Sexy Stares Linked to Co-eds' Poor Test Scores

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In Roberts' study, the women were either asked to try on a swimsuit or a sweater in a makeshift dressing room. After that, they were asked to complete a math test, among other tasks. The women who tried on the swimsuit did worse on the math test. Researchers concluded that trying on the swimsuit made women think about themselves as an object, which drained mental resources and made them perform worse on the test.

Roberts found Gervais' study particularly interesting, but not because women performed worse on the math test. "What I was really fascinated by was the second finding, which was that women who would receive the objectifying gaze wanted to interact more (with the objectifier)," Roberts said. "In our country, sexism tends to be very subtle, benevolent and complimentary, but even if someone's commentary on your body is so-called complimentary, and you want to continue to interact with that person because they complimented you, maybe you're setting yourself up for more overt forms of sexism."

The study provided a few possible explanations for why the objectified participants reported wanting to spend more time with their interviewer: It could be a matter of enjoying flattery. Or, researchers said, they may have interpreted the objectifying gaze as a sign of attraction and wanted to reciprocate it. Or, perhaps most counterintuitive, the women may have wanted to spend more time with their objectifiers to show them that they're not sex objects.

Subtle Objectification Still Problematic

Regardless of women's motivations, Gervais said the study shows that subtle objectification can be a problem, albeit not one that's as well-recognized as blatant slaps on the butt.

"I don't think this is something conscious from people who are perpetrating this or being objectified," Gervais said. "But I think that's even kind of more disturbing. If you can identify it, it would be much easier to combat it."

It's the objectifying gaze's subtleness that has some female coeds, who surely are no strangers to being checked out, wondering – could it really be affecting my work or school performance?

"I guess I've never thought of it negatively like that," said Emily Eucker, a 21-year-old senior at UNL. "But yeah, I guess I can see how (getting checked out) could be distracting in some situations, especially at school. If you are attracted to the person, you might be thinking about things other than taking the test."

"I think if you're getting checked out you're going to lose some concentration for a little bit," said Mykel Gossard, a 21-year-old junior at UNL. "But I don't think that you should be so obsessed with it that you're doing worse on a math test, at least I hope that doesn't happen."

As for women wanting to spend time with their objectifiers, Eucker said, "If you're attracted to them, it makes sense that you want to spend time with them, but there are also women out there who just enjoy flattery for flattery's sake and would do it for that." She added that only in rare circumstances could she imagine a woman seeking out someone who checked her out to prove she's more than a sex object.

Gossard agreed. "Maybe subconsciously it is to prove something, I don't know, but I really think it would just be because I'm flattered or attracted," she said. "If a college girl tells you she doesn't like getting looked at, she's probably lying."

ABCNews.com contributor Teresa Lostroh is a member of the ABC News on Campus bureau in Lincoln, Neb.

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