Popular songs and barstool regulars have long observed how, after a few drinks, men often change how they look at women around them.
To study this, University of Nebraska-Lincoln psychology researchers used eye-tracking technology to investigate alcohol’s influence on when college-age men drop their gaze from a woman’s face to other parts of her anatomy.
Published in the Sex Roles research journal, the researchers confirmed that intoxicated men spend significantly less time examining women’s faces compared to sober men.
The study also showed that intoxicated men were more likely to “check out” the body parts of women they perceived as unfriendly or unintelligent.
“Intoxicated men in the study were less likely to objectify women they perceived as warm and competent and those who were of average attractiveness,” said Abbey Riemer, a doctoral student in psychology and lead author of the study. “Perhaps this is because warmth and competence are humanizing attributes that create a buffer against objectification.”
Although the study was small, involving 49 men, it could offer insights on how to prevent sexually aggressive behavior, particularly in situations where alcohol is being used, said Riemer and her co-authors, Drs. Sarah Gervais and David DiLillo, who are on the faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The study tested how “alcohol myopia” — a theory that intoxication limits the amount of information people can process, narrowing their perceptions to the most provoking stimuli — interrelates with sexual objectification.
Study participants ranged in age from 21 to 27 years old. More than three-fourths were white.
Upon arrival at the laboratory, some were randomly assigned to drink a mixture of orange juice and grain alcohol until they reached legal intoxication levels.
Other participants were given drinks that smelled and tasted of alcohol, but contained a trivial amount of liquor — too little to make them drunk, the researchers explained.
The researchers then used eye-tracking equipment to measure whether the men looked at faces, chests, or waists as they viewed photographs of 80 college-age women dressed to go out to a party or a bar.
The photos had been screened by more than 300 men and women who rated the images based upon whether the women appeared attractive, warm, or competent. Each image was categorized by high, average and low levels of each attribute.
The researchers stressed that the participants’ responses were based purely upon their perceptions of images — not actual traits or behavior by the women pictured.
“We need to be clear — this is all happening in men’s minds,” Riemer said.
When participants were asked to focus on the women’s appearance, they were more likely to use what researchers call an “objectifying gaze” — spending more time looking at sexual body parts and less time looking at the face.
The study provides objective evidence of previous findings by Gervais and DiLillo, who found that men self-reported that they were more likely to look at women as sexual objects after drinking.
But Gervais said the new study creates a more nuanced view of the notion of “beer goggles.”
It wasn’t that participants found more women to be attractive after consuming alcohol, she noted.
“But when women don’t appear friendly, intoxicated men will spend less time looking at their faces and more time looking at their sexual body parts,” she said. “When women aren’t perceived as intelligent, intoxicated men will spend less time looking at faces and more time looking at sexual body parts.”
Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Photo: Abbey Riemer, a psychology researcher at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, used eye-tracking technology to investigate how alcohol influences men’s objectifying gazes toward women. Credit: Craig Chandler | University Communication | University of Nebraska-Lincoln.