Journal of Consumer Behaviour, J. Consumer Behav.

(2017)
Published online in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com) DOI: 10.1002/cb.1635

Women’s responses to stereotypical media portrayals: An fMRI study of
sexualized and domestic images of women
I. STEPHANIE VEZICH*, BENJAMIN C. GUNTER and MATTHEW D. LIEBERMAN
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), 1285 Franz Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA

ABSTRACT

Women tend to be portrayed in a sexualized or domestic manner in mainstream advertising; importantly this trend holds not only for ads
targeting men but also for those targeting women themselves. Such a focus on sexualized portrayals in particular may not seem strategic
given a wealth of evidence suggesting that women evaluate these portrayals quite negatively. Consumer attitudes toward domestic
portrayals are more mixed but, unsurprisingly, vary according to how much a woman identifies as traditional. If female consumers do
not evaluate these common portrayals positively, why might they persist? Past work suggests a disconnect between reported attitudes
toward general visual sexual stimuli and physiological and neural responses; therefore, it is plausible that neural responses to stereotypical
female portrayals in advertising may be at odds with reported attitudes and may have a bigger impact on consumer behavior. The current
study exposed women to sexualized, domestic, and control images in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner as an initial test of
this idea. We found that participants reported liking both domestic and control images more than sexualized images. In contrast, they
showed more activity in regions associated with reward and arousal (ventral striatum and amygdala, respectively) while viewing sexualized
images relative to both control and domestic images. Surprisingly, ventral striatum response to sexualized ads was stronger for women who
endorsed traditional attitudes than those who reported less traditional attitudes. These results suggest that despite reporting negative attitudes
toward sexualized portrayals, women may in fact have a favorable response to these images. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Advertisers have long operated according to the mantra “sex men (Whipple & Courtney, 1985). Therefore, it is important
sells.” Despite repeated efforts from groups such as family to know how women are responding to these portrayals of
values organizations and religious leaders to impose restric- other women. Within gender, attitudes about gender roles
tions on sexual media content, it appears to persist; for exam- may also play an important part in one’s evaluation of these
ple, the share of magazine ads featuring sexualized women images; past work has shown wide variation in women’s
has increased from less than one-third in 1964 to roughly half attitudes toward female depictions in advertising (Lundstrom
in 2003 (Soley & Reid, 1988; Reichert et al., 1999; Reichert & Sciglimpaglia, 1977; Mittal & Lassar, 2000; Reichert &
& Carpenter, 2004; Nelson & Paek, 2005). When racy Fosu, 2005; Sengupta & Dahl, 2008). The current study
campaigns from Victoria’s Secret, Calvin Klein, and addresses these questions by focusing specifically on
Abercrombie & Fitch are wildly successful, other companies women’s self-reported and neural responses using functional
are strongly incentivized to act in kind (Bryant, 1999; Rice, magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to the two most
2000; cf. Reichert, 2002). In a particularly surprising exam- common female media portrayals—sexualized and domestic
ple of sexualized marketing, the Dallas Opera turned around (Dominick & Rauch, 1972; Duker & Tucker, 1977).
season ticket sales by highlighting more suggestive scenes in
their marketing materials (Chism, 1999).
Marketing success stories like this beg the question: Is the Women report negative evaluations of sexualized ads
appeal of sexualized advertising universal, or are these The bulk of prior work investigating how women evaluate
effects driven by particular customer segments? Reactions sexualized portrayals suggests a markedly negative response.
to sexualized advertising have been shown to vary widely For example, women report negative reactions to sexual ads,
by audience (Alexander & Judd, 1978). In particular, particularly those in which the sexual imagery is irrelevant to
because the bulk of sexualized images focus on women the product (Peterson & Kerin, 1977; Jones et al., 1998; Pope
(women are three times more likely than men to appear in et al., 2004). Probing what specifically is negative about
provocative clothing in ads), one might imagine that there women’s reactions, some work has shown that women find
would be sharp gender differences in response to these ads sexualized ads more offensive and less effective than neutral
as they may likely serve as a ploy to sell to men primarily ads (Alexander & Judd, 1978; Sciglimpaglia et al., 1979;
(Reichert et al., 1999). However, these sexualized female Fetto, 2001; Jones, 2005), while other work suggests that
ads do not appear solely for men’s products; while few main- they consider the use of sexually explicit content to be uneth-
stream ads targeting men feature sexualized male images, far ical, which in turn drives negative evaluations (Mittal &
more mainstream ads targeting women feature sexualized Lassar, 2000; LaTour & Henthorne, 2003).
female images (Reichert, 2002). In addition, women demon- While these explanations provide a few possibilities for
strate greater awareness of female media stereotypes than do women’s negative reactions to sexual imagery, they depend
on fairly deliberative, conscious cognition about the
message, which other work suggests is not an accurate depic-
*Correspondence to: I. Stephanie Vezich, University of California, Los
Angeles (UCLA), 1285 Franz Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA. tion of how people tend to process ads during real-world
E-mail: isvezich@ucla.edu exposure (Burnett & Moriarty, 1998; Sengupta & Gorn,

Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

arousal specifically. 2008) in re- nonetheless (Ambady et al. 1979.1002/cb . 1977). The these studies found that women with traditional attitudes current study parallels these ideas by focusing on activation have significantly more favorable evaluations of ads with in the amygdala (commonly associated with emotional domestic female portrayals than do women with progressive arousal. sexual liberalism.. Knutson et al. 1974. Age may also play a role. 2003). Morrison & Shaffer. Content analysis reveals that women Thus. Phan et al. while women made choices erotic images because of repeated conditioning that has led to avoid seeing the images (Griffitt & Kaiser. Mittal & Lassar. sion commercials (Dominick & Rauch. compared how women with traditional versus progressive vations toward the stimulus (in this case. 1979. women with more conser- ad increases. Belch et al. 2008). women’s attitudes toward sex appeals are more negative than toward Traditional women report especially negative evaluations neutral appeals. J. Fisher et al. Barry et al.. For example. we chose to compare these two is important for the success of a sexualized ad but positive roles directly. And indeed.. Huang (2004) also found that arousal is likely to hold more liberal attitudes about sex than an older drives AAd and in fact becomes a stronger influence as population. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons.. Knutson et al. Social- negative reinforcers for women. Consistent with the idea that these results. them to have less positive attitudes toward sex than men in Women’s reported attitudes toward sexual media are neg. (AAd) (LaTour. 1999. Reichert et al.. And importantly. gender does not tell the whole story. while men show the opposite pattern of sexualized ads (Sengupta & Dahl. commercials featuring heterosexual couples or men (Reichert erotophobia–erotophilia. Results from the development tive for sexualized commercials of other women than for of individual differences scales such as sociosexual attitudes. 2005. men’s evaluations become more positive while vative attitudes toward sex have a more negative reaction to women’s evaluations become more negative (Patzer. 2006). sponse to gender stereotypical images of women.. these findings also suggest that women harbor nega.. a study employing galvanic skin response to proxy Women’s responses to domestic female portrayals arousal (positive or negative) found that women show more Although our focus is on sexualized media portrayals of arousal to sexualized female images than do men but rate women. 1990. 1985. 1978). 1987... work comparing valenced arousal as the female nudity increases. 2003. 2000. Duker & tive response. 2002. As That is. sexualized ads than women with more liberal attitudes LaTour. women give positive evaluations of schema—which predict an array of attitudes and behaviors nude male ads but negative evaluations of nude female ads —demonstrate high variation in these measures among (Sciglimpaglia et al. 1988. Reichert women’s evaluations of sexualized female depictions are less & Fosu. 1981). LaTour & However. Ltd.. 1991). 2008).. it is not arousal alone that Tucker. content via “thin slice” processing but find similar results 2005. used in advertising. Johnson & Satow. Gläscher & Adolphs. across several studies. 2001. whereas age differences specifically found that young adults have women score higher on negatively valenced arousal as nudity more positive attitudes about sexualized advertising than do increases. 1979.. less appealing. 2001). the college student sample used in these studies Henthorne. these regions are also associated with pro- tive feelings toward sexualized female depictions (Dahl cessing of visual sexual stimuli (VSS) specifically.2 I. (2017) DOI: 10.. discussed later. For example. 1980. 1978. may contribute to their evaluations of sexual images inde- women’s affective and attitudinal responses are more nega. 1980. Lane et al. Latour et al. 1990. To address this limitation. general (Griffitt & Kaiser. 1999. and sexual self- et al. responses to domestic ads.. 1981). pendently of gender per se. 1972. Simpson has found that as the amount of female sexual content in an & Gangestad. under cognitive load. In addition. Rupp & Wallen. 1990). Brooks et al. 2012) and Leigh et al. In addition.. The combination of arousal and valence There has been much less work carried out on women’s has been theorized to be important in the advertising context. the extant research has typically the idea being that positive arousal promotes approach moti. S. Ambady et al. the product). 2007). men score higher on positively 1990.. 1990. 2008). Sengupta & Dahl. 2007. Other results demonstrate that While women report more negative responses to sexualized erotic images serve as positive reinforcers for men but as ads than do men. increasing persuasiveness of the ad (Reichert. which may still be the underlying mechanism for sexual explicitness increases. 2000.. men made choices in a ization accounts of gender differences in evaluations of sex- shape discrimination task that would gain them more ual content contend that women have negative reactions to exposure to the erotic images. however. attitudes evaluate these messages.. In addition. 1993). 2002). Perhaps unsurprising. Vezich et al. we see that arousal to sexual are most often portrayed in sexual or domestic roles in televi- images can be accompanied by a positive or negative affec.. both male and female undergraduates respond more Importantly. Peracchio & Luna. (Sciglimpaglia et al. we wanted to compare responses to these images these ads as less interesting. Rupp & Wallen. the valence and amount of reported arousal positively to sexual relative to nonsexual ads (Severn et al. 2000. Unlike other research with tions (Dudley. Taylor et al... therefore. Interestingly. the way one has been taught to think about sex portrayals of other women in these roles. appear to drive these effects. adults. 2009). 2003. negative than men’s evaluations of sexualized male depic. Cooper & Knutson. Consumer Behav. Other work women (Mercer & Kohn. which in turn predicts “attitudes toward the ad” older adults (Wise et al. and more with another type of stereotypical female image commonly offensive than do men (Belch et al. ative in general but appear to be particularly negative toward Therefore. 1978). Latour et al. 2006). women feel “negative arousal” to sexualized female depic- tions. attitudes (Whipple & Courtney. Knutson et al. 2008).. et al.. the ventral striatum (commonly associated with positive re- some studies have attempted to gauge reactions to sexual warding stimuli.

Karama et al.. show remarkable overlap in neural responses across a num- some work suggests that the effectiveness of traditional ber of studies (Karama et al. 1977). Specifi- portrayal much less favorably because it seems inconsistent cally. portrayals (Wortzel & Frisbie. Given the arousing nature of future behavior. would be inconsistent with her self-image and cause cogni. Third. 2010. an advertisement is generally wearing or using the product ships between consumer self-report and behavior for several to be sold. Koukounas & McCabe. 2010). targeting female consumers. 2004. Nolan et al. Berger. 2006. 2002). we predicted that amygdala activity would be argument: greater in response to sexualized images relative to control or domestic images as well.. Consumer Behav. Therefore. 1969. 2013). Bettinger & Dawson. Sabatinelli et al. mon with self-report measures. 2011. amygdala and striatum activation are common decades ago when the feminist movement was more salient. namely. men may feel more comfortable (Falk et al. one may wish to report attitudes in line with particular Hypotheses social identities—for instance.. Rupp and Wallen (2008) expound this these images. an ad and an image) as it is introducing this source of variance.. Conversely.. in other words. recruited female participants exclusively rather than includ- To investigate this potential disconnect. this work has largely used erotic video and photo images stimuli more akin to pornographic content than the type of The existing literature on women’s responses to common suggestive but not explicit content one would see in an stereotypical female media portrayals (i. One study and women automatically process sexual imagery. (2017) DOI: 10. Berns & Moore. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons.e. tudes after they have already processed the stimulus to some line sex-role identities favor modern role portrayals (Jaffe & extent.. 2003). the limited neuroimaging and physiological work The little work that has focused strictly on responses to on VSS has increased our understanding of how both men domestic portrayals has had inconsistent findings. Chung et al. Hofmann et al. explore whether similar neural processes hold in both cases. Despite substantial differences in 1983). and how reported neutral or slightly negative evaluations from both these processes might differ from their reported responses. they eliminate the common issue of partici. while evaluations of professional/business In particular. However. Hamann et al. Courtney & Whipple. 2007. women (Reichert.. Examining neural response to stereotypical female However. Rupp & advertised (Buchanan & Reid. 2009. 112). Leavitt. Our gender roles in which women do not display high levels hypotheses focus on women’s responses (and thus we of sexual response (p. 1977. Duker & Tucker. Indeed. across this body of work. 1979. she may rate a sexualized between these self-reports and private responses.. Chivers et al. research on evaluations of domestic portrayals occurred Namely. past fMRI studies have shown that neural would reduce heterogeneity in both self-reported and neural data can predict downstream behavior better than self-report responses. we hypothesized that ventral striatum activity would with what a mother would do. between self-reported attitudes toward sexual stimuli and 1986). 1978). 1994). 1977. women show much lower correspondence female portrayals were significantly higher (Kilbourne.. Second. Studies that have looked at neural creating a gap in recent literature (Morrison & Shaffer. 2002. particularly when individuals despite predicted disjunction with self-reported responses. Ltd.. 2010. a stay-at-home mother may We predicted that participants would report liking domestic rate a domestic portrayal positively because to do otherwise and control images more than sexualized images. 2008. men’s and women’s self-reported responses to VSS.g. we hypothesized that Because women may feel more self-conscious in their the strength of these effects would vary to the extent that a response to sexual stimuli due to social expectations.. In addition. 1988. we predicted that the fMRI data would suggest a disconnect tive dissonance. we reasoned that excluding men 2008). Women’s advertising 3 women with more feminine sex-role identities favor tradi.. latent affective be greater in response to sexualized images relative to both and cognitive responses may be present and predictive of control and domestic images. and we wanted to avoid processing of a stimulus (e. 2002. they participant endorsed traditional gender roles. 2015). the main agent in Neuroimaging techniques may help elucidate relation. And yet others have found negative effects of tradi. 2005). 2003. the majority of Wallen. Therefore. Finally. ads with female protagonists are reasons. are providing opinions about value-laden or controversial issues (Fazio & Olson. Falk et al. First... while women with more mascu. occurring as opposed to asking participants about their atti- tional role portrayals in ads.. Finally. Gizewski et al. they tional portrayals (Kelly et al. Such inconsistency is com. we used fMRI to ing a mix of male and female subjects) because the portrayals compare more and less traditional women’s brain activity in these images are typically geared toward products for while watching sexualized and domestic female images. we are able to access the cognitive female images than women do. 1974. portrayals.1002/cb . In these cases. we were interested pants being unable or unwilling to report true attitudes in understanding women’s cognitions regarding female (Wicker. sexualized and advertisement.. that may try to inhibit their responses to match socialized they would be stronger for less traditional women. 1997. Notably.. Nisbett & Wilson. 2013). Kim et al. men and women. responses to VSS in women specifically also find amygdala and striatal activation (Zhu et al. However. portrayals depends on how well it matches the product being Gizewski et al. Others found positive evaluations of traditional actual physiological response than do men (Rosen & Beck. 2012. explicitly reporting positive attitudes toward sexualized Falk et al.. In other words. J. 1977. therefore. we combine prior behavioral work domestic) does not present a clear picture of how women in the advertising domain with neuroimaging work in VSS to privately evaluate these images.

5 seconds. brand associations and allow for greater experimental The task was modeled for participants at the single subject control. A random effects model was con- structed. Yarkoni et al. UK). and control (women without a product). voxel size = 1. flip angle = 90. “disagree completely” to “agree completely. echo time (TE) = 34 milliseconds. 2012)..1 × 3. this was a natural region to look at. Consumer Behav. 2011). and normal. participants saw 120 images from five mated meta-analyses of hundreds of neuroimaging studies gender role types: aspirational. and smoothed advertisements) were chosen to remove potential biases from with an 8-mm Gaussian kernel full width at half maximum.0 mm).. Knutson et al. matrix size = 64 × 64. 2 Results regarding aspirational. sexual. 2007. 2003).. to 3 mm (Figure 1). and excluded if they were claustrophobic. ma- (Mage = 31.” 2005...1 × 3. tural scan (TR = 2170 milliseconds. they answered We had two regions of interest (ROIs) that we were inter- the question “To what extent do you agree with the following ested in a priori. London were collected by the same agencies..g. and a cars-only control. Prior to the day of the scan. and then restricting to the ventral and medial halves of the 2 = somewhat dislike. Images were realigned to correct for control condition. 2012). sexual. This ROI was gender roles in the media (see “Women’s responses to domestic female portrayals” for more details). averaging over these single subject results at the Procedure group level. Berger Images are available upon request from the authors. prior work suggests that provoking emotional arousal may 1 be key to the success of a message (Berger.. comparing activity while viewing a key gender role representative of the types of photos that one might see in a of interest (e. TE = 25 milliseconds. Materials 36 slices. the images were specifically chosen to be level. had any metal in their bodies.. Knutson et al. it likely reflects positive reward-related cognition role types. 2003. there were four product types: cars.4 I. Gläscher & Adolphs. 3 = somewhat like.0 mm × 1. predict future behavior such as product sales success in past Twelve 10-trial blocks were presented in random order. Berns & Moore. which served as our WC1N 3BG. Cooper & Knutson. and normal images are not reported & Milkman. field of view (FOV) community database and completed the fMRI scan and the = 20 cm. Inc. a category such as “aspirational” constructed using Wake Forest University Pickatlas. along with more general attitudes Regions of interest about gender roles. UCL 12 Queen Square.0 mm) were breastfeeding. ipants in final analyses. starting with putamen and nucleus accumbens question “How much do you like this image? 1 = dislike.g. 2001. domestic. TE = 4. Each work (Knutson et al. In the context of advertising. Four participants were eliminated magnetization-prepared rapid-acquisition gradient echo struc- from analyses owing to bad coregistration. 3 mm thick. J. 3 mm thick. Vezich et al. business.57. repetition time (TR) Twenty-eight right-handed neurologically normal women = 5000 milliseconds. 2009. 2011.1 car control images. Taylor et al. 2012). as they are most stereotypically associated with female others. business.” This question was answered on a four-point scale from valuation processes (Knutson et al. 4 = like” and a mask to constrain our search to the most canonical portion jittered fixation between 0.6 × 1. Isolated stock images (rather than real-life motion. voxel size = 1. The fMRI data were analyzed using Statistical Parametric rized into five roles: aspirational. Focal to our analyses. ROI was constructed using Wake Forest University up to 5 seconds during which participants responded to the Pickatlas. however. Phan et al. or were acquired. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons. were pregnant or 1 mm thick. A matched- Participants bandwidth structural scan (spin-echo. FOV = 20 cm. SDage = 5. leaving 24 partic. 2007. FOV = 25. Potential participants were screened matrix size = 256 × 256. 36 axial slices. business. because it is generally associated with reward and positive tant. This trial consisted of three parts: 4 seconds of image presentation. goggles were also fixed in place using surgical tape connecting to the head coil and scanner bed.6 cm. Auto- During the scan. S. In contrast. 2003.1002/cb .. 1999.. Twenty additional stock images of cars Institute of Neurology. normal.2 Within these gender study.. Ball et al. sexualized) to activity while viewing the typical advertisement.33 milliseconds. One functional run was recorded (echo-planar currently taking psychoactive medication. 192 sagittal slices.0 mm) and a survey used in this study.. Nuance Digital Marketing and Luminare Labs and catego. We looked at ventral striatum specifically statement? Maintaining traditional gender roles is impor. Maldjian et al. T2-weighted gradient echo. (Lane et al. domestic. (2017) DOI: 10. We believe the more interesting contrasts are between sexualized and (e. Brooks et al. Head motion was minimized using foam padding and 2011. sexualized) lend themselves to be more arousing than domestic images. 51 Valley Stream Parkway Malvern.5 and 1. Because some gender role images here.. of ventral striatum (Figure 1.. Mapping (SPM8 Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging ized. household (Yarkoni et al. 2008).04) were recruited through a trix size = 128 × 128. PA 19355-1406). TR = 2000 milliseconds. as it has been associ- Data acquisition and analysis ated with emotional arousal in past work and also appears Imaging data were acquired using a Siemens Trio 3-T in automated meta-analyses of regions related to arousal head-only MRI scanner (Siemens Medical Solutions USA. This region has also been used to items. Ltd. 2000.6 × 3. We were also interested in the amygdala. participants completed a survey that gauged their attitudes toward various portrayals of women in advertising. dilated may have been too subtle to evoke a distinct response in our participants. voxel size = One hundred stock images of women were collected by 3. normalized into stereotactic space. suggest that when ventral striatum activity is present in a ized.0 mm × 1. technology. METHOD surgical tape.

33 (Figure 4).01. there was greater ventral striatum ac- Figure 1. Importantly.038 RESULTS (Figure 3).548.33. p = 0. t(23) = 3. and ventral striatum (M = 0. or amygdala (M = 0. participants showed greater ventral p = 0.00041 A repeated-measures analysis of variance revealed a signifi. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons. t(23) = 1.55) less than both control images relative to control images.1002/cb .57).87. Ltd. domestic. *p < 0. we wanted to examine whether ventral striatum and private response to sexualized ads than to control or domestic amygdala activity would be greater for sexualized images relative to domestic or car images. and images marginally more than control images. p = 0.47.83.04. Figure 2. 22) = 9.082. t(23) = 2. SD = 0. †p < 0. nificant in both regions. As we hypothesized.001. J.05.28. Consumer Behav. Wilks’s λ = 0. Ventral striatum activity by image type.36. there was not greater activity in cant difference in liking among sexualized.85. p = 0. t(23) = 2. control images.0076. and in activity between sexualized and domestic images was sig- domestic images (M = 3.055. **p < 0. ac- p = 0.45.91). tivity during sexualized images relative to domestic images. t p = 0.01.05. amygdala (M = 0.11.09. SD = 0. SD = 0. **p < 0. p = 0. SD = 0.05. SD = 0. p = 0. As predicted. p = 0.10. SD = 0. p = 0. participants reported liking sexual. t(23) = 2.0095.25. Relating neural responses to traditional gender attitudes Neural responses While the results described earlier suggest a more positive Next.027. (23) = 0. (Figure 4). Amygdala activity by image type.79). Note: †p < 0. Women’s self-reported liking by image type. there was greater amygdala activity when participants viewed sexualized images relative to con- Behavioral responses trol images (M = 0. during viewing of domestic ized images (M = 2. F(2. Note: Figure 4. (2017) DOI: 10.80. In contrast.00023 (Figure 2). *p < 0.53.66).01. Women’s advertising 5 Figure 3.21 (Figure 3).10.10. SD = 0. *p < 0. tivity when participants viewed sexualized images relative to control images (M = 0. t(23) = 4. Ventral striatum and amygdala regions of interest.02. Participants also liked domestic striatum (M = 0. In addition.67). which would run counter to participants’ self-report.66). SD = 0. the difference images (M = 2. Note: †p < 0.66). SD = 0. t(23) = 0. t(23) = 2.92.47.10.96). **p < 0.

p = 0. 2000. we and ventral striatum activity to domestic versus control images. ened striatal response. control. more tradi- tional participants showed greater ventral striatum activity to sexualized images (relative to control images) than less traditional participants. therefore. p = 0.25. tional attitudes and amygdala activity during any of our suggesting that they may be effective in driving purchase three key contrasts (sexualized vs. Again. images. Therefore. ads overall. r = 0. who consider themselves highly feminine are more likely to Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons. Counter to our expectations. there was not a DISCUSSION significant correlation between traditional attitudes and ventral striatum activity to domestic images relative to Although women typically report a distaste for sexualized control (Figure 6. ad campaigns targeting both We did not find significant correlations between tradi.6 I. It is also possi- ble that women raised in more traditional environments who have less exposure to sexualized images may regard them as Figure 5. domestic). more novel and potentially interesting. To investigate this seeming contradiction between control. r = 0. p = 0. domestic vs. to sexualized images relative to both control and domestic tional women. In contrast. 2008). Vezich et al. to our surprise. Finally.25). 1979. (2017) DOI: 10. there was a significant posi- tive correlation between traditional attitudes about gender roles and activity in the ventral striatum ROI when viewing sexualized relative to control images (Figure 5. Mittal & Lassar. there is a relationship between As predicted. leading to a height- tum activity to hypersexualized versus control images. men and women have continued to use these depictions. S.0048. tic images—which one might expect would resonate with more traditional women—or whether it was unique to sexualized images. but several interesting possibilities exist.56.. Ltd. Non-significant correlation between traditional attitudes & Fosu. J. This suggests that self-report and potential underlying preferences. That is. It could be that participants who reported high traditional values consider sexualized female portrayals to be traditional on some level. Correlation between traditional attitudes and ventral stria. it could be argued that evaluating women based on their physical attractiveness (vs. to the extent someone endorsed tradi- tional gender roles. Indeed. behaviors. for domestic images relative to both control and sexualized alized images. In contrast. we found that women reported greater liking traditional attitudes and ventral striatum response to sexu. female participants to sexualized and domestic images while ing than other kinds of content overall. and sexualized vs. this effect in ventral striatum was heightened by the endorsement of traditional attitudes. rating oneself as “traditional” may not be entirely inconsistent.1002/cb . Another possibility is that participants p = 0. Reichert Figure 6. female depictions in the media. This was surprising in light of the fact that endorsing traditional gender roles is often associated with reported dislike of explicitly sexual content (Sciglimpaglia et al. we exposed while women might find sexualized content more arous. Sengupta & Dahl. Consumer Behav. the extent of undergoing fMRI to compare their consciously stated atti- arousal is not related to how traditional they consider tudes regarding these image types to their neural responses.25.0048). that is. r = 0. themselves. We are not strongly in favor of any particular explanation for the relationship between reported traditional attitudes and heightened ventral striatum response to sexualized ads. r = 0. they showed more ventral striatum activity to sexualized images. suggesting that more traditional women (in images. wanted to see whether the correlation also existed for domes.25. intellect) is a more old-fashioned trait. Therefore. they showed greater activity in the ven- contrast to their stated preference) may have more tral striatum—a region associated with reward—in response positive private reactions to this content than less tradi. one might expect that these evaluations would be modulated by the extent to which an individual holds tradi- tional attitudes about gender roles.56. 2005. we looked at the correlation between activity in our ROIs (ventral striatum and amygdala) and the extent to which participants endorsed traditional gender roles (the survey question answered prior to the day of the scan). They also showed greater activity in the amygdala —a region associated with arousal—in response to sexual- ized images relative to both control and domestic images.

J. ipants isolated stock images of women in different roles Instead. if the reason underlying the disconnect seen mon than those of women. although the images were well understood and are ripe for more nuanced exploration. Although amygdala activation is associated with and neural responses are moderated by product type. it would be a that may still evoke implicit positive responses and also major oversimplification to suggest that these results sup- allow respondents to feel licensed to express a positive port the use of sexual ad content in general. men report valenced cognition. like women. Paralleling our use of domestic derlying this disconnect. because public attitudes maintain propriety. arguably a region where women are especially images. as discussed in the Introduction. uct type and cultural values that could greatly influence selves to future investigation.. there may be greater consistency between self-report Ball et al. lingerie) and less consistency when the product is seen results could suggest a positive emotional response. attitudes. The reason for this was that we did not want resonate with women even better than current media existing associations with products to contaminate the attempts. Rupp & is that such images suggest an idealized image of the self Wallen. despite as a mismatch (e. chosen to be in line with photos typically used in commercial Framed in an empowering way. such as working in an office. in several regions where this potential issue would be tive attitudes about sex than men in general in order to avoided. ble that. we have not yet explored moderators such as prod- Several limitations of the current study may lend them. However. however. these types of images may advertisements. might process such images in the context of evaluating a tive for future research to explore these ideas further. it is possi- or other possibilities for women’s self-reported negative at. If results were However. However. but it words. Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons.1002/cb . ample. it is not entirely current study. role images. In other words. Consumer Behav. they may find the use of the female likely to encounter sexualized portrayals of women in media form to sell a product exploitative or offensive. responses to sexualized images with more traditional male ative sentiment despite heightened ventral striatum activity. soap).g. On an even broader scope. as they product. our (e. As discussed explicit response. it would be interesting to study this issue cross- (and why advertisers continue to use sexualized portrayals) culturally (Reiss. 2009). Therefore. 1998. a lack of self-reported endorsement. how these gender roles are interpreted and processed. they mestic roles. It would be useful to conduct this type of work out of a lifetime of social conditioning to report less posi. For ex- emotional arousal in general (both positive and negative. heightened ventral striatum activity is and neural responses to sexualized images when the adver- reliably associated with positively valenced reward tised product is seen as a natural match for a sexualized role processes (Cooper & Knutson. It seems almost certain that one would find that the consumer may wish to strive toward. or constructed ads portraying women in sexualized or do- sciously report liking sexualized female portrayals. it is a less naturalistic test of how they main figures are in highly feminine attire. over a sexualized role. It would also be valuable to use these images may be responding positively to these images on some in the context of ads to evaluate whether both self-report level. (2017) DOI: 10. these findings would to explore strategies that would make an explicit positive hold important marketing implications as sexualized attitude acceptable and thus remove this inconsistency. First. Widmer et al. Ltd. and counter to intuition. there may (given their proximity to the entertainment industry) than in be body image issues at play. which could have important im. more negative responses to sexualized depictions of other The current study did not allow us to investigate these men than do women of other women. in conjunction. portrayals of men in advertising are exceedingly less com- For example. sexualized images of an attractive model may cause would be interesting to see whether differences in neural ac- the viewer to consider whether the advertised product tivity would be as pronounced. in the current research is an explicit disapproval of subju. of their stated attitudes.. 1986. In other differences in self-reported attitudes across cultures. one possibility underlying and even laws about female media portrayals vary widely by the potential positive valence associated with these images culture. we suggest that these reward responses are not rather than actual product ads. it would be useful to see whether our re- are speculative at this point. allowing us to capitalize on potential existing la- responses. it would be helpful to compare men’s surprising or counterintuitive that participants reported neg. the current approach represents a purer test tent preferences. It will be informa. but it does suggest suggestive of positive response to these depictions in spite the need for an increased understanding of the reasons un. we chose to show partic. women may have a neurocognitive pattern of studies could compare such images to alternative portrayals activity consistent with a positive response to sexualized in which the female subject has more agency or ownership media portrayals of other women. images as a counterpoint to sexualized images in the plications for advertisers. The present study is the first to show that despite stated gation typically associated with sexualized female images. a positively Finally. However. 2008).. we recruited women from the greater Los reasons why women would not wish to endorse such Angeles area. Thus. 2008). Such explorations would allow us this effect may be the strongest among those who report to tease apart this dissociation and design better messages the most traditional attitudes. sults replicate while exposing participants to either real-life Our data suggest that while women may not con. they may in fact show neural patterns titudes toward the sexualized images.. earlier. Women’s advertising 7 both self-report traditional values and have a positively of women’s responses to these different stereotypical role valenced response to the sexualized images in which the portrayals. these results suggest that it may be worthwhile consistent with those observed in men.g. or they may be responding other regions. could enhance their own attractiveness. There may be several Second. For example.

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