Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Sexy News Anchors Distract Male Viewers

• January 24, 2011 • 12:00 PM

New research finds when a female news anchor’s sexual attractiveness is played up, male viewers retain less information.

Scholars, critics and viewers have noted that some TV newscasts can be momentarily mistaken for Victoria’s Secret specials. In an apparent attempt to capture channel-surfing male viewers, stations have hired attractive female anchors, often outfitting them in attire that emphasizes their sexuality.

This strategy may boost the ratings, but in terms of the programs’ purported purpose — informing the public — recent research suggests it has a definite down side. Males may be drawn to those alluring anchors, but they may not remember what they were talking about.

Two Indiana University scholars report that, for male viewers, “emphasis on the sexual attractiveness of female news anchors distracts from memory formation for news content.” They found that “men’s cognitive mechanisms favored visual over verbal processing,” which is a delicate way of saying their focus — and subsequent memory — are more on the broadcaster’s appearance than on the material she was delivering.

Writing in the journal Communication Research, researchers Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Lelia Samson describe the clever experiment that led them to this conclusion. They created two versions of their own short newscast, both of which featured the same 24-year-old female anchor.

For the first version, the broadcast journalist “was dressed in a tight-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt that accented her waist-to-hip ratio,” they write. “She also wore bright red lipstick and a necklace.” For the alternate version, she was dressed in “a shapeless and loose-fitting dark blue jacket and skirt,” and wore no lipstick or necklace.

“The anchorwoman was framed in a medium-long shot to reveal her upper body, including her upper thighs, waist and hips,” the researchers note. “The news stories were about local matters, including United Way fundraising, interest rate changes for federal loan programs” and the like.

The just under 400 participants were randomly assigned to watch one version or the other. All then filled out questionnaires summarizing their impressions of the reporter. They were also asked four multiple-choice questions about her physical appearance, and 10 multiple-choice questions about the content of the five stories she presented.

The researchers found the men recalled “significantly more information watching the unsexualized anchor deliver news than her sexualized version.” For women, the opposite was true, but the effect was far less pronounced.

Looking at the data a different way, when the anchor had a desexualized appearance, men retained more of the information she presented than women. But when she was dolled up, the men’s retention level dropped to the point where the two genders retained the same amount of content.

The study provides evidence for a basic theory of evolutionary psychology: When it comes to processing information, visual tends to trump verbal.

It also confirms something women have long suspected: A sexually charged image can flood the male brain, stimulating its visual processing component “to levels that demand close to full cognitive capacity.”

This problem did not turn up in women in this study — but then again, they weren’t responding to newscasts featuring muscular male models. While the results of that scenario are speculative, this paper offers one more reason why Fox News viewers are so ill-informed on so many issues. I mean, have you seen those photos of Megyn Kelly?

 

“Like” Miller-McCune on Facebook.

Follow Miller-McCune on Twitter.

Add Miller-McCune.com news to your site.

Subscribe to Miller-McCune

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


October 22 • 4:00 AM

For Preschoolers, Spite and Smarts Go Together

New research from Germany finds greater cognitive skills are associated with more spiteful behavior in children.


October 21 • 4:00 PM

Why the Number of Reported Sexual Offenses Is Skyrocketing at Occidental College

When you make it easier to report assault, people will come forward.


October 21 • 2:00 PM

Private Donors Are Supplying Spy Gear to Cops Across the Country Without Any Oversight

There’s little public scrutiny when private donors pay to give police controversial technology and weapons. Sometimes, companies are donors to the same foundations that purchase their products for police.


October 21 • 12:00 PM

How Clever Do You Think Your Dog Is?

Maybe as smart as a four-year-old child?


October 21 • 10:00 AM

Converting the Climate Change Non-Believers

When hard science isn’t enough, what can be done?



October 21 • 8:00 AM

Education Policy Is Stuck in the Manufacturing Age

Refining our policies and teaching social and emotional skills will help us to generate sustained prosperity.


October 21 • 7:13 AM

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you’ve (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.


Follow us


Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

How to Water a Farm in Sandy Ground

Physicists investigate how to grow food more efficiently in fine-grained soil.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.