Shockingly, Men’s Memory Is Affected By Attractive Women

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Photo by: Yoray Liberman / Getty Images

You know that situation where a guy in a bar just keeps hitting on a woman who everyone else can tell is just not interested? Awkward. Turns out it may be that he just doesn’t remember what her body language has already said. Also, he probably hasn’t had many girlfriends before. (Like we needed science to figure that out.) And he may not be a good guy to date (see last parenthetical comment). This problem may actually be worse for women who aren’t as good-looking.

A new study from the University of Iowa asked young men to look at photos of young women. The women were posing in either a come-hither way, expressing sexual interest, or a go-thither way, expressing a lack of desire and vague repulsion. (More on 5 Little-Known Truths About American Sex Lives)

About 20 minutes later the researchers showed the guys the same photos, mingled in with pictures of some of the same women expressing the opposite emotion of the one they’d expressed before. The men were asked if they had ever seen the photo before.

The idea was to figure out whether the men were able to remember the women’s initial level of sexual interest. The guys with the most accurate memories were also the guys who’d had the most serious romantic relationships. No surprises there: guys who’d had girlfriends understood the body language and emotional cues better.

Correspondingly, the young men who scored the worst also scored lowest on tests that measure attitudes towards rape. Generally, men who score badly on these tests are considered most at risk for behaving in a sexually coercive or aggressive way.

“We were trying to understand the role men’s perception of women’s cues play in the complex phenomenon of sexual aggression,” says lead author, associate psychology professor Teresa Treat. “The study is one of a series that’s trying to address the disappointing lack of effectiveness of rape prevention programs on college campuses.”  (More on See photos of couples married 50+ years)

Treat hopes to figure out a way to enhance men’s perception and memories of emotional cues.

Other factors affected the men’s memories as well. They more accurately recalled the emotional cues of women thought to be better-looking, those who were dressed provocatively and those who were giving them the come-on. So that suggests that less confident and less attractive women may be more in danger of having her intentions misunderstood than the classic bombshells.

While this is just one study, and the sample size was not large, it might offer some insight into what constitutes positive and negative sexual experiences in young people and how  non-verbal communication brings those about.

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