Academic Armchair- iObjectify: self- and other-objectification on Grindr
The Badger Features Team interviewed Sussex’s Yasin Koc about his work on the psychological factors behind Grindr. He posits that use of the app is associated with physical objectification in relation to “right now” culture and how it effects the user’s approach.
To begin our interview, we asked Yasin about the atypical nature of his and his co-authors’ research.
Your focus is on objectification as you see it manifesting on Grindr, a dating app for men seeking men: how did you approach objectification as a subject that is, as you acknowledge, typically seen as one affecting women fairly exclusively, and how did this affect the writing of your article?
Most of the initial research conducted on objectification focused on women, and there is little research that looks at how men objectify themselves and others.
Objectification theory suggests that women are sexually objectified – being reduced to the sum of their parts – and this also triggers a process of self-objectification which makes them internalize a third-person perspective and results in a number of harmful mental health outcomes. There is also some recent work on men’s objectification and this line of work also shows similar patterns for men.
So objectification is not exclusively studied for women or from women’s perspectives. But we also know from the literature that objectification processes differ for men and women in relation to their sexual orientation.
This results in a number of outcomes. For example, MSM place more importance on physical attractiveness, they care more for their bodily appearance or strive more to achieve an ideal body – a muscular yet lean build.
When you think of all these together, if you are familiar with online dating applications, it is not hard to tell that these processes somehow manifest itself in people’s profiles.
Sometimes in terms of their pictures or sometimes the way they present themselves in their profile information, and consequently how they interact with other people.
We discussed and thought sexual objectification could be highly relevant in this realm, but there was no work done on MSM and the most popular dating app, Grindr. Therefore, we decided to conduct this research.
What was the research phase of working on this article like? As it is a psychological exploration of the effects of specifically homosexual social media dating (an extremely intriguing and niche topic), were there any particularly interesting findings that you would like to highlight?
The research phase was quite interesting.
We wanted to work step by step for each one of the three studies. I think they all provide useful information and they will be liked by the readers differently depending on what they want to find out about this phenomena.
First of all, we wanted to find evidence for our assumption that MSM who use Grindr objectify others more than those who do not use Grindr.
That was the simple research question we explored in study 1.
However, we realized it was much bigger a challenge than we thought it would be. Finding MSM who never used Grindr was out of question.
Probably because of its popularity, everyone who participated in our study had been on Grindr at some point in their lives. Therefore, they have been through these processes of self and other objectification. Or at least they observed them. Then we had to make decision on the way.
Since it was impossible to compare Grindr users to non-users, we decided to compare current users to those who were not current users. And we found evidence for our prediction that current Grindr users tend to objectify other men more than non-users.
Second, we wanted to see if self-presentation on Grindr would be linked to what people claim they are looking for on the app.
As mentioned earlier, we had observed that some users put self-objectifying pictures of themselves such as topless pictures or showing more of their body as compared to their face.
Accordingly, we decided to use these as an index for objectification, and looked at its relationship to purpose of use of Grindr. And yes, we found that was the case.
For instance, people who were looking for friends, chats, and relationship were more likely to have non-sexualized profile pictures (showing more face than body, and/or wearing a t-shirt than a topless photo).
On the other hand, people who were looking for “right now” were more likely to have topless pictures and more body focus in the self-presentation.
I am not saying that our fellow MSM should choose a topless body-focused picture if they are into an immediate hook-up, but we found that there is certainly a relationship as such and this probably affects people’s interaction with one another.
Finally, we wanted to look for how these processes and self-presentation would be linked to certain outcome such as risky/safe sex behaviours.
Although we found some interesting relationships there (for example, the more people self-objectified, the more they were looking for sex under the influence of alcohol and less likely to discuss HIV status with a potential partner); however, the findings are rather inconclusive and we would like to investigate more before we can make strong claims.
Much research is being done on the psychological effects of social media in contemporary academia. How do you see your work as different and valuable? Do you think the world of online dating, specifically in LGBTQ+ spheres, is being focused on enough?
I think the work on the psychological effects of social media is very diverse. It is very hard to generalize findings for one social media platform to another. People have different social circles in different platforms, and accordingly very different ways of presenting themselves on Twitter as compared to Snapchat. I believe there is quite a lot of research being done at the moment, and all the findings are valuable.
Our work is different because Grindr is a social network but specifically for dating (and for some just for random hook-ups). Some studies show that Grindr also help discreet MSM to connect with other MSM because people are allowed to share as much as they want.
For example, one does not even need a real picture of themselves and they can choose to share with the person they want to chat than with everyone else. In this way, we not only understand how MSM behave in a social media platform, but also hear the voices of MSM who would not be otherwise accessible in our research targeting MSM.
Therefore, actually in the past, I wrote a methodology piece showing the value of these dating apps for MSM for our research.
One thing to always remember is that psychology is a science but it is also history with people. Things change very rapidly in today’s world.
Perhaps tomorrow there will be a very interesting way of dating for MSM available, and they will behave very differently and our work will be irrelevant. But today, in this paradigm, this work sheds light on a very important and crucial phenomena for MSM, and also increase the body of knowledge.
Your findings would suggest that Grindr use is significantly associated with objectification of other men. Were you expecting this to be the case, and what do you think it says about online dating and hookup culture?
This was precisely what we expected to find. Anecdotally, we know that there is a lot of sexual objectification going on in the MSM dating scene especially in the online dating platforms. This research was our attempt to seek for some evidence for this.
On the one hand, they desire those men muscular men and want to be with them. At the same time, they know that the same process works for them too.
They feel that they need to be muscular to be desirable. This is exactly the case of having a third-eye perspective on yourself and your body. You start objectifying yourself too in a similar way you objectify others.
When you think about it, initially this may not feel so bad actually. What could be wrong with being liked and desired? Or looking at an attractive muscular man?
In this case, objectification may have short-term positive outcomes for the person. However, this feeling does not long last because you soon realise that you are being reduce to sum of your body parts.
Your intellectual abilities, your emotional connection, your personality… these do not matter. And unfortunately, most dating apps are largely designed like this.
You match or select to talk to a person first looking at their picture which may come in various types. This is also reinforced by people who choose to use these apps in this way. Then it becomes a vicious circle.
We then see a lot of men complaining about what a terrible thing Grindr is. It is not necessarily Grindr though; it is more about how people choose to use it and interact with each other.
You acknowledge in your conclusion the limitations of your article. Could you go into some detail on this for me, and explain why you feel this research is significant as a first step in understanding MSM online spaces in relation to objectification on the whole?
The limitations mostly come from the scientific concerns (which I also briefly mentioned before). It is hard to make universal claims or conclusions with a sample of Australian MSM. These experiences might be quite different in other countries. For example, when we conducted this research, same-sex marriage was still not legal in Australia.
From our research, we know that negative societal attitudes towards gay men decrease after same-sex marriage law is passed. We also know that societal attitudes also affect how gay men perceive themselves and their own identities. These are all linked. Therefore, these processes might be different in a country like the Netherlands where same-sex marriage has been legal for over 15 years now.
And this is just one single example. There might be other social and cultural factors that may affect these processes.
Therefore, we believe our research provides a first step, but the work is not complete.
Currently we are working on a cross-cultural study on self and other objectification on online dating applications, and if they are related to social and cultural factors as well as individual differences.
You can read “iObjectify: self- and other-objectification on Grindr, a geosocial networking application designed for men who have sex with men” on Sussex Research Online.
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