This is how our clothing affects the empathy that other people feel towards us.
Wearing less revealing, and more comfortable clothing, makes other people feel more empathy towards you, according to new research.
However, when women in the study wore a short dress, heels and heavy make-up, it reduced how much empathy others felt towards them. The same was true whether it was a man or woman observing the other woman.
When wearing comfortable trousers, a jersey, ballet flats and light make-up, others felt more empathy towards them.
The results are likely because revealing more skin tends to make people see us more as a sexual object, rather than a person.
In order to come to this conclusion, the researchers had study participants play a cyber game where they tossed a ball to different actors: “sexualized” women (in a dress, high heels, and heavy makeup), “personalized” women (in jeans, a t-shirt, and light makeup), and themselves. The virtual ball-tossing game was used to elicit negative emotions by excluding the actors from the game at different points, and positive emotions by including them. The results revealed the study participants were far less likely to feel empathy for the sexualized woman when she was excluded from the ball-tossing game, and they felt less intense positive emotions when she was included.
Dr Giorgia Silani, who led the study, said: “The results suggests that the underlying mechanism may be a reduced activation of the brain’s empathy network.”
Sexual objectification also robs a person of their apparent ability to plan their actions and have a moral sense in the eye of the beholder.
The results come from a study in which 41 people (20 women/ 21 men) watched a video designed to test empathic reactions. Brain scans measured how they reacted to the sexualised and non-sexualised target.
The researchers measured the brain activity of study participants, and found that fewer regions associated with empathy lit up when it came to the sexualized actor. “This reduction in empathic feelings towards sexually objectified women was accompanied by reduced activity in empathy related brain areas. This suggests that observers experienced a reduced capacity to share the sexualized women’s emotions,” Silani explained .
Furthermore, the authors note in the study that “the emotional intensity reported [by study participants] for the self was the highest, followed by the personalized targets, and the objectified targets as the lowest.” Meaning, the participants were less likely to empathize and relate to the sexualized women — whether they were feeling positive emotions or negative emotions. However, when the researchers modified the clothing on the sexualized model and covered more skin, they found the participants became more empathetic.