Just when we thought we had it all figured out. Seemingly-nice” (heterosexual) men may actually have challenges finding a woman. A recent study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that while men were attracted to nice-seeming women upon meeting them, women did not feel the same way about men.
Researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya in Israel investigated a possible mechanism explaining why women and men differ in their sexual reactions with receptive opposite-sex strangers.
The study involved 112 undergraduate students whom volunteered for the study at a university in central Israel.the group was divided evenly between men and women, and participants were paired randomly with an opposite-sex individual they hadn’t met before. The study examined burgeoning sexual interest and the participants’ feelings on the possibility of long-term dating with their new partners, and how those connected to their perceptions of a personality trait the study calls “responsiveness.”
People’s emotional reactions and desires in initial romantic encounters determine the fate of a potential relationship. Responsiveness may be one of those initial “sparks” necessary to fuel sexual desire and land a second date. However, it may not be a desirable trait for both men and women on a first date. Does responsiveness increase sexual desire in the other person? Do men perceive responsive women as more attractive, and does the same hold true for women’s perceptions of men?
Researchers from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, the University of Rochester, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, collaborated on three studies to observe people’s perceptions of responsiveness. People often say that they seek a partner that is “responsive to their needs,” and that such a partner would arouse their sexual interest. A responsive person is one that is supportive of another’s needs and goals. “Sexual desire thrives on rising intimacy and being responsive is one of the best ways to instill this elusive sensation over time,” lead researcher Gurit Birnbaum explains. “Our findings show that this does not necessarily hold true in an initial encounter, because a responsive potential partner may convey opposite meanings to different people.”
In one first study, the researchers examined whether responsiveness is perceived as feminine or masculine, and whether men or women perceived a responsive person of the opposite sex as sexually desirable. Men who perceived female partners as more responsive also perceived them as more feminine, and more attractive. However, the association between responsiveness and male partner’s masculinity was not significant for women. Women’s perceptions of partner responsiveness were marginally and negatively associated with perceptions of partner attractiveness.
The study helps to explain why men find responsive women sexually attractive, but does not reveal the mechanism that underlies women’s desire for new relations.
“We still do not know why women are less sexually attracted to responsive strangers; it may not necessarily have to do with ‘being nice.’ Women may perceive a responsive stranger as less desirable for different reasons,” Prof. Birnbaum cautions. “Women may perceive this person as inappropriately nice and manipulative (i.e., trying to obtain sexual favors) or eager to please, perhaps even as desperate, and therefore less sexually appealing. Alternatively, women may perceive a responsive man as vulnerable and less dominant. Regardless of the reasons, perhaps men should slow down if their goal is to instill sexual desire.”
Read the full release on the study
The Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (PSPB), published monthly, is an official journal of the Society of Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP). SPSP promotes scientific research that explores how people think, behave, feel, and interact. The Society is the largest organization of social and personality psychologists in the world.