Both men and women seem biologically wired to look at attractive members of the opposite sex, according to a new study by Jon Maner. The study, published in an issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, noted that, contrary to the popular notion that men are the main oglers, women pay just as much attention to men as men do to women.
In short, each objectifies the other, to use the currently popular feminist concept.
We are all oglers, Maner’s research concludes. Whether we ogle and how much we ogle depends on many things, such as whether we are rich or poor, calm or stressed, or happy or sad. But it doesn’t depend on our sex.
Maner’s experiments flashed pictures on a computer monitor of attractive men and women and then average-looking men and women. Randomly chosen participants watched the computer monitor and experimenters measured the time it took for subjects to shift their attention away from the image they were looking at. Experimenters found that the participants, all heterosexual men and women, fixated on highly attractive people within the first half-second of seeing them, while not paying attention to those who were unattractive.
Most single folks ogled the opposite sex. But those in committed relationships more often than not eyed beautiful people of the same sex. The author of the study had to think about that finding for a moment.
“If we’re interested in finding a mate, our attention gets quickly and automatically stuck on attractive members of the opposite sex,” explained Maner of Florida State University. “If we’re jealous and worried about our partner cheating on us, attention gets quickly and automatically stuck on attractive people of our own sex because they are our competitors.” We want to know all about them, he continued, to protect ourselves from possible rejection.
Maner’s research is based on the idea that evolution has primed our brains to subconsciously latch on to signs of physical attractiveness in others, both to find a mate and to protect us from potential competitors.
But this evolutionary phenonemon is not without potential romantic peril.
Even some people in committed relationships had trouble tearing their eyes away from attractive members of the opposite sex. On the other hand, fixating on attractive people of the same sex as rivals could contribute to feelings of insecurity. Or it could be an indication of overt or covert homosexual feelings.
Maner found that married men prone to jealousy kept a close eye on attractive potential rivals. “When it comes to concerns about infidelity, men are very attentive to highly attractive guys because presumably their own wives or girlfriends might be attracted to them,” he said.
Maner’s study debunks one of the prevailing notions that men are the main culprits when it comes to ogling, and that they do so because of some native predisposition to be sexually inappropriate. According to Maner, both men and women do it because it appears to be a biological drive. They are born that way, not made that way via environmental or psychological factors. They don’t decide to be that way.
Those who are quick to judge a man (or women) who looks at scantily dressed males or females, and use derogatory terms such as “objectification” to describe this process may be attaching a moral judgment to something that is hard-wired. Male cats look at female cats and female cats look at male cats. Male dogs look at female dogs and female dogs look at male dogs. Male stickleback fish look at female stickleback fish and female stickleback fish look at male stickleback fish. And of course if dogs or cats are insecure (or perhaps homosexual), they look at dogs or cats of the same sex. It is what it is.
When the sex hormones are most ebullient, we look all the more. When we are young, hormones kick in and we are at our zenith of looking. When we are old, we look and long for what is a distant fond memory.
Well, it only seems natural. What is more interesting for a man or woman to look at—an attractive person of the opposite sex or a field of beautiful flowers? If there are no interesting people around, then of course the field of flowers would be the next best thing. Or even a stamp collection or a carefully built brick wall. But if human beauty is nearby, well….