Graduation Year

2012

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Granting Department

Psychology

Major Professor

Jamie L. Goldenberg

Keywords

Afterlife, Appearance Focus, Dehumanization, Mortality, Person Perception

Abstract

Abstract

Objectification most literally refers to perceiving a person as an object. Research shows that when people focus on a woman's appearance, compared to her personality, she is perceived of as more of an object (e.g., lower in human nature traits). These objectification effects, however, rarely occur for male targets. Moreover, humans, unlike objects, are typically believed to have a soul, that is, some part of the self that outlasts the death of the physical body and extends into a post-mortem existence (e.g., Heaven). In turn, I hypothesized that women, but not men, would be perceived as having less soul when focus is on their physical appearance, and that this will be mediated by human nature traits. Partially supporting these hypotheses, in Study 1, males and females were perceived as having (marginally) less of a soul when focus was on their appearance; however, there was no effect of appearance focus on human nature ratings for male or female targets. In Study 2, using a different manipulation of appearance focus and measure of soul ratings, the same findings emerged. In Study 3, focusing on a woman's appearance elicited heightened psychological need for structure and worldview defense when evidence was provided that she had a soul, compared to when evidence was provided that she did not have a soul. This indicates that a woman having a soul is less coherent and meaningful than a woman not having soul when focus is on her appearance. The discussion centers on possible mechanisms for these findings, as well as why the effects were found for male in addition to female targets. Limitations, future directions, and implications are also addressed.

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