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 30 • 2:00 PM

How Dark Money Got a Mining Company Everything It Wanted

An accidentally released court filing reveals how one company secretly gave money to a non-profit that helped get favorable mining legislation passed.


October 30 • 12:00 PM

The Halloween Industrial Complex

The scariest thing about Halloween might be just how seriously we take it. For this week’s holiday, Americans of all ages will spend more than $5 billion on disposable costumes and bite-size candy.


October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.



Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

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