Wednesday, December 09, 1998Men know the difference between friendship and flirting, study shows
Sexual attraction: University of Guelph researchers say statistics dispel myths of manhood
A new study by researchers at the University of Guelph has found that, contrary to popular belief and earlier research, men are better at gauging a woman's level of sexual interest in them than vice versa.
"We have this idea that men are so sexually motivated, and so sexually driven, that they can't tell the difference between women's friendliness and women's attraction," says Michele Clements-Schreiber, who wrote the study along with Serge Desmarais. But that "doesn't seem to be the case. Men are actually pretty accurate at knowing when women are attracted to them. Women are not accurate."
Ms. Clements-Schreiber's research involved dividing 200 university students into male-female couples and leaving them alone in a room together. They were instructed to talk about a mundane topic: "your expectations for the coming semester."
After seven minutes had elapsed, the participants were led into separate rooms and given a survey to complete. They were asked a series of questions such as "How much were you sexually attracted to your partner?" and "How much was your partner sexually attracted to you?"
The women, she found, "significantly underestimated men's intended sexuality." When men found themselves talking to a woman they were attracted to, they made an extra effort to be friendly. But women didn't notice the difference.
The men weren't perfect either. They overestimated women's intended sexuality, the researchers found. Eternally optimistic, men often thought women were flirting with them when, instead, the women said they were just being friendly.
After performing a complicated sequence of statistical calculations, however, Ms. Clements-Schreiber concluded that men still got it right more often than women by a wide margin.
Her results contradict a landmark 1982 study on the subject, but because she asked more detailed questions, Ms. Clements-Schreiber believes her results challenge its long accepted conclusions. She believes men often know the difference between a woman's sexual interest or lack of it, but are prepared to be patient.
"For men, they think, OK, she's not attracted to me [even though] I'm attracted to her. But she's friendly to me. Let's see if I can take this somewhere. Basically," says Ms. Clements-Schreiber, "I think men are willing to play the friendship angle."
Mating rituals, adds Prof. Desmarais, are complicated by the fact that we've all internalized a long list of often questionable assumptions concerning the opposite sex. "If everybody started at the beginning of a date with a clean slate, with no exceptions, that would be very nice," he says.
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