Women and Men
When it comes to love and attraction, centuries of writers and philosophers—from the ancient poet Ovid to the modern-day book Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus—have regarded our sexes as similar, but distinct. Rather than relying on personal introspection for insight into gender differences, let’s turn to the science.
In 1989, one study had two college-aged research assistants (one male, one female) pretend to be normal students as they stood in separate spots around campus. And when a passing college student was deemed to be good looking, the research assistant approached, complimented the other’s attractiveness, and then asked one of following three things:
1) …go out with me tonight?
2) …come over to my apartment tonight?
3) …go to bed with me tonight?
When the women were approached, they agreed to go on a date about 55% of the time. However, when it came to the second two requests, it dropped down to 5% and then 0% agreement.
When the men were approached, however, only about 50% agreed to the date, while prompts to come back to her apartment or simply skip to sex resulted in agreement rates of 70–75%.
So as you can see, there are some differences.
According to evolutionary psychology, women—who have the responsibility of bearing the child—must be selective about who they want to mix genes with. On the other hand, men—who are able to spread their genes like Johnny Appleseed—are inherently predisposed for casual sexual encounters. And in fact, as a result of men’s “sexual freedom,” they are more likely to misperceive sexual invitation, too.
When researchers bring men and women into the lab to interact, men consistently rate the woman as being more flirtatious than she rates herself. And in fact, even males who are simply observing the interaction report this bias!
However, it is hard to determine whether these gender differences really emerge because of our evolutionary biology or from what we were simply raised to believe and expect.
For example, research shows that men become more agitated at sexual infidelities, whereas women become more agitated at emotional infidelities (i.e., the man is worried about someone else’s genes impregnating his partner, while the woman is more worried about losing the resources associated with her partner’s affection).
And even though data support these findings, our society has force-fed us this narrative of men as the breadwinners and women as the baby-incubators since birth. Thus, if we had a different social structure, maybe these differences would never have emerged.
However, more important than knowing these sex differences, it is simply valuable to understand that we are all different. Activities and jokes which appeal to you won’t always interest your romantic other.
So, as we go through this course—and as you court your own partner—keep this awareness in mind. Treat every person as an individual just as unique as yourself with their own unique and worthy pursuits.
Love on the Brain? Recent research supports another difference between men and women: the effect of their storytelling ability on attractiveness.
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