A new study at the University of Iowa has found that when it comes to short-term flirting, some guys may find it too easy to forget or overlook sexual cues from women, and just barrel forward with a “Do you come here often?”—no matter how disinterested she might be.
College-aged men were shown a series of photos of girls with various expressions ranging from “come-hither” looks to scowls of outright rejection. After a time interval, the men were shown a new group of photos mixed with the old photos—only some of the repeat women had different expressions. (So “Let’s party” turned into “Get away from me, you freak” and vice versa.)
While most of the participants were spot on when it came to remembering the women (especially the attractive women), a lot of them struggled to remember what expression they had.
“Misremembering a woman’s level of sexual interest could prompt some men to make unwanted sexual advances and become frustrated when a woman doesn’t respond as anticipated,” said Teresa Treat, the study’s head researcher.
But there’s a twist. The participants were also asked to fill out a survey about their dating history and their attitudes toward sexual aggression. Researchers then correlated the data and found that men who had been in serious relationships were much better at remembering the women’s original expressions. Those who were determined, through the surveys, to be sexually aggressive were the ones with fuzzy memories.
“Tracking and remembering a partner’s emotions may play a role in the initiation and maintenance of a serious romantic relationship … if we can better understand how women’s cues might be misinterpreted, we’ll be better able to address the difficulties of some young men that can result in such negative consequences,” Treat said.
Researchers concede that this is just a starting point. The men who participated were only shown photos—which is limiting, to say the least. Treat hopes to expand her research to better predict how these situations play out in real life.
“We’ll need to see whether similar patterns emerge when men receive more information on women, perhaps through video or audio, or in structured interactions.”