Brains plus beauty don’t add up: objectifying women lowers their math performance

When what you see is what you get: the consequences of the objectifying gaze for women and men

From Psychology of Women Quarterly

Women who are looked at as sexual objects not only react as sexual objects, they also exhibit less proficiency with math, according to this research. Undergraduates from a large Midwestern university were studied; findings suggest that the objectifying gaze affected women’s behavior and lowered performance, but not men’s. The authors observe “The objectifying gaze is particularly problematic for women, it may lead to a vicious cycle in which women are first objectified and, as a result, underperform, confirming the notion that women’s looks are more important than what they can do.”


This research examined the effects of the objectifying gaze on math performance, interaction motivation, body surveillance, body shame, and body dissatisfaction. In an experiment, undergraduate participants (67 women and 83 men) received an objectifying gaze during an interaction with a trained confederate of the other sex. As hypothesized, the objectifying gaze caused decrements in women’smath performance but notmen’s. Interestingly, the objectifying gaze also increased women’s, but notmen’s,motivation to engage in subsequent interactions with their partner. Finally, the objectifying gaze did not influence body surveillance, body shame, or body dissatisfaction forwomen or men. One explanation for themath performance and interaction motivation findings is stereotype threat. To the degree that the objectifying gaze arouses stereotype threat, math performance may decrease because it conveys that women’s looks are valued over their other qualities. Furthermore, interaction motivation may increase because stereotype threat arouses belonging uncertainty or concerns about social connections. As a result, the objectifying gazemay trigger a vicious cycle in which women underperform but continue to interact with the people who led them to underperform in the first place. Implications for long-term consequences of the objectifying gaze and directions for future research are discussed.

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Article details
Gervais, S., Vescio, T., & Allen, J. (2011). When What You See Is What You Get: The Consequences of the Objectifying Gaze for Women and Men Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35 (1), 5-17 DOI: 10.1177/0361684310386121

An interview with the lead author of the article, Sarah J. Gervais, conducted by Dr. Jan D. Yoder, editor of Psychology of Women Quarterly is available at:

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