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November 13, 2011

Show more skin, seem less intelligent. Q.E.D?

It's "common knowledge" that if you're known mainly for showing off your skin, you must be an idiot, right? When all you're doing is appealing to man's baser instincts, that must mean your looks are the only avenue by which you can succeed in life.

Of course, anybody who can actually form a rational thought knows that this isn't true. But is that perception still there? If you see an attractive woman showing off as much skin as possible (or even an attractive man), what's the first thing that crosses your mind? Besides your wife's withering glare if you happen to be with her?

Of course, with a question this important, you know there's been a recent study about it, this one by researchers at the University of Maryland. And you know that the UK Daily Mail has reported on it. Yes, the study shows that the more flesh you bare, the less others regard you as intelligent. This applied to both men and women in the study (unfortunately, the burning question of whether this applies to sexy bloggers was *not* answered in this study).

(I think this guy has a brain - ladies, would you like to try and find out?

The "bang your head on the table because it's so obvious" quote of the article:

"Research suggests that when men see a woman wearing very little they focus on her body and less on her mind." Gee, you think? Maybe if she puts glasses on with that bikini, it would be different?

I was all set to insult and mock this article, and this study, but then I read it a bit further, and I've decided that I won't necessarily be doing that.

Or at least I won't be doing just that.

According to the study, humans have two different aspects of the mind: "agency" and "experience." "Agency is the capacity to act, plan and exert self-control, while experience is the capacity to feel pain, pleasure and emotions." The more skin you show, the more people perceive you as being on the "experience" side of the scale rather than the "agency." In other words, you feel that you are extremely hot but you can't do anything about it (Ok, I'm paraphrasing).

The researchers claim that this changes our view of objectification, because people without clothes are just seen as another part of the mind. I can see the new pick-up lines now: "Hey babe, I don't see you as a sexual object. I'm just thinking of your experience" (maybe they could have used a different word for that?).

So is this true, or are these just wussy words to justify what we already know to be true? When people see an attractive person in front of them with very little clothing on, they tend to focus on the physical aspect of that person rather than the mental. I'm not saying that your mind doesn't move on to other things after that first thought, of course, though the abundance of skin may make it hard to concentrate on anything else.

Another thing in this study is that it doesn't seem to take into account the setting. If you go to the beach, do you look around you and think "wow, what a bunch of dolts? Um, I mean, Experiencers?" No, of course not. The study does mention clothing and the workplace, though.
"It translated that wearing little clothes in an environment like the office can have a negative impact because it can imply a lack of competence and leadership.

Professor Gray said: 'Those who are characterised in terms of their bodies to be seen as more reactive and emotional, traits that may also serve to work against career advancement.'"
Is that true? I suppose it may be, though I would think the person's actual demonstrated competence would have more to say about that, unless perhaps we're talking about an environment where we're mostly cogs in a machine and promotion is based more on perception than actual ability. Also, I'm not an attractive woman wearing skimpy outfits to the office (at least not usually), so maybe I'm ill-suited to make that conclusion.

Ultimately, this study seems to be on the "did our tax money go to this obvious question?" type of study. While I do believe the "agency/experience" dichotomy of the mind is somewhat interesting, the study just seems to confirm what we already know. Not that attractive people are dumb. But that it may not be the best idea to wear a bikini to the office.

At least not on your first day.

The study did see an upside to wearing little clothing (besides being cool in the Summer): you appear to be more vulnerable and sensitive.
"Professor Gray said: 'Others appear to be less inclined to harm people with bare skin and more inclined to protect them.

'In one experiment, people viewing male subjects with their shirts off were less inclined to give those subjects uncomfortable electric shocks than when the men had their shirts on.'"
All right, that's it. No more shirts to the office. I've had way too many shocks already.


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