We all know that when it comes to women, most men are completely and utterly clueless. We laugh as the socially awkward fail to pick up on even the most obvious telltale signs of body language and facial expressions. However, it turns out that shortcomings in this department may have much more sinister results.
In a recent study, researchers found that men identified as being high threats for sexual aggression and abuse are lacking in the ability to recognize and remember how sexually interested that hot blonde at the bar actually was.
The study was conducted by Teresa Treat, a psychologist in the University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in collaboration with Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, and appeared in October’s edition of Applied Cognitive Psychology.
The researchers took a few hundred college men and showed them full-body photographs of 58 women with various levels of attractiveness and provocative clothing. Half of them gave off the impression that they were digging the vibes the guys were sending while the other half were giving the cold shoulder. However, the participants weren’t told why they were looking at all these photos, nor what to pay attention to.
Afterwards, the researchers displayed two women side-by-side and asked the men to rate how similar the two were. This helped establish whether they were paying more attention to how cute they were, what they were wearing or the emotions they were expressing.
Next, the group answered some questions. Some were just about how many serious relationships they’d been in while others were to gauge their level of rape-supportive attitudes. Specifically, they responded to an 11-item scale that measured their beliefs that rape is justified and women are responsible for their victimization by men.
Finally, the subjects went through a final round of photos. This time, they were presented with all 58 of the initial photos along with an additional 58, each depicting a previously viewed woman but with a change of body language and facial expressions. For each photo, they were asked to give a number ranking of how sure they were that they had seen the exact photo before. In this way, the researchers could determine how well they remembered the social cues the women were giving off.
The results were clear; men who were insensitive to rape had a much harder time recalling the level of the women’s sexual interest. And it’s not just because they’re stupid, either. The results were baselined by a general memory test. This suggests that men at risk of exhibiting sexual aggression towards women not only don’t pay attention to their social cues, but have trouble remembering the few that they do pick up on.
So what can be done about this? According to the experiment, putting these guys into serious relationships would do the trick. Participants who had more experience navigating the stormy waters of extended relationships were much better at recognizing and remembering these affective cues.
However, the authors don’t have any suggestions as to how to get these numbskulls into a relationship, though my previous research has shown that moderate amounts of alcohol may help.