All it takes is a smile (for some guys)

December 13, 2011

Does she or doesn't she . . .? Sexual cues are ambiguous, and confounding. We--especially men--often read them wrong. A new study hypothesizes that the men who get it wrong might be the ones that evolution has favored. "There are tons of studies showing that men think women are interested when they're not," says Williams College psychologist Carin Perilloux, who conducted the research with Judith A. Easton and David M. Buss of University of Texas at Austin. "Ours is the first to systematically examine individual differences." The findings will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science.

The research involved 96 male 103 female undergraduates, who were put through a "speed-meeting" exercise--talking for three minutes to each of five potential opposite-sex mates. Before the conversations, the participants rated themselves on their own attractiveness and were assessed for the level of their desire for a short-term sexual encounter. After each "meeting," they rated the partner on a number of measures, including physical attractiveness and sexual interest in the participant. The model had the advantage of testing the participants in multiple interactions.

The results: Men looking for a quick hookup were more likely to overestimate the women's desire for them. Men who thought they were hot also thought the women were hot for them--but men who were actually attractive, by the women's ratings, did not make this mistake. The more attractive the woman was to the man, the more likely he was to overestimate her interest. And women tended to underestimate men's desire.

A hopeless mess? Evolutionarily speaking, maybe not, say the psychologists. Over millennia, these errors may in fact have enhanced men's reproductive success.

"There are two ways you can make an error as a man," says Perilloux. "Either you think, 'Oh, wow, that woman's really interested in me'--and it turns out she's not. There's some cost to that," such as embarrassment or a blow to your reputation. The other error: "She's interested, and he totally misses out. He misses out on a mating opportunity. That's a huge cost in terms of reproductive success." The researchers theorize that the kind of guy who went for it, even at the risk of being rebuffed, scored more often--and passed on his overperceiving tendency to his genetic heirs. The casual sex seekers "face slightly different adaptive problems," says Perilloux. "They are limited mainly by the number of consenting sex partners--so overestimation is even more important." Only the actually attractive men probably had no need for misperception.

The research contains some messages for daters of both sexes, says Perilloux: Women should know the risks and "be as communicative and clear as possible." Men: "Know that the more attracted you are, the more likely you are to be wrong about her interest." Again, that may not be as bad as it sounds, she says--"if warning them will prevent heartache later on."
-end-
For more information about this study, please contact: Carin Perilloux at carin.perilloux@williams.edu.

The APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology. For a copy of the article "The Misperception of Sexual Interest" and access to other Psychological Science research findings, please contact Divya Menon at 202-293-9300 or dmenon@psychologicalscience.org.

Association for Psychological Science

Related Attractiveness Articles from Brightsurf:

Is being generous the next beauty trend?
Research from Indiana University found that more attractive people are more likely to be givers, and givers are rated as more attractive.

Unattainable standards of beauty for today's woman
While the average American woman's waist circumference and dress size has increased over the past 20 years, Victoria's Secret fashion models have become more slender, with a decrease in bust, waist, hips and dress size, though their waist to hip ratio (WHR) has remained constant.

Study finds companies may be wise to share cybersecurity efforts
Research finds that when one company experiences a cybersecurity breach, other companies in the same field also become less attractive to investors.

Kindness is a top priority in a long-term partner according to a new international study
One of the top qualities that we look for in a long-term partner is kindness, according to new research by Swansea University.

What do the red 'ornaments' of female macaques mean?
Scientists demonstrated that, contrary to what had been assumed for several years, colour variations among female macaques do not precisely indicate the time of ovulation.

Backed in black: How to get people to buy more produce
Researchers may have figured out the secret to get people to buy more fresh produce: dress veggies up in black.

Facial plastic surgery in men enhances perception of attractiveness, trustworthiness
In the first of a kind study, plastic surgeons at Georgetown University found that when a man chose to have facial plastic surgery, it significantly increased perceptions of attractiveness, likeability, social skills, or trustworthiness.

Is facial cosmetic surgery associated with perception changes for attractiveness, masculinity, personality traits in men?
Photographs of 24 men before and after facial cosmetic surgery were part of this survey study to examine whether surgery was associated with perceived changes in attractiveness, masculinity and a variety of personality traits.

Commentary asks: What constitutes beauty and how is it perceived?
Beauty has many facets. Research shows there are many biological, psychological, cultural and social aspects that influence how beauty and attractiveness are perceived.

Gender bias sways how we perceive competence in faces
Faces that are seen as competent are also perceived as more masculine, according to research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Read More: Attractiveness News and Attractiveness Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.