Title

The Short-Term Effects of Viewing Sexually Objectifying Media: A Test of Objectification Theory

Date of Award

2013

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Department

Psychology/Clinical

First Advisor

Eric Dubow, PhD (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Robert Carels, PhD (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Anne Gordon, PhD (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Paul Johnson, PhD

Abstract

Although the sexual objectification of women in the media is widespread, there are limited experimental studies that have examined the short-term effects of exposure to sexually objectifying television (e.g., reality shows like Jersey Shore) through the lens of Objectification Theory. Objectification of men in the media is increasing as well but there are few studies on how men are affected by witnessing their own gender’s objectification. My dissertation filled these gaps by assessing levels of negative affect, state self-objectification, state self-surveillance, and state body concerns (shame and appearance anxiety) after exposure to a one-minute video clip of either men making sexually objectifying comments about women’s bodies (the female experimental condition) or women making sexually objectifying comments about men’s bodies (the male experimental condition).

Analyses of variance were conducted to compare the levels of these dependent variables in the experimental condition to those of the same gender control condition (which also consisted of watching a video clip but without objectifying verbal commentary). Other dependent variables of interest included the participants’ ratings of personality traits of the actors stating the objectifying comments. I also assessed for moderation of the relationship between condition and dependent variables by trait self-objectification and internalization of the thin-ideal or muscular-ideal using hierarchical multiple regression. To test the mediational pathways hypothesized in Objectification Theory, both state self-objectification and self-surveillance were examined as mediators of the condition effects.

In support of my hypotheses, both men and women in the experimental conditions had higher levels of negative affect compared to men and women in the control conditions. The participants in the experimental conditions also rated the actors stating the verbal objectifying commentary as having lower positive personality traits and higher negative personality traits compared to control condition participants. In support of my hypothesis, greater internalization of the muscular- and thin-ideals served as a risk factor for heightened self-surveillance after a brief exposure to objectifying media. The results of my dissertation support some of the components of Objectification Theory and reveal that even a brief exposure to televised objectifying media can have consequences for both women and men.