Nude Men Seem Less Intelligent

Justin Timberlake, showing some skin

Justin Timberlake, showing some skin

The more skin women reveal, the less men see them as intelligent or empowered.

Instead, nudity promotes the notion that women are sensitive, “feeling” creatures.

Turns out the perception runs both ways with women seeing men as less intelligent and less competent when they show skin, too. In fact, simply “taking off a sweater — or otherwise revealing flesh — can significantly change the way a mind is perceived” say researchers.

And as psychologist, Kurt Gray of the University of Maryland observed:

This effect can happen even without the removal of clothes. Simply focusing on someone’s attractiveness, in essence concentrating on their body rather than their mind, makes you see her or him as less of an (empowered) agent and more of an experiencer.

Women see partially-clothed men as more sensitive, too, and are disinclined to hurt them. Likewise, given the chance, most men don’t want to harm unclothed women, either. Perhaps nakedness makes people seem more vulnerable so that we want to protect them.

Interesting. There’s no evidence that showing skin makes men want to rape, and it looks like the opposite effect could be more likely.  (Of course, some sexual fetishes do combine nudity and violence so the effect isn’t uniform, and does not fit all contexts.)

Practical take-away? Showing skin can make us seem less competent at work. But it can be great in the bedroom, where it’s all about feeling.

I’m on vacation and this is a rerun. 

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 8, 2014, in feminism, men, objectification, pornography, psychology, sex and sexuality, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. I don’t feel this notion applies on all. There are a few, who reveal their body , who are smart and intelligent and way good then a person who is fully clothed.

    • You’re probably right. I’ve never seen a sample that didn’t have a bell curve — a range of experience and average tendency.

      And this is about women’s perceptions, not how the men actually are. (And vice-versa when discussing nude women.)

  2. Huh. Thinking back to times when I’ve seen people naked (family members, my lover, a female friend who had a meltdown while showering after gym class) I truly cannot recall ever seeing them as “less intelligent”. Even when watching porn, I am really not thinking of how educated the actors and actresses are…though I suppose if I had to I’d say they are average like most people.

    However, I will say that I often think of models (both male and female) as less intelligent. For example, Justin T. up there looks pretty dumb to me, even though I have heard interviews with him and know he’s a fairly intelligent man. Same thing happens when I look at my younger sister’s high school modeling portfolio…she’s not the brightest person, but her photos make her look positively uneducated.

    The problem is the facial expressions that models wear. The overly wide eyes, the strange poses, the pouty lips, the halfway revealing clothes that honestly serve no purpose but to tease…these all add up in my mind to make me think “materialistic, babyish, dishonest, uneducated, and manipulative”. This is despite knowing the people probably aren’t all like that, but it’s the first impression I have.

    • Well, as I mentioned to someone else, there’s always a bell curve to these things.

      I’m sure I do it. just focusing on the body makes me forget all about the mind. And when people like Mass. former senator posed nude, he seemed less intelligent to me. I’m sure if any senator, business exec etc posed nude, I’d see them as less intelligent.

  3. The assumptions are interesting. The negative ones, I figure have to do with society’s typical judgments around the body and sexuailty- interesting also that being naked in certain scenarios, the vulnerability provides a “protection.”

  4. It might be because women could perceive men showing skin as “vain”. What I’ve noticed with the perception of vanity is that women are likely to see a man showing his body as “full of himself” “cocky”, “a meat head” “jock”. Kind of like the bimbo, air head perception of a girl stripping or showing skin. It might be sub conscious but “he’s a meat head” might be ingrained because men aren’t usually showing their body, but instead a man’s worth is usually perceived by his wealth, status, power, thus a man looking powerful and smart when wearing a suit and clothed.

  5. hmmm…. interesting. Funny how so many stereotypes about rape are wrong.

  6. Interesting discussion. brings a couple of things to mind from further afield – contrast a baby fully clothed vs seeing a naked baby, the latter evokes much more feeling of tenderness, as opposed to play, responding to the their vulnerability instead of to their developing mind. And the old saw about public speaking, to visualize one’s audience as in their underwear to minimize one’s nervousness, not perceiving them as less intelligent, but less threatening, i.e. more human, more tender. Remember watching the film School Ties with my sister, in which there was a naked fight in the shower room. My sister commented how scary that was, they seemed so vulnerable. If they had been clothed it wouldn’t have been nearly so worrisome. So, perhaps generically, seeing flesh taps a part of our psyche that elicits a particular emotive response, as stated above. Definitely agree with your take-away, it’s very contextual and one wants to elicit a response appropriate the to context.

  7. A “flipping gender” take on a music video

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