Sunday, March 30, 2008

Females give ambiguous signals

Here is some psychology research:
Males are apparently clueless when it comes to interpreting sexual intent from females, according to a recent study (PDF) from Indiana University's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. Men were found commonly to perceive more sexual intent in women's behavior than women were intending to convey. (A campus survey showed that 68% of college females had an experience where a male mistook signs of friendliness for affection.) However, the study also shows that men were quite likely to misperceive sexual interest as friendliness. 'Rather than seeing the world through sex-colored glasses, men seemed just to have blurry vision of sorts, overall,' according to the article. If you're a male who ever mistook the meaning of a barista's smile, looks like you're not alone.
The main point of this seems to be that men are not just oversexualizing signals, and that seems to be a valid point. But why is it being reported that the men are clueless, when it is the women who are putting out the ambiguous signals? It makes more sense to say that the women are clueless about communicating their intentions.

The study really had no way of knowing whether anyone's intentions had been miscommunicated. Everyone knows anecdotes where a girl smiles at a boy, the boy asks her out for a date, and the girl turns him down. The usual interpretation is that the boy misinterpreted the girl's signal. But it is much more likely that the girl was being deliberately ambiguous. She also could have wanted the boy to think that she was interested in a date, even if she had no such interest.

Dr. Helen also commments on this.

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