We feel more protective over women and men wearing revealing outfits, according to a new study. Researchers found that both men and women see those in revealing attire as sensitive - but think they're less competent too. Psychologist Kurt Gray, of the University of Maryland in the United States, said it would be absurd to think people's mental capacities fundamentally change when they remove clothing - but that is just what happens.
"In six studies, we show that taking off a sweater - or otherwise revealing flesh - can significantly change the way a mind is perceived," the Daily Mail quoted Professor Gray as saying. Past research, feminist theory and parental admonishments all have long suggested that when men see a woman wearing little or nothing, they focus on her body and think less of her mind.
However, the new findings by Prof Gray and his colleagues expand and change our understanding of how paying attention to someone's body can alter the way both men and women view the opposite sex. "An important thing about our study is that, unlike much previous research, ours applies to both sexes," he said.
"It also calls into question the nature of objectification because people without clothes are not seen as mindless objects, but they are instead attributed a different kind of mind. "We also show that this effect can happen even without the removal of clothes.
"Simply focusing on someone's attractiveness, in essence concentrating on their body rather than their mind, makes you see her or him as less of an agent - someone who acts and plans - more of an experiencer," he explained.
When men and women in the study focused on someone's body, perceptions of agency - self-control and action - were reduced, and perceptions of experience - emotion and sensation - were increased.
Prof Gray and his colleagues suggest that this effect occurs because people unconsciously think of minds and bodies as distinct, or even opposite, with the capacity to act and plan tied to the mind and the ability to experience or feel tied to the body.
The study also found that a body focus could actually increase moral standing. The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.