Men Are Terrible at Judging a Woman’s Interest, Science Confirms

It's time we all learned how to take a hint

September 19, 2017 9:00 am

Do you evaluate a woman’s interest — or lack thereof — by observing her appearance and/or physical cues?

Bad news: You’re behind the times. Like, caveman behind.  

This news (if you want to call it that) comes courtesy of a study published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review titled “Effects of gender, rape-supportive attitudes, and explicit instruction on perceptions of women’s momentary sexual interest.” Long title, but one that says something about the female mindset at present: they’re tired of feeling annoyed and threatened by strange men to whom they owe nothing, and they have every right to  feel that way, given that 1 in 5 women have been sexually assaulted.

Led by Teresa Treat of the University of Iowa, the study asked 220 male and 276 female college students to rate 130 photos of women according to their apparent openness to a hookup, from  “extremely rejecting” to “extremely interested.” Half of that group were instructed to focus only on “emotional cues,” ignoring things like sexual attractiveness and — to paraphrase the sexual-assault apologist’s handbook — “dressing like she wanted it.” All of the respondents were then asked a series of questions intended to gauge their attitudes on rape.

The conclusion? Men tended to equate attractiveness with sexual interest more often than women did, with men who scored as “rape-supportive” at the most extreme end of the scale. Men who had been given clear instructions to ignore physical appearance, meanwhile, showed a far less pronounced deviation from their female counterparts. Treat hopes that this finding can translate into more effective sensitivity training and education on college campuses, although further research — like the effects of alcohol on perception — is necessary.

As someone who spent several years as a bartender and many more as a barfly, it boggles the mind that we need a study to come to a conclusion that most decent, intelligent people can witness: if she expresses that she’s not into you, it doesn’t matter what she is — or isn’t —wearing. Take a hint and walk away.

So why do so many men fail to do that? One commenter on any Ozy article on the subject suggested that guys ignore obvious signs of disinterest because “it’s worked for them in the past.” But past successes (no matter how scant) are not necessarily an indicator of future performance. Another claimed “shoddy science” without citing any evidence to the contrary when reproached by female commenters.

Their terseness speaks to why many men don’t catch visual cues: they only see the woman as an object of their desire. That leads them to a lack of empathy, which can in turn lead to assault, sexual or otherwise.

If a woman feels threatened, scared or just unpleasant because of his presence, a gentleman is sensitive to that — even if he disagrees. Further, he would probably show some humility and question why his behavior offended someone in the first place.

The ability to reflect, after all, is what separates us from cavemen.

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