

“The objectifying gaze is particularly problematic for women,” write authors Sarah J. Gervais, Theresa K. Vescio, and Jill Allen. “And it may lead to a vicious cycle in which women are first objectified and, as a result, underperform, confirming the notion that women’s looks are more important than what they can do.”

This article, which supplemented with a video and podcast, won the 2011 Georgia Babladelis Best Paper Award, which was established to recognize the best paper of the year accepted to Psychology of Women Quarterly.

Download the article for a limited time at:

An interview with the lead author of the article, Sarah J. Gervais, conducted by Dr. Jan D. Yoder, editor of Psychology of Women Quarterly is available at:



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