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Men and women both tend to misperceive the degree of sexual interest that the opposite sex has for them.
However while women tend to underperceive how interested men are, men tend to overperceive how interested women are, according to this study.
Researchers hypothesized that men would have an evolutionary bias toward overperception of interest because the cost of a missed sexual opportunity was higher than the cost of a false alarm.
For women, underperception makes evolutionary sense because it can help them avoid unwanted sexual advances, avoid a bad reputation, and prompt men to try harder during courtship.
To measure sexual misperception, researchers conducted speed-meetings between 96 men and 103 women.
Before the speed-meetings took place the people rated their own physical attractiveness and took a test that measured their interest in a short-term mating goal.
In small groups, the men and women met with each other for three minutes before one of them (the partner) rotated to a new participant.
After each interaction, participants rated their partners. The researchers developed a sexual misperception score by subtracting the partner’s level of interest in the participant from the participant’s estimation of the partner’s interest.
The results were pretty much what the researchers expected. Women tended to underperceive their partners’ interest, while men overperceived their partners’ interest.
Furthermore, men who were interested in short-term relationships or who rated themselves as more attractive were more likely to overperceive interest from women.
The magnitude of their misperception depended on how attractive they rated the woman.
These misperceptions could lead to trouble, such as sexual harassment. Understanding these misperceptions could help decrease miscommunication between the sexes, the authors say.