After looking at these pictures and reading a brief description of Erin/Aaron, subjects were asked to evaluate the mental capacities of the person. They answered six questions, which took the form, “Compared to the average person, how much is Erin capable of X.” The X was filled in by various agency-related capacities, such as “self-control,”“acting morally,” and “planning” and a slew of experience-related capacities, such as “experiencing pleasure,” “experiencing hunger,” and “experiencing desire.” Participants answered these six questions on a 5-point scale from 1 (Much Less Capable) to 5 (Much More Capable).
It turns out that a glimpse of flesh strongly influences our perception of Erin/Aaron. When the pictures only showed a face, they had lots of agency. But when we saw their torso, we suddenly imagined them as obsessed with experience. Instead of being good at self-control, they were suddenly extremely sensitive to hunger and desire. Same person, same facial expression, same brief description – but a hint of body changed everything.