The Science of Heartbreak

[youtube][/youtube]Ever wonder why breakups feel like your heart is going to burst out of your chest?   It turns out that’s not far from the truth.


If you need help healing a broken heart, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how you can work with a faithful, professional, Catholic counselor through the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Tele-counseling Practice.  Call today at 740-266-6461 to make an appointment.






Small Act of Kindness Gave Me Courage to Go On, Says Bipolar Woman

For someone who’d just gotten out of a psychiatric hospital for being actively suicidal, among other things, that was a heck of a random act of kindness.

I have a friend who keeps trying to get me to maintain a gratitude list. When you are that far down in the abyss, it’s hard to find anything to be grateful for. And it’s hard to imagine that there are people who are genuinely kind. They may be hard to find sometimes, but they’re out there. My psychiatrist is one. Doug is another.

I won’t take either for granted anymore.   READ MORE

You really never know how your small acts of generosity can bless someone else.  We’re told in Gaudium et Spes that we “find ourselves by making a gift of ourselves” and the Theology of the Body reminds us that the key to creating the wholeness in ourselves and the unity with others for which we all long is generous acts of self-donation.  That all sounds pretty enough, but sometimes its nice to see what a difference all this makes in real life.

What small thing can you do today to give someone the courage to face another day?

Faith Helps Clients Get More Out of Therapy

A study from the Journal of Affective Disorders found some surprising results about faith and therapy…

“Patients who had higher levels of belief in God demonstrated more effects of treatment,” said the study’s lead author, David H. Rosmarin, a psychologist at McLean Hospital and director of the Center for Anxiety in New York. “They seemed to get more bang for their buck, so to speak.”

One possible reason for this, he said, is that “patients who had more faith in God also had more faith in treatment. They were more likely to believe that the treatment would help them, and they were more likely to see it as credible and real.”

Well, that, and the whole “grace” thing.  😉

Click here to read more about the results of the study.

And to learn more about how you can benefit from faithful counseling, contact my associates and me through the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic Tele-Counseling practice (740) 266-6461 to make an appointment with a Catholic counselor today.

Reading with Children, Not to Them.

 New study makes suggestions for getting the most out of reading with your child.

“There is nothing more powerful than your voice, your tone, and the way you say the words,” said Wiles. “When I was a child, my dad read to me and while that was helpful and I enjoyed it, what we are finding is that when parents read with their children instead of to them, the children are becoming more engaged and excited to read.”

Engaging the child means figuring out what the child is thinking and getting them to think beyond the words written on the page. While reading with them, anticipate what children are thinking. Then ask questions, offer instruction, provide examples and give them some feedback about what they are thinking.

“One of the things that I really hope for, and have found, is that these things spill over into other areas,” said Wiles. “So you start out reading, asking open-ended questions, offering instruction and explaining when all of the sudden you aren’t reading at all and they start to recognize those things they have seen in the books. And that’s really powerful.”  MORE

Researchers call Internet Trolls “Everyday sadists”

Most of the time, we try to avoid inflicting pain on others — when we do hurt someone, we typically experience guilt, remorse, or other feelings of distress. But for some, cruelty can be pleasurable, even exciting. New research suggests that this kind of everyday sadism is real and more common than we might think.The researchers hope that these new findings will help to broaden people’s view of sadism as an aspect of personality that manifests in everyday life, helping to dispel the notion that sadism is limited to sexual deviants and criminals…..

….Buckels and colleagues are continuing to investigate everyday sadism, including its role in online trolling behavior.

“Trolling culture is unique in that it explicitly celebrates sadistic pleasure, or ‘lulz,'” says Buckels. “It is, perhaps, not surprising then that sadists gravitate toward those activities.”

And they’re also exploring vicarious forms of sadism, such as enjoying cruelty in movies, video games, and sports.

The researchers believe their findings have the potential to inform research and policy on domestic abuse, bullying, animal abuse, and cases of military and police brutality.

“It is such situations that sadistic individuals may exploit for personal pleasure,” says Buckels. “Denying the dark side of personality will not help when managing people in these contexts.”  MORE

The Challenge of Authentic Modesty–5 Things to Do. 1 Thing to Avoid.

Patheos blogger Jennifer Fitz invited me to respond to her comments about my analysis of the so-called “Princeton modesty study.”   My original post is here (and is rather cheekily titled, “Women in Bikinis May More Easily Avoid Potentially Abusive Partners, Study Says?).    Jennifer’s response is here.  Go read.

All caught up?  There’s a good fellow.

I want to start by saying that I agree pretty much with everything Jennifer wrote.  I agree that modesty is not just in internal disposition but an outward action.    I agree that what I wear and how I carry myself does, in fact, say a great deal about who I am inside. I also agree that it DOES in fact matter what a person wears (just not for the reasons many people think).  I also agree, of course,  that actions have consequences that I can be responsible for.

Where Do We Disagree?

So why do we seem to disagree?  It appears to me that I need to clarify the definition of “internal control fallacy.”  An internal control fallacy is the false belief that my actions actually cause another person’s emotional reactions.  (For more information on the internal control fallacy, see the last part of #7 here).  The internal control fallacy is a well-established concept in psychology and there is a great deal of research that all but proves that this belief leads to unhealthy emotional states and unhealthy relationships.  In my original post, I argued that the notion,  “if a woman dresses immodestly she can cause a man to commit the sin of lust” is an example of the internal control fallacy that leads to both an unhealthy internal disposition and an unhealthy attitude toward others.

Jennifer appears to think I am suggesting that a person should not expect his actions to have consequences.  She writes.

An employer can reasonably say, “Sir, your dress is immodest, and unbecoming of a man of your profession.  If you’d like to continue working here, you’ll have to change.”

A man can reasonably tell his son, “My beloved child, that outfit you’ve chosen is associated with pimps and crack dealers.  Is that the message you’d like to send with your clothing?”

A girl can reasonably tell her suitor, “You look like a creep.  Like the kind of guy who just wants to hop in the sack at the first opportunity.  That may not be the message you’re trying to send, but you’re sending it.”

I actually agree that these are all reasonable possible outcomes of someone dressing immodestly.  I would even say that they are appropriate responses to someone dressing immodestly.  BUT all of these are very different from saying, for instance, that a woman dressing in a certain way must necessarily cause a man to lust.  Or, for that matter that one person’s actions automatically cause another person to feel any specific emotion.

Let me explain.

Where Do Feelings Come From?

Most people think that feelings are created as an emotional response to an external stimulus.  That is, something happens, and then it makes me feel something.  Stimulus——-> Emotional Response.

But that’s not how feelings work.

For anyone to experience an emotion, there does have to be a stimulus, but that stimulus passes through an interpretation.  The stimulus, combined with the interpretation, yields an emotional response.     Stimulus + Interpretation ——-> Emotional Response.


An Illustration of How Feelings Work:  Going to the Mall.

Let’s take a silly example before we return to the modesty discussion.  Imagine you go to the mall.  You see your friend, you wave at him but he doesn’t wave back.  That is the stimulus.  Now, how do you feel about it?

At this point, we can’t know how you’ll feel.  First, we have to know your interpretation of that event before we can say how you’d feel.   For example:  If you said to yourself, “Oh.  I guess he didn’t see me.”  Then you’d feel nonchalant and you’d probably forget about it.  But what if you think to yourself, “What a jerk!  He totally blew me off!”   You’d probably feel indignant.  Or if you told yourself, “Gosh, I wonder what I did to offend him?  I must have really ticked him off somehow!”  you’d probably feel guilty and anxious.  Or, if you thought, “He must really be stressed out and lost in his head to not notice me.  I wonder what’s wrong with him, poor guy.”  You’d feel compassionate and concerned.

So we have at least 4 possible emotional reactions (and I bet we could think of more if we tried) to the stimulus of my friend not waving at me.

Where Do Interpretations Come From?

None of this answers the question, “Where do these interpretations come from?”    They are largely not conscious.  Rather, they come from past experience and/or training & practice.  For example: If I was treated as a pariah in grade school, I’ll probably assume my friend was blowing me off.  If I was, in general, popular in grade school, I’ll probably view the experience nonchalantly.  If I was raised by a mom who, when she got stressed out, shut herself in her room, I’ll probably assume there’s something wrong with him.  Or if my alcoholic dad told me that his rages were caused by my playing in the house too loudly, I’ll probably assume I caused him to ignore me because of something I did.

The other possible answer for where these interpretations come from is “training and practice.”  For example:  If I was a pariah in grade school and naturally tend to assume that people are prone to ignore me, I could decide that  I’m not in grade school any more and work hard to consistently remind myself that my default reaction doesn’t apply anymore, and that, in fact, most people who seem to ignore me really just didn’t see me.  If I remind myself of this new interpretation consistently enough and root it in actual life experiences that back this new interpretation up (which makes this different than mere “positive thinking”  I have to be able to prove the new thought is true by rooting it in real life examples) then I will prime my brain to have a new automatic reference point (these new life experiences) by which to interpret the particular stimulus.

In every instance though, the mere fact that my friend didn’t wave at me didn’t cause anything.  It merely reminded me of similar experiences in my past, memories which primed my brain to interpret things in a certain, idiosyncratic manner.    Because we all tend to narcissistically assume that our interpretations are the only legitimate ones that any reasonable person could make, we tend to assume that everyone will react the same way we do.  But that isn’t true at all.  Because a person’s actual emotional response depends more upon the interpretations they make of an event based upon their unique catalog of life experiences, you simply can’t know absolutely how someone is going to respond.

It is true that we all make assumptions about how other people might respond to us, and since we have a tendency to associate with people who think more like us than not, often, those assumptions are more or less correct–until they’re not.  And then we get outraged and say things like, “How could anybody think THAT? I have no idea where you got that from!”  Well, of course you don’t, because you don’t have the same catalog of life experiences, the same reference points of interpretation that the other does.  We assume we know what others will think based on our own experiences, and sometimes those assumptions are true enough, but if you stop to ask the other people in your life what they actually think you’d be surprised how differently they view the world.  The truth is, what you believe other people think says a whole lot more about your own life experiences and interpretations than it does about anyone else’s.  Incidentally, this notion is what we shrink-types call. “projection.”

Back to Modesty

OK, so now that we’ve established that any one stimulus could generate any number of emotional responses based upon a person’s life experiences and/or training, let’s come back to the modesty discussion.   It is simply not true to say that anything a woman wears MUST create THIS SPECIFIC RESPONSE (i.e., lust) in a man.  That is just one possible response out of hundreds.  If a man was taught by his life experience and training that women were meat, then if he saw a woman dressed in a revealing fashion, he probably would lust. (i.e., allow her beauty to be an invitation to use her as an object as opposed to see her as a person).  AND, if a man was raised to believe that the body was shameful and that women who dressed in a revealing way were sluts and whores, he would probably feel disgust and indignation, possibly even rage.

But a man who was raised in a home where his parents taught him to think this way about women, would respond in a manner that indicated his respect for the woman.  Depending on whether the woman in question was dressed more or less appropriately for the context she was in, he might be moved to either praise God for her beauty or try to serve her in some way as a sign of his respect (hold the door, get her a drink, give her an honest compliment).  If she was dressed inappropriately for the context she was in he might be moved to pity and a loving concern for her well-being (offer his jacket, take her aside to see what was the matter).  In either case though, for this well-trained man, the woman’s beauty becomes an invitation to love her and work for her good, not to see her as an object of desire or disgust.  This, by the way,  is exactly what Pope John Paul II wrote in Love and Responsibility about how we should train ourselves and our children to think when we are confronted with the beauty of the opposite sex.   And before you say that this is too pie-in-the-sky idealistic, I personally know many men who were raised this way and who do view women in this manner.  I admit we are in the minority, but we exist, and it is unfair to assume that all men are dogs or pigs just because some or many weren’t raised properly.  It is even more inappropriate to fail to try to be men or raise men who can think this way because “it just isn’t possible.”  The fact that some men are this way proves that it is possible.

Assuming and Challenging Others to Be Their Best

More to the point, Christians have a responsibility in charity to assume the best about others and challenge each other to be their best.  God knows that pleasure can be abused but he still gives us pleasures, not in some nasty attempt to trap us in sin, but as an ongoing invitation to see life as his gift to us.  In the same way, our beauty certainly can be a temptation to sin, but it could also be an invitation to rejoice in how fearfully and wonderfully God has made us (c.f., Ps 139:14)!  We have an obligation to extend the invitation to rejoice in God that is contained within beauty, not hide that invitation out of fear that someone might abuse it (c.f., Matt 25:14-30).

So, am I saying that a woman, or man for that matter, should dress any damn way they want without regard for anyone around them?  Should we all parade around naked defying the world to look upon us with purity of mind and heart?  Of course not.  We are all fallen.  Even though we can’t cause feelings in another person, we know that acting in a certain manner tends to create a certain set of emotional choices for most people, given what is expected in a particular context. Modesty requires that we dress in a manner that we deem appropriate for the context we are in and in a way that is not intended to make it unduly difficult for any reasonable person to see anything other than our physical appearance.  But that leaves a lot to prudential judgment and much more than most people who are concerned with modesty are willing to admit.

Teaching Authentic Modesty in 5 Steps

Training our young people to be modest should not be based upon some fallacious guessing game about how other people might or might not see them or an impossible concern about what they might or might not “cause” in someone else.   To my mind,  this kind of thinking is an offense against both charity and beauty.  It is an offense against charity because it assumes the worst about people and does not challenge them to be better than they are.  It is an offense against beauty because it causes us to be fearful of beauty instead of embracing and rejoicing in beauty and seeing it as a sign of the joy we will experience when we look at God’s own face.

Rather than adopting a punitive, Jansenistic worldview rooted in shame, a profanation of the sacredness of the body, and a fear of pleasure, training our children to be modest–authentically modest–should be based on….

1.   teaching them to have a deep and sincere prayer life

2.  teaching them how to have a personal relationship with Christ that gives them a felt sense of their own worth and the worth of others

3.  helping them cultivate an ability to rejoice in  beauty wherever it may be found

4.  conveying an ethos that encourages them to always try to work for the good of others

5.  educating them in a general sense of how most people dress in various contexts (church, the beach, the mall, etc.).

Focus on these extraordinarily important lessons and modesty will largely take care of itself.  Immodesty is merely a symptom that one of these things is missing, and you can’t fix an absence of either a personal relationship with Jesus Christ or self-donative moral ethos by putting on a sweater.

For more information on raising sexually whole and holy kids, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees (2nd ed. rev.)

Toddler Moms Hatin’ on The Popcak

I got this funny but heartfelt message from a reader who felt some frustration after reading my post on the negative effects of yelling at kids. 

Dr. Popcak, you’re destroying all my parenting tactics one by one. I kind of hate you right now. (But really, can you write this post but apply it to toddlers? Because they don’t really listen that well. And also, I  have no clue what to do with these small little savages. It’s like Lord of the Flies up in here.)

Challenge accepted.  Let’s start with a little bit of understanding about toddler development.

Toddlers brains have not developed to the point where they can connect actions with consequences.  They are learning to do this, but a child can’t consistently imagine that “committing X action leads to Y result every single time” until about age 7–what the Church calls (based on the work of developmental psychologists like Jean Piaget)  the “age of reason.”

Inside the Toddler’s Brain.

Toddlers are moving from the sensorimotor stage of cognitive development (where they are learning to control their body and master intentional movement) into the pre-operational stage (where they are developing memory and their imagination).  Later–around age 7–the child’s imagination develops to the point that they can see, in their minds eye, that “When I do X action, Y consequence happens every time.”  Until then (i.e., from about 20mos -7yrs) the child easily confuses imagination with reality.  They know that consequence Y could follow action X, but it is, to the pre-operational mind, just as likely that flowers will burst out of your left nostril.  At this age, if I can imagine it, it actually could happen.  (which, incidentally, is why some parents become frustrated with their young child’s “lies.”  The child will stare at the parent and say something that is obviously not true to the adult, but for the young child, if he can imagine it happening, that’s as good as it actually happening.)

Toddler Discipline

So, what does all this mean for toddler discipline?  It means that you can’t use any strategies that presume the child knows and remembers anything from one time to the next.  Strategies like time-outs work great with kids 5 and up, but don’t do much for littler children–especially toddlers– who get lost in their imaginations and forget why they are in the time-out chair the second you walk away.  Punishments (spanking, yelling, taking things away) are basically useless too, because the toddler doesn’t really understand why he’s being punished (he knows you’re mad,  and it has something to do with what just happened, but he’s not sure what) and won’t remember that he will probably receive the same punishment next time.

Because toddlers are in the  learning phase of rules, expectations,  and consequences (as opposed to the compliance phase)–and will be for several years yet–parents need to break toddler discipline into three emphases.

1.  Prevention,  Supervision, Structure

Because toddlers struggle to connect actions with consistent consequences, the best focus of toddler discipline is removing as many temptations as possible (so the child can learn behavioral lessons with as few distractions as possible), and providing near constant supervision so that the child can get immediate, consistent, feedback about what he can and can’t do.  Repetition yields results.

Regarding supervision, keep your toddler with you as you move about the house.  Have him “help” in his toddler way with the chores you’re doing.  In other words, he can’t fold socks, but he could put all the unfolded socks in a neat pile next to you, or find all the blue socks, etc.   Supervising a toddler doesn’t mean having to just sit on the floor and play all day.  You can get things done too.  You just need to be a little creative about how you have your toddler “share” in your work or keep him busy while you do your work.

Structure refers to the rhythm of your day.  The more consistently things happen in the same order and more-or-less at the same time the more your toddler will learn, via muscle memory, what is expected and when.  Structure also refers to the fact that toddlers really don’t do well when they are left on their own for even short  periods.  Never underestimate the toddler’s ability to get into everything the second you turn around.  The more you can creatively engage them, the happy you and your toddler will be.

2.  Redirection

It is fine to say, “no” to a toddler of course, but it is much more effective to say, “do THIS instead.”  Disciplining a toddler effectively really engages your creativity.  That said, don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be.  The ways you redirect a toddler don’t have to be involved and complicated.  It’s all in how you sell it.  If your toddler is fascinated with the electrical outlet, he will learn to be infinitely more fascinated with….well, just about anything you’d rather direct his attention to if you call out in your most excited voice, “O. MY. GOODNESS!  LOOK at THIS!  Do you SEE this, honey?  WOOOOOOW!”  The sillier you can be, the more over the top, the more fascinating the object will be, even if it is the socks referred to above.

3.  Lots of Praise

Toddlers LOVE praise and affection. They eat it up.   The more you praise them for doing things you want them to do or that are appropriate to do, the more quickly they will learn to do those things instead of other, less appropriate things. Catch your child begin good as often as possible and your life will get a lot easier as the parent of a toddler.

In short, toddler discipline isn’t about punishing the child for having “forgotten” rules or even indicating displeasure with the poor choices they make.  It is about teaching them what the rules are–over and over and over–praising them when they get it right, and providing the structure and supervision that seeks to guarantee success.

And for those parents who feel a little overwhelmed at how much work parenting is, be of good cheer.  God is working in your heart through your efforts.  He is cracking our hearts open to receive all the love he wants to give us. Hold on to that and remember, when you’re tired of reminding your toddler for the 30,000th time to keep his fork in his hand and not on the floor, how often God has to remind you to do what he’s asked.  Draw from his patience and compassion when yours is running dry.

For more ideas on effective discipline with toddlers, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids (2nd ed. revised and expanded).




Women in Bikinis May More Easily Avoid Potentially Abusive Partners, Study Says(?)

OK, OK, the headline is a joke, but there’s a serious point behind it that I think those of us who value true purity as opposed to cheap knockoffs need to reckon with.  This past Summer I’ve been reading a lot about the 2009 Princeton study that, according to some sources, found that men can’t help but view women in bikinis as objects instead of persons. 

I hadn’t had time to read the study before now,  but I finally got around to it this past weekend and I have to say that the study really doesn’t appear to say what people are claiming it does.

What The Study Actually Says

The original study was titled, From agents to objects: sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets.  I have the full study in front of me, but the link goes behind an academic library firewall so I can’t post it here.  The abstract is, however, in the public domain so I’m posting it in italics below.  (Don’t get freaked out by the academic language.  In fact, feel free to skip it if you like.  It’s pretty murky stuff.  I’ll walk you though it, but since the post has the potential to be a bit controversial, I wanted to be sure to show my math. Also, I am taking the liberty of highlighting the most relevant passages for easier understanding of the results).

ABSTRACT:  Agency attribution is a hallmark of mind perception; thus, diminished attributions of agency may disrupt social-cognition processes typically elicited by human targets. The current studies examine the effect of perceivers’ sexist attitudes on associations of agency with, and neural responses to, images of sexualized and clothed men and women. In Study 1, male (but not female) participants with higher hostile sexism scores more quickly associated sexualized women with first-person action verbs (“handle”) and clothed women with third-person action verbs (“handles”) than the inverse, as compared to their less sexist peers. In Study 2, hostile sexism correlated negatively with activation of regions associated with mental state attribution-medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate, temporal poles-but only when viewing sexualized women. Heterosexual men best recognized images of sexualized female bodies (but not faces), as compared with other targets’ bodies; however, neither face nor body recognition was related to hostile sexism, suggesting that the fMRI findings are not explained by more or less attention to sexualized female targets. Diminished mental state attribution is not unique to targets that people prefer to avoid, as in dehumanization of stigmatized people. The current studies demonstrate that appetitive social targets may elicit a similar response depending on perceivers’ attitudes toward them.

Clear as mud, right?

Basically, what all this means is that the study sets out to determine not how the way women dress affects men, but how people who exhibit views consistent with “hostile sexism” vs. “benevolent sexism” view women who are dressed in different ways.  In other words, the study did not attempt to examine whether bikinis caused men to view women as objects.  Rather, it asked what sort of men are most inclined to look at women as objects, especially if they were wearing something like a bikini.  Would all men objectify women who were dressed more provocatively?  Or would only men who exhibited either benevolent sexist attitudes or hostile sexist attitudes  be more likely to view the provocatively dressed women as objects?

Internal Control Fallacy is Intact

If the study actually set out to determine whether bikinis caused men to view women as objects, the researchers would have an uphill battle in front of them.  That’s because there are decades and decades of research demonstrating that the idea that one person can be directly responsible for another’s emotional reactions is patently false.  This idea – that one person’s behavior causes another person’s feelings – is called the “internal control fallacy”  (see #7 here).  The internal control fallacy figures prominently in abusive and codependent relationships especially, where the abused person believes that if she could just figure out the “right” way to act, she could get her abuser to stop treating her cruelly or thinking of her poorly.  Many well-meaning people in the Church unfortunately buy into this myth, believing that, depending upon how they dress, women cause men to feel a certain way.  This is simply another manifestation of the internal control fallacy which has been shown, again, by decades of data, to be a false and unhealthy belief that tends to undermine emotional and relational health.    If the study was actually trying to overturn such an established principle as the internal control fallacy as it relates to fashion and lust it would have caused quite a stir.  The fact that it attempted no such thing makes much more sense.

Hostile vs.  Benevolent Sexism.

Again, what the study actually examined was how men with “hostile” versus “benevolent” sexist attitudes viewed women, especially women dressed in a more revealing manner. According to the study, men who exhibit”hostile” sexist attitudes tend to  “strongly agree” with statements such as “Once a woman gets a man to commit to her, she usually tries to put him on a tight leash.”  By contrast, men who exhibit “benevolent” sexist attitudes tend to “strongly agree” with statements on a survey such as “A good woman should be set on a pedestal by her man”

What the study found was that, when exposed to pictures of women in bikinis, men who scored high in hostile sexist attitudes (as opposed to the other men in the study) tended to view women as objects both cognitively and neurologically.  Cognitively, men who had high levels of hostile sexism tended, on a word association test, to have a preference for 1st person words indicating use instead of agency (e.g., words like “use” instead of “uses”, “push” instead of “pushes”  etc.).  The researches assert that this preference for these particular words indicates a tendency to objectify women dressed in a more revealing way.  Some people might say that’s a bit of a stretch but there is justification in the literature for this assertion.  Likewise, neurologically, men who exhibit high levels of hostile sexism also exhibit low levels of activity in the part of the brain responsible for empathy and higher levels of activity in the part of the brain responsible for manipulating objects (as determined by fMRI).    This offers a pretty strong case from both cognitive science and neuroscience that men who exhibit hostile sexist attitudes will be more likely to objectify women who are more provocatively dressed.

Results: Good Men Do Not Objectify Women No Matter How They Are Dressed

Interestingly though, the study also found that men who were not hostile sexists or exhibited attitudes consistent with benevolent sexism, did not objectify the women dressed in a more revealing manner.    This finding actually is directly contrary to the assertion of the religious promoters of this study who imply or directly state that bikini-clad women cause all men to view them as objects.  This assertion is not supported by the data.  Only men with hostile sexist attitudes toward women viewed provocatively dressed women as objects.   Men who were not sexist or who had benevolent sexist attitudes did not objectify women dressed in a more revealing fashion and, in fact, did not view the bikini images any differently than women participants in the study!

So, here are the actual take-aways from this study.

1.  Bikini’s do not cause men to lust.  This was not even the focus of this study but if it was, decades of data refute this idea which is founded upon the internal control fallacy.

2.  Only men who are hostile toward women in the first place tended to view women as objects when they were dressed in a more revealing manner.  By contrast, men who had benevolent attitudes toward women did not display either cognitive or neurological signs of objectifying bikini-clad women.

3.  Men who are hostile sexists do a better job hiding their pre-existing negative attitudes around women who dress more conservatively.

All this leads to my tongue-in-cheek title for this post.  There is real potential danger in the finding that men with pre-existing hostile sexist attitudes do not as readily display these attitudes around more conservatively dressed women.   It could be argued, based solely on the findings of this study, that women who only dress conservatively are more likely be fooled into marrying men who actually see them as objects, but who don’t overtly display these attitudes until the relationship becomes sexual after  marriage.  After marriage this otherwise conservative woman suddenly becomes sexualized in the hostile sexist’s mind.  His hostile sexism–which was only lurking around the corners before– now presents front and center much to the surprise and chagrin of the woman.  Come to think of it, I actually have clients who have fallen into exactly this trap.

By contrast, a different woman who was more comfortable with the idea of wearing a bikini at the beach in front of her boyfriend might actually be more likely to experience her boyfriend’s hostile sexist attitudes–if he had any–before she marries him and thus, be able to dump him before it’s too late.

Let me be clear….I am NOT seriously suggesting that women should dress provocatively to weed out potentially abusive partners.  That would be stupid.

But as ridiculous as it would be to assert this idea, the above would be a more logical conclusion–based solely on the data presented in this study–than the conclusion many have drawn from it.  Holding up this study to support the spurious idea that women cause men to lust by what they wear is completely inappropriate because this study does not, in fact, say anything like that at all.  In fact, it says the opposite because the benevolent sexists in the study (as opposed to the hostile sexists) didn’t actually objectify the women in bikinis.  It was the viewers attitudes that determined objectification, not the way the women were dressed.

In a word, the study shows that bad men objectify women and good men don’t–regardless of what they’re wearing.

The other day, I posted a link to a terrific article about an imagined conversation between a father and his son. It really struck a cord with many readers.  I’d like to close this reflection with an excerpt from that piece by Nate Pyle.

There are two views regarding a woman’s dress code that you will be pressured to buy into.  One view will say that women need to dress to get the attention of men.  The other view will say women need to dress to protect men from themselves.  Son, you are better than both of these.  A woman, or any human being, should not have to dress to get your attention.  You should give them the full attention they deserve simply because they are a fellow human being.  On the other side, a woman should not have to feel like she needs to protect you from you.  You need to be in control of you.

Unfortunately, much of how the sexes interact with each is rooted in fear.  Fear of rejection, fear of abuse, fear of being out of control.  In some ways, the church has added to this.  We fear each other because we have been taught the other is dangerous.  We’ve been a taught a woman’s body will cause men to sin.  We’re told that if a woman shows too much of her body men will do stupid things.  Let’s be clear: a woman’s body is not dangerous to you.  Her body will not cause you harm.  It will not make you do stupid things.  If you do stupid things it is because you chose to do stupid things.  So don’t contribute to the fear that exists between men and women.  MORE

Finally, if you’d like to learn how to raise children who know who to not objectify themselves or others and not be afraid of God’s plan for love and relationships. Check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees (2nd Ed. Revised and Expanded)