Would you swap your body?

Matt Pianalto wrote to us about a small-scale experiment he tried out in one of his classes.

Suppose that it was possible for you to trade out your present body for a different one. And suppose that you get to pick from some selection of bodies. Your mind would be transferred to the new body, with no loss of memory, thought, mental ability, etc. (Your mind and its contents would be preserved wholly intact.) The only thing that would change is the body you inhabit. The trade will be permanent, in that your present body will be discarded once the mind-transfer process is complete. Would you want to trade in your present body for a different one?

He also had students indicate whether they were male or female, and whether they’d choose a male or female body. My guess, given high levels of dissatisfaction would have been that more women than men would choose to swap– and that a huge number of them would do so. But he found the opposite. He also had no students (in his class of 31) who chose a body with a sex different from that of their current body. Thoughts? (Thanks, Matt!)

13 thoughts on “Would you swap your body?

  1. I’m thinking this could be a dimension on which people have what Carol Dweck calls entity vs. incremental implicit theories (along with intelligence and character traits). Women may be more likely to believe that their current bodies are improvable if only they apply themselves in the right ways; men may have less self-efficacy about doing so (less of a belief that they can do what it takes) and thus may be more willing to just switch to a better model. This is consistent with my understanding (sorry, I can’t cite anything here) that women are more likely to diet than men, at the same degree of perceived overweightness.

  2. That is, our culture may be teaching both women and men to be unhappy with their bodies, but it may also be teaching women more than men that they can do something about it.

  3. I wish I remembered who, but I remember another blogger maybe a couple of years ago reporting that after he explained what the term meant to philosophers, he asked his students whether they considered their sex an essential property of themselves, and he reported more women than men thought so. I suppose all this lends further support to the theories (those of Simone de Beauvoir leap to my mind, since I taught existentialism last Spring) which claim that western culture closely links the mind/body dichotomy to the male/female dichotomy; people who have bought into an idea like that seem like they would be more inclined to identify with their bodies if female, and less likely to do so if male, and so correspondingly likely to be less comfortable switching out of their bodies in the former case than the latter case.

    There are related phenomena; aren’t male to female transsexuals much more common than female to male? I confess to not recalling specific studies, so I could be wildly wrong, but I had thought that was the case.

    I would certainly myself trade for a male body with more muscle and more hair. I also think my fairly strong preference for staying male might be overcome if the choices included some truly excellent female bodies and only quite mediocre male bodies, barely better than what I currently have, though it’s hard to say when it’s so hypothetical.

  4. A different interpretation is that the women knew that a dramatic change could be made in their appearance by little more than a change in hairstyle. And that the men we’re drawn to the idea of ripping a soul from the body in some mechanical fashion.

    I think you would get different responses if given the option to hop from body to body, or make changes throughout a lifetime, or hit a ‘random’ button. Come to think of it, the ‘random’ button thing was pretty much what happened anyway.

  5. 31 students is a pretty small sample. And I find the results amazing.

    I would of course swap my female body for a male body–preferably young, tall, good-looking and athletic. Men are privileged. I cannot imagine why anyone would not want as much privilege, prestige and other goodies that they could get.

  6. I have to say that I’m worried about whether it does make sense to think of ourselves changing bodies. And so I’m not sure I’d encourage students to proceed as though they can make sense of it.

    I’m not thinking of fairly esoteric arguments about material essentialism, but rather about what it really mean to think “it will be me, but in a different body.” I don’t think that any person who starts to behave a lot like me must really be me. So what more is needed? I suspect we might well find that we think what more is needed is something like a bare fact “identical to me”. That’s a pretty odd notion, and might indeed be one of those conceptions that we seem to have in our psyches but cannot really defend.

  7. I would definitely trade my male body for a female body. Like Aaron said…just look at the number of male to female transexuals…they far outnumber the female to male. The numbers speak for themselves.

  8. I can’t fathom why anyone would trade a male body for a female body. This is like saying I’d trade my bank account with $100 in it for your bank account with $83 in it (which I think reflects approximately the male female wage gap).

    But seriously what this tells me, something hard for me to understand or empathize with, is that some people seem to regard their bodies, or their gender, as something beyond a resource or entitlement for getting jobs, getting treated in certain ways–for generally getting what one wants–as something that has more than instrumental value.

    I must be hopelessly Cartesian. My body is just something like the money in my bank account and possessions–something I use–and being female is nothing the me but a disadvantage, something that makes it more difficult or blocks me from getting the things I want.

  9. H.E. Baber,
    You are right. In my opinion, at least, it has nothing to do with entitlements, etc. It has to do with just being a woman…period. There are so many men that would prefer to have a woman’s body over their male body. Just look at the numbers. There is like 4 times more men than women that are transsexuals…what does that tell you? Just be happy that you are a woman.

  10. I don’t think any who commented above actually read the article. It said no one wanted to switch genders. That means it wasn’t a sense of entitlement or some form of desire. I think it really means that as much as people complain about their bodies or lives, they would not really like to change it permenantly. However, I agree the sample was too small but still revealing.

  11. I would definitely swap my body with an average looking female or prettier
    and as long as she’s around my age 47 or younger. It would be awesome.

  12. Yes, I would transfer if i were possible. I am trapped in my body and simply changing genders through surgery isn’t enough as I wish, as selfish as it sounds, to be beautiful with none of the physical traits that I despise of myself. Not my hair, not my voice, not my skin and not my eyes. I wish for this technology to be created and discard what I have come to hate more then anything else in this world. My own reflection.

  13. My first question is were the students allowed to be polled anonymously? If not, the males in the class may have been apprehensive about expressing their true feelings on the subject for fear of what the other students in the class would think of them. I’m a male who is considered to be masculine and would be afraid to let others in the class know that I would swap bodies with an average or attractive girl. While growing up, I was co-captain of the football team at one time. No one knew that I envied the pretty cheerleader’s body on the sidelines.

Comments are closed.