19 April, 2006

Scantily clad women distract men shocker

I couldn’t help but be amused by this news item in Nature (if you have non-subscription troubles the BBC also have a report), about a study soon to be published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, which comes to the shocking conclusion that the men’s judgement may be somewhat impaired by provocative images of the female form – but it appears that some are more susceptible than others.

In the study, researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium showed groups of men different images, which were either “sexual cues” (images of women and lingerie; much to the delight of geeks everywhere, Nature sportingly did an impersonation of FHM by providing an illustrative picture) or more mundane (landscapes), before asking pairs in each group to play an ultimatum game. In this game, one player was given 10 euros and had to suggest a split with the other. The two players would keep the money only if the offered cut was higher than the second man’s secretly pre-declared minimum; if it was not, both players got nothing. This is basically an interaction between the boldness of the proposing player (‘how little can I get away with offering?’), and the pride of the responder (‘how little would I accept’?). The researchers also compared the performance of the players to their testosterone levels (specifically, the level the subjects had been exposed to in the womb, measured by comparing the length of the index finger to that of the ring finger; if the ring finger is longest, it indicates a high testosterone level).

High-testosterone men drove the hardest bargain [more likely to offer a low cut, and less likely to accept one]— unless they had previously viewed pictures of bikini-clad models, in which case they were more likely to accept a poorer deal.

For these men, even handling a bra was enough to sap their resolve… Pictures of landscapes or elderly women, or handling a t-shirt, had no effect on the men's steely bartering power.

So, some good news for you who, having worked out which is your index finger and which is your ring finger (much easier if you’re married, I’m sure), have discovered yourself to be embarrassingly lacking in macho hormones; negotiations will become much easier if you have a lad’s magazine handy. Not only that, but the same trick won’t work as well on you.

The sight of flesh had less effect on the bargaining tactics of low-testosterone men.

This gives me an idea for when I next write a grant proposal…