The sexual overperception bias describes the hypothesised tendency of men to over-infer the sexual interest of women. According to Error Management Theory (EMT), this tendency is driven by an evolved intuitive bias. If men believe that women are interested, then they will approach more women (erring on the side of approaching uninterested women than on the side of failing to approach interested women), thus reducing their chances of missed mating opportunities. As sexual overperception could be implicated in cases of sexual harassment and assault, it is important to understand whether men do in fact exhibit this bias. The evidence to date, however, remains equivocal. No previous studies have used tasks designed to measure intuitive biases to investigate this concept. We adapted the representativeness task ¬– used by Gervais et al. (2017) to assess intuitions about the immorality of atheists –to gauge intuitive biases in men about the sexual interest of women. If a sexual overperception bias is supported, then men may erroneously rate it more likely that a woman “likes them and is sexually interested in them” than a woman “liking them” only. This is a conjunction fallacy, as a conjunction cannot be more likely than one of its components. Contrary to our predictions, we find that men are unlikely to make intuitive overperception biases on these tasks. Instead, both men and women accurately perceived the sexual and/or romantic interests of both same and opposite sex others on our tasks. This suggests that any biases in the dating domain may be socially learned rather than due to an evolved cognitive bias. This study was pre-registered on the Open Science Framework.
We used this grant to investigate why men may mistake signs of politeness or friendliness in women as signs of sexual interest. As the mating success in men is in theory only linked to the number of willing sexual partners, then it would pay for them to easily perceive sexual interest to motivate them to approach more potential partners. This is the theory behind the sexual overperception bias: but do men actually make cognitive biases to misinterpret cues of sexual interest from women on an established cognitive task? Our findings suggest not. Instead, both men and women can accurately interpret cues of sexual and/or romantic interest from both members of the same and opposite sex. This suggests against an evolved cognitive bias. Instead, any biases to approach uninterested parties may be socially learned.
Men are unlikely to make intuitive overperception biases on cognitive tasks. Instead, both men and women accurately perceived the sexual and/or romantic interests of both the same and opposite sex others on our tasks. This suggests that any biases in the dating domain may be socially learned rather than due to an evolved cognitive bias.
|Sex on the Mind
|Effective start/end date
|1/09/20 → 1/01/21
- Sexual overperception bias, commitment scepticism bias, Error Management Theory, sexual selection, conjunction fallacy
- commitment scepticism bias
- Error Management Theory
- sexual selection
- conjunction fallacy