Sunday, September 22, 2013

Men Who Cheat - Does Biology Override Psychology?

A recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that men may actually cheat in relationships more than women, but they attribute it to a more powerful biological sex impulse and not to an inability to keep their zipper zipped.

Part of this paper (Study 1) featured 218 Mechanical Turk (an Amazon service that pays per task) users (70 men, 148 women) who were 32.3 years old on average (SD= 11.6, range=18-70). According to this study, men were slightly more likely than women to act on self-described inappropriate attractions.

BUT, part of this paper (Study 2) was conducted with college-aged subjects (326 men, 274 women) with a median age of 18.6 (SD-0.84) - the time in a man's life when testosterone is high and common sense is low, not to mention the peer pressure to hook-up and the greater percentage of females willing to settle for a hook-up. It was this portion of the study that determined men have greater sexual impulses and not a lack of willpower.

Despite the paper under discussion being based on two different studies, it seems that any attempt to expand these results to incorporate men in general is short-sighted and reductionist. If they conducted the same studies with men and women in the 28-32 cohort, as well as a 38-42, 48-52, and 58-62 cohort, for example, they could then begin to see an "average" disposition for men across their sexually active years.

Personally, I might attribute cheating college guys less to the power of their sex drive and more to the prevalent idea that college is where you sow your wild oats, don't get involved in long-term relationships, and party as much as possible.

Anyway . . . summary below from Science 2.0 and then the abstract to the article. The whole article is freely available online - here.

Do Men Cheat More Than Women? If So, It May Be Biological, Says Psychologist

By News Staff | September 22nd 2013
A recently published paper strongly suggests men succumb to sexual temptations more than women — for example, cheating on a partner or stealing a girl from another guy — because they experience strong sexual impulses, not because they have weak self-control. At least when it comes to those of college age.

Previous papers have said that men are more likely than women to pursue romantic partners that are "off limits" but there has been no real theoretical explanation for this sex difference.

One possible explanation for this effect is that men experience stronger sexual impulses than women do. A second possibility is that women have better self-control than men. The current paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin supports the former explanation and provide new insight into humans' evolutionary origins.

"Overall, these studies suggest that men are more likely to give in to sexual temptations because they tend to have stronger sexual impulse strength than women do," says lead author Natasha Tidwell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology at Texas A&M University. "But when people exercise self-control in a given situation, this sex difference in behavior is greatly reduced. It makes sense that self-control, which has relatively recent evolutionary origins compared to sexual impulses, would work similarly — and as effectively — for both men and women."

Results were determined by two separate experiments: the first, to determine how the sexes reacted to real-life sexual temptations in their past and, the second, to pick apart sexual impulses and self-control using a rapid-fire reaction time task.

In order to test their first hypothesis, researchers recruited 218 (70 male, 148 female) study participants, who were first asked to recall and describe an attraction to an unavailable or incompatible member of the opposite sex. They then answered survey questions designed to measure strength of sexual impulse, attempts to intentionally control the sexual impulse, and resultant behaviors.

"When men reflected on their past sexual behavior, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women did," says Tidwell. However, men and women did not differ in the extent to which they exerted self-control. "When men and women said they actually did exert self-control in sexual situations, impulse strength didn't predict how much either sex would actually engage in 'off-limits' sex."

"Men have plenty of self-control — just as much as women," says senior author Paul W. Eastwick. "However, if men fail to use self-control, their sexual impulses can be quite strong. This is often the situation when cheating occurs."

In order to measure the strength of sexual impulse relative to the strength of impulse control, the researchers recruited 600 undergraduate students (326 men, 274 women) to participate in a "Partner Selection Game."

Participants were very briefly shown images of opposite-sex individuals; the images were tagged either "good for you" or "bad for you." Participants were asked to accept or reject potential partners based on the computer-generated "good for you" or "bad for you" prompt. While they were shown photographs of both desirable and undesirable individuals, participants were instructed to make acceptance and rejection choices based on the computer-generated tags.

In some trials, participants were asked to accept desirable and reject undesirable individuals; in other trials, participants were asked to go against their inclinations by rejecting desirable individuals and accepting undesirable individuals.

Men experienced a much stronger impulse to "accept" the desirable rather than the undesirable partners, and this impulse partially explained why men performed worse on the task than women did. However, this same procedure estimates people's ability to exert control over their responses, and men did not demonstrate a poorer ability to control their responses relative to women.
Full Citation: 
Tidwell ND, and Eastwick PW. (2013, Aug 22). Sex Differences in Succumbing to Sexual Temptations A Function of Impulse or Control? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin;
XX(X), 1–14. doi: 10.1177/0146167213499614


Men succumb to sexual temptations (e.g., infidelity, mate poaching) more than women. Explanations for this effect vary; some researchers propose that men and women differ in sexual impulse strength, whereas others posit a difference in sexual self-control. These studies are the first to test such underlying mechanisms. In Study 1, participants reported on their impulses and intentional control exertion when they encountered a real-life tempting but forbidden potential partner. Study 2 required participants to perform a reaction-time task in which they accepted/rejected potential partners, and we used process dissociation to separate the effects of impulse and control. In both studies, men succumbed to the sexual temptations more than women, and this sex difference emerged because men experienced stronger impulses, not because they exerted less intentional control. Implications for the integration of evolutionary and self-regulatory perspectives on sex differences are discussed.

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