Date of Award

5-2012

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Psychology

Major Professor

Cheryl B. Travis

Committee Members

Lowell Gaertner, Michael A. Olson, Suzanne B. Kurth

Abstract

Previous objectification research investigates the negative intrapersonal implications of societal female sexual objectification. However, little research has examined the interpersonal implications of female sexual objectification. Given that female sexual objectification occurs in interpersonal encounters (Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn & Twenge, 1998), and given that psychological phenomenon can vary across relational contexts (Reis, 2008), it is important to consider relevant factors of the intimate relationship context. The two studies reported here explored the proposition that women’s esteem and affect might benefit from men’s sexual valuation to the extent that women perceive those men as psychologically close. In the first study, a week-long, event-based diary study, women reported higher levels of state self-esteem, body esteem, and positive affect to the extent that close men rather than distant men drew attention to their sexuality and/or physical appearance. Notably, this effect (1) accounted for nearly 16% of the variance in women’s state self-esteem, nearly 28% of the variance in women’s state body esteem, and nearly 35% of the variance in women’s state positive affect and (2) was not moderated by women’s levels of self-objectification, male perceived physical attractiveness, or women’s internalization of sociocultural attitudes toward appearance. In the second study, women were randomly assigned to receive positive and/or neutral evaluations of their sexual and non-sexual attributes by either a male stranger or their relationship partner. Results demonstrated that the effects of sexual valuation from a psychologically close or distant male on women’s state self-esteem, body esteem, and affect depend on the extent to which they are also non-sexually valued. Specifically, women who were both sexually and non-sexually valued by their relationship partner reported increased state self-esteem and decreased negative affect. Additionally, women who were sexually valued but not non-sexually valued reported decreased weight satisfaction. Thus, unlike objectification by male strangers, sexual valuation by psychologically close men can have a more positive impact, as long as those men also value those women for their non-sexual attributes. These findings join others to demonstrate that intimate relationships, and their various qualities, determine the implications various processes have for well-being.

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