When are people interchangeable sexual objects? The effect of gender and body type on sexual fungibility


Sarah J. Gervais, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 338 Burnett Hall, Lincoln, Nebraska, NE 68588, USA (e-mail: sgervais2@unl.edu).


The purpose of this research was to empirically examine the fungibility hypothesis derived from sexual objectification theory. Sexual objectification theorists have suggested that like objects, people, typically women, may be fungible or interchangeable with similar others. Despite its provocative nature and potential adverse psychological consequences, the fungibility hypothesis has yet to be empirically examined. We suggested that women, regardless of body types, but also men with body types that resemble the cultural ideal of attractiveness (e.g., large arms and chests and narrow waists), would be more fungible than men with body types that resemble the cultural average. Participants (n= 66) saw images of average and ideal women and men once before they completed a surprise matching task requiring that they match the bodies and faces that appeared together in the original images. Consistent with hypotheses, we found that women with ideal bodies, women with average bodies, and men with ideal bodies were more fungible (perceivers made more body–face pairing errors) than men with average bodies. Furthermore, it appears that when people are fungible they are interchangeable with people with similar body types. Implications and directions for future research on objectification and fungibility are discussed.