The psychology of nakedness

Clothed portrait. Nude portrait. Side by side.

Because I love chaos, and going off on tangents, I decided to follow the train of thought that left the station when I saw this photo series by David Paul Larson. It led me back to an article I’d read about the psychology of nakedness, and a study that involved portraits something akin to these ones. Namely, a set of portraits showing less and more skin. And the resulting set of judgements our brains make.

Do we see someone as more intelligent the more clothing they wear?

david paul larson for bambi

Click the thumbnails for full pictures:
David Paul Larson for Bambi Magazine Issue 8 (NSFW)
David Paul Larson for Bambi Magazine Issue 8 (NSFW)
David Paul Larson for Bambi Magazine Issue 8 (NSFW)
David Paul Larson for Bambi Magazine Issue 8 (NSFW)
David Paul Larson for Bambi Magazine Issue 8 (NSFW)
David Paul Larson for Bambi Magazine Issue 8 (NSFW)

A girl in a sweater elicits a very different response to the same girl in a bikini, the study would show. Not in the sense that seeing more skin leads to greater arousal, but that our estimation of the girl’s ability to think rationally drops as her layers of clothing come off. If, readers of the fairer sex, that alarms you, there’s some respite in the fact that the result is the same for both genders. The shirtless male? Not as bright, we surmise, as his suited-up counterpart.

It’s a little more complex than to say we see skimpily clothed people as dumb or incapable; rather we see them as being more likely to value experience and emotion over rational thought. Paraphrasing the research, we imagine they’re a little hedonistic.

One of the brains little tricks used for filling in gaps, this is not necessarily a problem. Though, as Jonah Lehrer at Wired surmises, it can at times border over into being one.

“Of course, this doesn’t mean that the redistribution of mind can’t do damage. If you’re a female applying for a job, the sometimes sexist tendency of men to focus on the body will unfairly diminish perceptions of agency and intelligence; you will be punished for having breasts. Although the woman won’t be literally objectified, the redistribution of mind will still make her much less likely to be hired.”

Aside from being a generally interesting topic, the research also strengthens a point we often make about clothing: what we wear influences peoples’ perceptions of us, whether deliberately or not. That’s why we always say, dress not for who you are but for who you want to be. Or at least, for the situation at hand. And as well as influencing others’ views, how we dress can also be key to how we feel.

As for getting fully naked, that’s not something most of us do in public with frequency, though no doubt there’s plenty more to be said about the psychology of nudity in fashion shoots. In photoshoots like Larson’s, which is from issue 8 of Bambi Magazine, the body is presented as the body beautiful. This is where art and reality diverge, and where our perceptions of the models’ mental qualities, assumingly, become less effected. There’s a difference between posing artistically in our natural state of nakedness and attending a job interview in a bikini. Larson’s beautiful vintage-esque photos are certainly about the former.

So away from my tangent and back to the shoot at hand: here we have clothed portraits, naked portraits, side by side, beautifully photographed and available for you to view in full at the gallery above.

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Some people's wardrobes are about a small selection of pieces that all fit within one aesthetic - Tania Braukamper isn't such a person. With a wardrobe that spans three different rooms, her approach to fashion is a mixture of current-season key pieces mixed with vintage finds she's sourced on innumerous shopping trips around the world's more cultured capitals. Despite a disparate approach to shopping, Tania is adamant that the key to mixing vintage with new season is to stick to key looks and colours that work for oneself. And it's a theory that she works into her writing for Fashionising.com, where she serves as the publication's Editor.