A group of psychologists have discovered that when men (or perhaps I should say, the men involved in the experiment) look at pictures of scantily clad women, the pre-motor cortex lights up. This region of the brain has a role to play in action and lit up when the men looked at DIY tools. After looking at the pictures, some of the men had less activity in the pre-frontal cortex and other regions of the brain responsible for empathy and understanding others. Psychologists suggest that one explanation of the findings is that the men saw the women in the pictures as things to be immediately acted on, and that the pictures had an impact – for some of the men – on how they saw women afterwards. Rather than seeing them as humans to interact with, they were more inclined to see them as objects. This is pretty interesting stuff, but I have lots of questions about it. The first thing that strikes me is that the ‘mirror system’, which some theorists have suggested is what underlies our capacity to understand others’ behaviour is identifiable with/located in the pre-motor cortex. Neurons fire in the mirror system whether someone is preparing to act oneself, or watching another acting. The pre-motor cortex is thus – as I understand it – implicated in the functioning of at least certain forms of empathy. It is involved in seeing others as agents. The pre-motor cortex fires when people look at tools because they are objects for action. But the fact that it also fires when looking at people doesn’t in itself show that the perceiver also sees them as objects for action. The perceiver may be seeing them as an agent. Also, looking at a photo of a woman is not the same as looking at a woman. A photo is an image, it is not alive, it is not sentient, and one cannot interact with it. Even if the studies show that the men were reacting to the photos as objects for action – rather than people – this doesn’t show that they then view real live women in that way. But what do you think? Read the Guardian report here. Via Feministing.