It is a refrain often heard in my group of girlfriends when we meet up. “He just wouldn’t take no for an answer!”; “He was convinced I was attracted to him even though I wasn’t flirting at all!”
We are definitely not alone in these complaints. And now someone has studied this phenomenon, producing a paper which has perhaps my favourite opening sentence of all time: “Heterosexual men consistently overperceive women’s sexual interest.”
So, what did they find out?
The research was partly sparked by an interest in how personality differences affect men’s perception of whether women are sexually or romantically interested in them. There have been a variety of studies over the years into external factors that mediate this; alcohol consumption, for example.
But personality factors had previously not been a focus of any similar studies. Joshua Hart and Rhea M. Howard, from Union College and Harvard University respectively, presented men with nightclub scenarios and asked them to predict the sexual interest of hypothetical women within this context. They also administered tests to study the men’s attachment styles.
The results showed that men who are attachment-anxious have an increased desire for intimacy. This predicts their hope that a woman will be sexually interested in them, which makes the men more flirtatious. And this in turn makes them perceive a woman as being flirtatious, even when she isn’t.
Attachment-avoidant men showed the same results, but in the opposite direction.
What does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means our complaints that men just don’t get the message that we’re not interested have been confirmed. And it means that, as an individual, there’s probably not a lot you can do to make a guy understand that no, you really don’t like him like that, if he’s convinced himself that you do.
It also means that more research into male attachment anxiety might be a good idea, both for the sake of guys who are constantly feeling let down due to unrealistic expectations, and for… y’know… women’s safety.
Would you like me to feature your research on the blog? Get in touch!
The full study can be read here.