Prolific Junior Researcher Grants - Understanding Self-Objectification

Two years ago, we launched Prolific Junior Researcher Grants, and awarded several young academics with free credits to conduct their proposed research on an array of different topics, using Prolific. One of the Grant recipients, Claire, has taken this opportunity to run a study on the subject of self-objectification, and is sharing what she and her colleague found out.

Curious? Read on below! 👇

Sex Objects: How Self-Objectification Undermines Women’s Political Efficacy and Engagement

Claire M. Gothreau, Ph.D.
Center for American women and Politics
Rutgers University- New Brunswick

Amanda Milena Alvarez, Ph.D.
Temple University

Introduction

The objectification of women is a topic that has long been discussed by feminist theorists, writers, and activists. It’s difficult to go a day without being exposed to objectifying portrayals of women on social media, in advertising, and in popular culture. Many women are subject to objectifying experiences on a daily basis. Psychologists developed a theory of objectification to aid in understanding the consequences of living in a culture that sexually objectifies women. Objectification Theory states that women are often treated as bodies that exist for the consumption and pleasure of others.

One consequence of constant objectification is a phenomenon known as self-objectification. When women self-objectify, they internalize other’s perspectives of their physical bodies and begin to see themselves as objects. Psychologists have found that self-objectification can undermine mental health, cognitive functioning, and overall self-efficacy. The tangible effects of self-objectification are far-reaching and varied. For example, women who are higher self-objectifiers are more likely to express interest in cosmetic surgery, narrow their presence in social situations, and even engage in self-harm.

Our Research

Using the theoretical framework of Objectification Theory, we wanted to explore whether or not the consequences of self-objectification extend to the political sphere. More specifically, we wanted to know, given the extensive motivational, cognitive, and psychological consequences of self-objectification, is there a relationship between self-objectification and political engagement? Some research has shown that self-objectification is associated with less engagement in gender-based activism. We argue that self-objectification may undermine women’s political engagement more generally and in part, drive the well-known gender gap in political efficacy and engagement.

Reflecting our commitment to open science and rigorous research, we wrote up a detailed pre-analysis plan for our study and registered it on Open Science Framework. To explore the impact of self-objectification on political engagement, we conducted two large-sample survey studies. We recruited participants via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, as well as the survey recruitment platform, Prolific. We were able to collect our second sample with generous support from Prolific through the Junior Researcher Grant. In total, we surveyed over 700 men and women respondents. We measured self-objectification by asking participants how much they agreed or disagreed with statements such as, “I rarely compare how I look with how other people look,” and “I am more concerned with what my body can do than how it looks.” We also asked respondents about their level of interest in politics, how much they participate in politics, and how internally efficacious they felt. Internal political efficacy is how confident one feels about their ability to understand and participate effectively in politics.

What We Found

The results across the two samples were mixed, but ultimately provide evidence of a link between self-objectification and political engagement. In both studies, we found that self-objectification was associated with decreased political engagement. In Study 1, this relationship was moderated by gender. Women with higher levels of self-objectification were less politically efficacious, interested, and had a lower propensity to seek political information than women with lower levels of self-objectification, as well as men who were both high and low self-objectifiers. In other words, the negative impact of self-objectification only extended to women. However, in Study 2, we found no evidence that the relationship between self-objectification and political engagement was moderated by gender. For both men and women, self-objectification was associated with decreased political engagement.

The sexual objectification of women is pervasive and often results in women turning inward to objectify themselves. Psychologists have extensively documented the negative outcomes of chronic self-objectification. Our results indicate that these negative outcomes can even extend to the political realm for women, as well as men. This suggests that those who see their self-worth as rooted in their physical appearance are less likely to engage in politics.

The findings Claire and her colleague Amanda made are nothing short of fascinating. They also have real-world impact on, for instance, policymaking and civic engagement! 💪

This is one of many examples of how both researchers and participants can use Prolific to contribute to understanding the intricacies of the world around us.

We'd love to continue empowering great research, and would love to hear what research you are working on! Comment below or email us at hello@prolific.co to share, to ask any questions, or to simply say hi!

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