Thursday, January 16, 2020

A comparison of men’s and women’s perceptions of the female body using a multidimensional scaling analysis of naturalistic stimuli

A comparison of men’s and women’s perceptions of the female body using a multidimensional scaling analysis of naturalistic stimuli. Deana D Diekhoff, George M Diekhoff, Michael A Vandehey. Health Psychology Open, June 5, 2019.

Abstract: Men and women worked with 25 naturalistic photos of females representing varied physiques. Similarity judgments of the photos were analyzed using multidimensional scaling analysis to produce composite maps for male and female participants. A comparison of the maps showed gender similarities and differences. Both genders used almost identical attributes in judging similarities and identified almost identical body types, but men were more inclusive in identifying ideal females; men included curvaceous females that were rejected by women. Women identified very thin females that were rejected by men. Men were affectively most positive toward female ideals; women were most positive to near-ideals.

Keywords: body image, categorical perception, female body ideals, female body perception, multidimensional scaling analysis

We found both similarities and differences in men’s and women’s perceptions of the female body, including female ideals. Consider first which perceptual attributes were most salient in their stimulus maps. Men and women in our study were similar in that their perceptions of female bodies were organized using the potency semantic differential dimensions of large-small and masculine-feminine. However, men and women differed in their choice of evaluative dimensions. Men used the more sexually connoted dimension of beautiful-ugly, while women used the sexually neutral dimension of good-bad. Both men’s and women’s maps also showed that size was important in judging female bodies for similarity, as were the three affective reactions of fear, happiness, and disgust. We concluded from all of this that men and women used many but not all the same perceptual filters as they judged female bodies for similarity, except that sexual attractiveness (beautiful-ugly) was more salient for men than women, as might be expected in a predominantly heterosexual population. Men’s and women’s stimulus maps also revealed the use of nearly identical body perception categories. Both men and women used the categories of average, larger size, obese, muscular, underweight, and ideal females. Women added a near-ideal category that was not apparent in the men’s map. Some of these categories were imposed by the researchers’ use of marker stimuli for Average Body and Ideal Body, but the other categories were used spontaneously by our participants. Not only were the body categories nearly identical, the body stimuli that were included in those categories were very similar for men and women. Men and women included exactly the same body stimuli in the larger size, obese, and muscular female body categories. As discussed next, there were some interesting differences in the classification of female body stimuli to the ideal, near-ideal, and average categories.
In the women’s map, only five body stimuli (i.e. 6, 12, 17, 18, 22) were included in the ideal female body cluster; the men’s ideal female cluster included nine stimuli (i.e. 1, 6, 9, 10, 12, 14, 17, 21, 22). Men were more inclusive than women in identifying female ideals. This finding is consistent with Buss’ (2016) observations about men’s choice of partners for casual sexual encounters: “Yet another psychological solution to securing a variety of casual sex partners is men’s relaxation of their standards for acceptable partners … Relaxed standards ensure the presence of more eligible players” (p. 78).
Two body stimuli that women in our study considered average (i.e. 10, 14) were included by men in their ideal category. Three additional stimuli (i.e. 1, 9, 21) that formed a near-ideal cluster in the women’s map (midway between the ideals and the averages) were also included in the ideal cluster by men. Women, but not men, included the very lean stimulus 18 in the ideal cluster. Although some previous studies reported that men and women both preferred the same thin female ideal (Koscinski, 2013; Swami et al., 2010; Willinge et al., 2006), our study showed noticeable gender differences. Men, but not women, identified female stimulus photos as ideal that displayed the classic hourglass shape, wider hips, larger breasts, more body fat, and less muscle definition. In contrast, female bodies that were selected by women as ideal were relatively thin, more athletically fit, with thinner legs, narrow hips, smaller breasts, and increased muscle definition. Put simply, men tended to judge on sexual attractiveness and fitness to deliver children (sexual attractiveness and health). In contrast, women were inclined to judge on physical fitness (health only). This finding confirms other research reflective of women’s preference for a physically fit, healthy ideal (Ahern et al., 2011; Asendorpf et al., 2011; MacNeill and Best, 2015; Stephen and Perera, 2014), but contrasts with Smith et al., 2007) who found no correspondence between female models’ cardiovascular fitness levels and ratings of attractiveness from male and female observers. However, those researchers used a physiological measure of fitness (a 6-minute submaximal cycle ergometry test measuring maximal oxygen consumption) whereas fitness was inferred from visual body characteristics in our study.
One last difference between men’s and women’s perceptions of the ideal female body is suggested by the location of the ideal female cluster along the affective reaction dimensions in the two maps. Both men and women responded with positive affect toward ideal female bodies, but that positivity was somewhat muted among women, who located some non-ideal female stimulus bodies (i.e. 1, 9 10, 14, 21) more positively than their female ideals. In contrast, ideal females were at the maximally positive ends of the affective reaction dimensions in the men’s map. Why would women show less positive affect toward ideal female bodies than near-ideal ideal bodies? The explanation may be found in the literature on mate selection and competition and in appearance-based social comparisons. First, female bodies that are slightly off-ideal present less competition in mate selection than do fully ideal females and would elicit more positive affective responses because of this (Davies and Shackelford, 2017). Second, upward social comparisons (in this study, comparisons of one’s own body to bodies deemed to be more desirable, based on internalized cultural beauty standards) lead to body dissatisfaction, increased negative affect toward the more desirable bodies, and increased body self-surveillance (Feltman and Szymanski, 2018; Janelle et al., 2009; Moreno-Domínguez et al., 2019; Stronge et al., 2015; Thøgersen-Ntoumani et al., 2017).

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