A new study by Saint Rose psychology department professor Ross Krawczyk suggests that men are just as likely as women to be demoralized by advertisements that feature highly sexualized images of women.
“We know these images cause distress about appearance for women, but they also caused this distress in men,” said Krawczyk, a licensed clinical psychologist who conducted the research for his dissertation at the University of South Florida.
The study, which appears in Body Image, a top-tier research journal, sheds light on the inner workings of young men – who, Krawczyk notes, are not considered in the literature about body image nearly as often as women are. And while eating disorders remain far more prevalent among women, cases among men are growing, likely due to increased emphasis on male appearance in western culture.
Krawczyk said his study has implications for mental health counseling, the treatment of eating disorders and even the way advertisers try to reach young adults. The Huffington Post, in fact, featured the study in an October 2015 article that noted the constant bombardment of advertisements that objectify women.
Co-authored with Professor J. Kevin Thompson of the University of South Florida, Krawczyk’s study asked 437 individuals ages 18 to 25 to view either benign advertisements or those that objectified women.
Two-thirds of the study’s participants were relatively unaffected by the ads. But the one-third who were disturbed were just as likely to be men as women.
“We asked ‘how angry are you right now?’ and ‘how anxious do you feel right now?’ and found that the objectifying ads caused men anxiety about equally to women,” said Krawczyk, an assistant professor who came to Saint Rose in 2013.
The research did not address the reasons behind the reaction of the men – that would be fodder for an entirely new study. However, it is possible, Krawczyk said, that men feel less attractive than the women in the photos.
And the work did suggest some differences along gender lines. The women disturbed by the images reported feeling angry, anxious and bad about their appearance.
“The men just felt bad about their appearance and a little anxious,” noted Krawczyk.
An expert in eating disorders, Krawczyk notes that while many women aspire to be unrealistically thin, many men struggle to meet a “muscular ideal.”
“They may eat more to build the muscles or exercise compulsively or take supplements in an effort to build muscles,” said Krawczyk, who also works in a clinical practice. “It’s about extremes.”
Next, Krawczyk plans to examine whether ads that sexually objectify women prompt men to act differently toward women. In addition, his psychology students are actively engaged in following up. Krawczyk said seven students have written papers related to the topic – and two have pursued the research in graduate school. Their work has involved analyzing information gathered as part of the study, or looking more deeply at the methodology or collecting new data on the topic.
It helps, the professor noted, that body image and gender roles are something young adult students think about a great deal.
“The topic is not only popular with young adults, but relevant in their everyday lives,” he noted. “I have no trouble getting students interested.”
To read more about the Saint Rose psychology program