Did you ever face a situation where a friend request by you was taken as a signal of sexual interest by your colleague and vice versa? This classic communication gap has now been settled.
A fascinating study reveals that while women report that men often misinterpret their signals of friendliness as sexual interest, for men, women often misinterpret their signals of sexual interest as friendliness.
“The results are no surprise if seen from an evolutionary perspective,” said researcher Mons Bendixen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).
To reach this conclusion, the team analysed 308 participants between ages 18 and 30. Fifty-nine percent of participants were women.
The results showed that both men and women find that their social signals are misinterpreted by the opposite sex.
Women answered that they had acted friendly towards a man and had this misinterpreted as sexual interest about 3.5 times over the past year on average.
The men also reported having been misinterpreted by the opposite sex in this way but far less often.
According to the researchers, if seen through the lens of evolutionary psychology, we can better understand why men often wrongly assume that women who smile and laugh during conversation may want to sleep with them.
“A man’s reproductive fitness, meaning the amount offspring he produces, is dependent on how many women he is able to make pregnant. But that’s not how it works for women,” Bendixen explained.
A woman can have sex with multiple men over a short period of time without producing any more children.
So for men, it is a low-risk, potentially high-reward situation for men to have sex with women whenever the opportunity presents itself.
On the other hand, the cost is potentially great for a woman if she thinks that a man is more sexually interested than she is.
A woman risks pregnancy, birth, nursing and raising the child, as well as lost opportunities to reproduce with others.
“Across thousands of generations, women’s psychology has evolved to set the bar higher, which means they need much clearer signals than men before they consider sex,” Bendixen explained.
The results also showed that men rarely misinterpret women who actually do signal sexual interest.
The study that appeared in the journal Evolutionary Psychology concluded that this is independent of whether or not the person is in a steady relationship or not.