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14 December 2011
Evolution favors delusional daters
by George Atkinson

Men hoping to get lucky are more likely to overestimate a woman's desire for them, but evolutionarily speaking, it's a strategy that works, say psychologists. The findings, appearing in the journal Psychological Science, show that men frequently get sexual cues wrong, but the men who get it wrong may be the ones that evolution has favored.

"There are tons of studies showing that men think women are interested when they're not," says Williams College psychologist Carin Perilloux. "Ours is the first to systematically examine individual differences."

In the study, male and female subjects were put through a speed dating exercise. Before the conversations, the participants rated themselves on their own attractiveness and were assessed for the level of their desire for a short-term sexual encounter. After each "meeting," they rated the partner on a number of measures, including physical attractiveness and sexual interest in the participant.

Perilloux said the results showed that men looking for a quick hookup were more likely to overestimate the women's desire for them. Men who thought they were hot also thought the women were hot for them - but men who were actually attractive, by the women's ratings, did not make this mistake. The more attractive the woman was to the man, the more likely he was to overestimate her interest. And women tended to underestimate men's desire.

It sounds hopeless, but the study suggests that these errors may, in fact, have enhanced men's reproductive success. "There are two ways you can make an error as a man," says Perilloux. "Either you think, 'Oh, wow, that woman's really interested in me' - and it turns out she's not. There's some cost to that [such as embarrassment or a blow to your reputation]." The other error: "She's interested, and he totally misses out. He misses out on a mating opportunity. That's a huge cost in terms of reproductive success."

The researchers theorize that the kind of guy who went for it - even at the risk of being rebuffed or embarrassed - on average scored more often, and thus passed on his delusional tendency to his genetic heirs. But Perilloux has some parting advice for men. "Know that the more attracted you are, the more likely you are to be wrong about her interest."

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Source: Association for Psychological Science

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