Gender Differences in Flirting and Temptation

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The way men and women react to sexual temptation and flirtation is the focus of a study examining gender differences in
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responses. Researchers from McGill University (Canada) analysed the impact of flirtation on long-term relationships and found an important gender difference in the reactions of men and women to external temptations.

The Study

The study consisted of seven laboratory experiments using 724 heterosexual men and women to see how college-aged men and women in serious relationships react when they meet another attractive person. In one study, 71 unsuspecting male participants were individually introduced to an attractive woman. Roughly half the men met a "single" woman who flirted with them. The other half met an "unavailable" woman, who simply ignored them.

Immediately after this encounter, the men filled out a questionnaire in which they were asked how they would react if their long-term partner had done something that irritated them, such as lying about the reason for canceling a date or revealing an embarrassing tidbit about them. Men who met the attractive "available" woman were 12 percent less likely to forgive their significant others. In contrast, 58 women were put in a similar situation. These women, who met an "available" good-looking man, were 17.5 percent more likely to forgive their partners' bad behavior.

Using virtual reality scenarios in the last experiment, the researchers wanted to see if 40 men could learn not to flirt when mingling with attractive women if they formed a plan or strategy beforehand. The researchers prompted half the male subjects in this experiment to visualize being approached by an attractive woman. They were then instructed to write down a strategy to protect their relationship. These men were more likely to distance themselves from an attractive woman in the subsequent virtual reality scenarios.

Results and Implications

According to the study, men may not see their flirtations with an attractive woman as threatening to the relationship while women do. Researchers found that women protect their relationship more when an attractive man enters the picture but men look more negatively at their partner after they've met an available, attractive woman. Men can learn to resist temptation when trained to think that flirting with an attractive woman could destroy their relationship, said lead author John E. Lydon.

In the study, psychologists determined that men tend to look at their partners in a more negative light after meeting a single, attractive woman. On the other hand, women are likelier to work to strengthen their current relationships after meeting an available, attractive man: 

"Women have been socialized to be wary of the advances of attractive men. These findings show that even if a man is committed to his relationship, he may still need to formulate strategies to protect his relationship by avoiding that available, attractive woman. The success rate of such strategies may not be 100 percent but it is likely to be significantly higher than if the man was not made aware of the specific consequences of his actions."

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