Men more likely to misread signals that a woman doesn't want to have sex with them, study finds

Men who took part in a US study linked how attractive they found a woman with how likely she was to have sex with them 

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Most young men misinterpret body-language and clothing when trying to understand if a woman is sexually attracted to them, a new study has found. 

US researchers attempting to understand how women's non-verbal sexual cues - including body language and facial expressions - are interpreted, showed participants images of female models. They found that most men based their judgment on how attractive they found the woman. In contrast, women based their opinions on the models' non-verbal cues and the modesty of their clothing. 

Experts hope the findings will help to prevent sexual aggression on college campuses, as a recent survey by the Association of American Universities found that 23 per cent of women experience some form of unwanted sexual contact at university. 

Do you misinterpret non-verbal cues? Take the quiz below, based on the researcher's test. 

 

To make their findings, psychologists showed 496 male and female undergraduates aged between 18 and 24 a series of 130 full-body photographs of female models wearing clothing with varying degrees of coverage, and expressing various nonverbal cues. 

Researchers asked the participants to judge how sexually interested women in the photographs appeared to be. Half of the group were also asked to focus on the women’s facial expressions and ignore their body language, how conventionally attractive they were, and the style of clothing they were wearing.

However, the study published in the journal 'Psychonomic Bulletin & Review' also showed that men and women were able to change their perceptions of sexual interest when told to focus on nonverbal cues and less on attractiveness. The affect was even seen in participants who were more likely to victim-blame or condone assault or rape.

Teresa Treat, professor of psychology at the University of Iowa who lead the study, said: "Sexual aggression is a serious problem on college campuses across the country."

She added that while prevention programs are “very valuable” they are “are not yet as effective as any of us would like them to be”.

“Researchers have shown that misperception of a woman’s sexual-interest cues plays a role in sexual aggression; this research takes the novel step of trying to modify what people focus on when judging a woman’s sexual interest.”

“This finding suggests that instruction could help even men who are at a higher risk of sexual aggression to focus on women’s nonverbal cues,” said Treat. She added that while consent from a sexual partner is vital, learning about such cues can help men understand that a woman doesn’t want to be approached.

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