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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Do (non-American) Men Overestimate Women’s Sexual Intentions?

Carin Perilloux1 & José Antonio Muñoz-Reyes2 & Enrique Turiegano3 & Robert Kurzban4 & Miguel Pita
Prior research has suggested that men overestimate women’s sexual intentions. However, the bulk of the data supporting this view comes from participants from the USA. Here, we report three attempts to replicate this effect in samples from Chile, Spain, and France. While there was some evidence of overestimation of sexual intent by men on the aggregate measure, removing a single item decreases or even eliminates the sex difference in some of the cultures studied, suggesting that the aggregate effect is driven by a small number of particular behaviors. Furthermore, women from the USA appear to rate sexual intent differently from men and women in the other countries, whose ratings are relatively more homogeneous. While more work is needed, these results raise the possibility that the sex differences in sexual intent perception documented in the USA might not be cross-culturally universal.

We attempted to replicate the finding that male participants infer greater sexual intent on the part of a hypothetical woman than female participants. The ratings collected in Spain, Chile, and France exhibited a similar, but smaller, sex difference compared to ratings from the USA. The explanation for the sex difference could be due to men overestimating women’s sexual intentions, women understating their own sexual intentions, or a combination of these two (Perilloux and Kurzban 2015), a point to which we return, below. As to the source of the cultural variation, while we cannot speak definitively to its source, we can offer some proposals based on considerations of the details of the patterns of data for each country. Among the French, the overall effect is driven by a single item, Bought Jewelry. This item, in contrast to items such as Held Hands, Compliment, or Kiss, specifies a behavior that is extremely rare, and even counter-normative, among newly dating French couples, according to our colleagues who have lived in France. In real French life, then, it is unlikely that misperception as a result of a woman buying a man jewelry occurs. Indeed, the fact that it is so rare might explain the difference in views by male and female participants; having little or no experience of it, they disagree about its meaning. Whatever the source of the disagreement, the observation that misperception is restricted to behavior that, in the first instance, rarely if ever occurs, leads to the inference that there is little difference in what men infer and what women intend for the behaviors that people in French society actually engage in. We take it, then, that we have gathered no evidence that French men over-perceive the sexual intent of French women in their real lives. Among the participants in the Spanish-speaking countries, Spain and Chile, the pattern we observe across the scale items falls somewhere between the USA sample and the French sample. As with the French sample, there is a substantial sex difference for the Bought Jewelry item. And, in parallel with France, our colleagues in these two countries echo the observation that women do not buy men jewelry early in the dating process, a view bolstered by some recent research in Chile that revealed that women are generally uninterested in displaying wealth to potential mates (Fernández et al. 2015); we therefore draw a similar conclusion. Still, among these samples, this item was not the only significant sex difference, and Bought Dinner, for instance, similarly shows a difference. It could be, then, that the sex difference found in the USA exists in these two countries, albeit in different, indeed, muted, form. We tentatively suggest that sexual misperception might be a less frequent occurrence in these countries than in the USA. Further, recall that in the analysis of all eight groups (two sexes, four countries), we found that women from the USA stand out. To us, this points to the possibility—but of course does not show—that women from the USA are somehow different in how they respond to these items (though they were not significantly different from Chilean women). Still, the differences in the patterns observed across the items on the scale (Fig. 2) raise this possibility and suggests a direction for future research. If it does turn out that women from the USA are different in this respect from women elsewhere, conclusions from samples from the USA must be treated with special caution. For this reason, future studies could attempt to sample even more diverse cultures. Indeed, Bendixen (2014) recently replicated Haselton’s (2003) study of memory for naturally occurring instances of apparent sexual interest misperception. Still, more samples would be useful in this regard. Furthermore, we understand the original error management framework to imply that the effect should be general, in that men should tend to over-infer sexual interest from a large range of women’s social and romantic behaviors. The present results suggest the possibility that misperception is a specific, rather than general, phenomenon, limited to a narrow band of behaviors rather than a wide swath of them. This, coupled with the finding for Bought Jewelry, suggests that this moment might constitute a good opportunity to consider updating the scale items with culturally normative behaviors. Additionally, many years have passed since the scale’s initial construction during which dating and mating norms have changed, in some cases, dramatically. We look forward to scale development that reflects changes in norms and technologies. Finally, there is the question of accuracy which applies to all studies of sexual interest ratings. The phenomenon of perceived sexual interest is particularly difficult to study because the truth of the matter—the probability of sex conditional on particular behaviors—remains unknown, and therefore, studies have only assessed differences in reports rather than the actual accuracy of participants’ perceptions. Future studies could be designed to assess accuracy—these studies would be difficult to conduct, but have the potential to shed a lot of light on an area that has overwhelmingly relied upon (women’s) self-report as reality