Reduced empathic responses for sexually objectified women: An fMRI investigation.

Citation data:

Cortex; a journal devoted to the study of the nervous system and behavior, ISSN: 1973-8102, Vol: 99, Page: 258-272

Publication Year:
2018
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PMID:
29294431
DOI:
10.1016/j.cortex.2017.11.020
Author(s):
Cogoni, Carlotta; Carnaghi, Andrea; Silani, Giorgia
Publisher(s):
Elsevier BV
Tags:
Psychology; Neuroscience
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article description
Sexual objectification is a widespread phenomenon characterized by a focus on the individual's physical appearance over his/her mental state. This has been associated with negative social consequences, as objectified individuals are judged to be less human, competent, and moral. Moreover, behavioral responses toward the person change as a function of the degree of the perceived sexual objectification. In the present study, we investigated how behavioral and neural representations of other social pain are modulated by the degree of sexual objectification of the target. Using a within-subject fMRI design, we found reduced empathic feelings for positive (but not negative) emotions toward sexually objectified women as compared to non-objectified (personalized) women when witnessing their participation to a ball-tossing game. At the brain level, empathy for social exclusion of personalized women recruited areas coding the affective component of pain (i.e., anterior insula and cingulate cortex), the somatosensory components of pain (i.e., posterior insula and secondary somatosensory cortex) together with the mentalizing network (i.e., middle frontal cortex) to a greater extent than for the sexually objectified women. This diminished empathy is discussed in light of the gender-based violence that is afflicting the modern society.