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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why men overestimate their sexiness: it's evolution, study proposes

Courtesy of the Association for Psychological Science
World Science
Does she or doesn't she...? Sexual cues are ambiguous and confounding. We-especially men-often read them wrong. But a new study hypothesizes that the men who get it wrong might be those that evolution has favored. 

"There are tons of studies showing that men think women are interested when they're not," said psychologist Carin Perilloux of Williams College in Williamstown, Mass, who conducted the research with colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin. "Ours is the first to systematically examine individual differences." 

The findings are to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal 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 categories, including physical attractiveness and sexual interest in the participant.

The results: Men looking for a quick hookup were found to be more likely to overestimate the women's desire for them. Men who thought they were "hot" also thought the women were hot for them-though 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," said 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," said 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, she adds.

The research contains some messages for daters of both sexes, said 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 said-"if warning them will prevent heartache later on."

Posted by
Robert Karl Stonjek

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