What do you need to think about before you decide which photos to post ;)
Psychologists demonstrated it’s quite easy to shift our perceptions of other people from having a mind full of agency (self-control and action) to having a mind interested in experience (emotion and sensation): all they have to do is take off their clothes. Take the first experiment by Gray, et al., which showed 159 undergraduates a variety of photos. Some of these photos were of an attractive female named Erin, appearing in either a headshot or a bikini. Other students looked at a handsome man named Aaron, glancing at either his face or sculpted bare chest.
After looking at these pictures and reading a brief description of Erin/Aaron, subjects were asked to evaluate the mental capacities of the person. They answered six questions, which took the form, “Compared to the average person, how much is Erin capable of X.” The X was filled in by various agency-related capacities, such as “self-control,”“acting morally,” and “planning” and a slew of experience-related capacities, such as “experiencing pleasure,” “experiencing hunger,” and “experiencing desire.” Participants answered these six questions on a 5-point scale from 1 (Much Less Capable) to 5 (Much More Capable).
It turns out that a glimpse of flesh strongly influences our perception of Erin/Aaron. When the pictures only showed a face, they had lots of agency. But when we saw their torso, we suddenly imagined them as obsessed with experience. Instead of being good at self-control, they were suddenly extremely sensitive to hunger and desire. Same person, same facial expression, same brief description – but a hint of body changed everything.
This research helps to clarify a longstanding debate about what happens we look at other bodies. Kant, for instance, argued that “sexual love makes of the loved person an Object of appetite; as soon as that appetite has been stilled, the person is cast aside as one casts away a lemon which has been sucked dry.” In other words, looking at a naked person filled us with sexual desire, and that desire induced a form of mindblindness. Instead of seeing the individual as having agency, he or she became a means to an end, nothing but a vessel for our satisfaction.