New research confirms that some men often believe women are interested when they are not. However, the study posits that the men who get it wrong are actually the ones that evolution favors.
In the study, Williams College psychologist Dr. Carin Perilloux and her colleagues examine gender differences through speed dating.
Investigators studied 96 male and 103 female undergraduates, as they participated in a “speed-dating” exercise. The speed-date consisted of 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 researchers found that 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.
Researchers say the findings support an evolutionary perspective that enhances a man’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. In this case, 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.”
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 ove-perceiving 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.
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 should understand “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.”
Their findings will appear in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science.