Men and women are programmed differently when it comes to temptation

July 15, 2008

Temptation may be everywhere, but it's how the different sexes react to flirtation that determines the effect it will have on their relationships. In a new study, psychologists determined men tend to look at their partners in a more negative light after meeting a single, attractive woman. On the other hand, women are likelier to work to strengthen their current relationships after meeting an available, attractive man.

Men may not see their flirtations with an attractive woman as threatening to the relationship while women do, according to findings from a study in the July issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

Researchers found that women protect their relationship more when an attractive man enters the picture but men look more negatively at their partner after they've met an available, attractive woman. Men can learn to resist temptation when trained to think that flirting with an attractive woman could destroy their relationship, said lead author John E. Lydon, PhD, of McGill University in Montreal.

Researchers conducted seven laboratory experiments using 724 heterosexual men and women to see how college-aged men and women in serious relationships react when another attractive person enters the mix.

In one study, 71 unsuspecting male participants were individually introduced to an attractive woman. Roughly half the men met a "single" woman who flirted with them. The other half met an "unavailable" woman, who simply ignored them.

Immediately after this interaction, the men filled out a questionnaire in which they were asked how they would react if their "romantic partner" had done something that irritated them, such as lying about the reason for canceling a date or revealing an embarrassing tidbit about them. Men who met the attractive "available" woman were 12 percent less likely to forgive their significant others. In contrast, 58 women were put in a similar situation. These women, who met an "available" good-looking man, were 17.5 percent more likely to forgive their partners' bad behavior.

"One interpretation of these studies is that men are unable to ward off temptation. We do not subscribe to this. Instead, we believe men simply interpret these interactions differently than women do," said Lydon. "We think that if men believed an attractive, available woman was a threat to their relationship, they might try to protect that relationship."

Using virtual reality scenarios in the last experiment, the researchers wanted to see if 40 men could learn not to flirt when mingling with attractive women if they formed a plan or strategy beforehand. The researchers prompted half the male subjects in this experiment to visualize being approached by an attractive woman. They were then instructed to write down a strategy to protect their relationship. These men were more likely to distance themselves from an attractive woman in the subsequent virtual reality scenarios.

Lydon says women, on the other hand, don't need to be trained to withhold any reactions when approached by attractive men. "Women have been socialized to be wary of the advances of attractive men," says Lydon. "These findings show that even if a man is committed to his relationship, he may still need to formulate strategies to protect his relationship by avoiding that available, attractive woman. The success rate of such strategies may not be 100 percent but it is likely to be significantly higher than if the man was not made aware of the specific consequences of his actions."

Citation: “If-Then Contingencies and the Differential Effects of the Availability of an Attractive Alternative on Relationship Maintenance for Men and Women”, John E. Lydon, PhD, Danielle Menzies-Toman, PhD, and Kimberly Burton, PhD, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Chris Bell, PhD, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 95, No. 1.
Full text of the article is available at

Source: McGill University

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3.3 / 5 (6) Jul 15, 2008
How stupid... "Men can learn to resist temptation after learning to think that flirting can destroy their relationship." Brilliant research. Who would ever have imagined this?!
3.3 / 5 (4) Jul 15, 2008
It's been known but not proven with research til now I guess. Now there's data to back it up (not that it's relevant or useful though). It's one of those human nature things that eventually someone will attribute to mental illness or disease. I would call it "flirtosis", which I had when I was a borderline "alcoholic". I suffer from neither now.
4.9 / 5 (7) Jul 15, 2008
We think that if men believed an attractive, available woman was a threat to their relationship, they might try to protect that relationship.

Repression is not the answer. Do not tell men not to flirt. That will never work. Do not make men afraid to flirt. That will not work.

Simply becoming aware that one will likely reevaluate one's spouse after encountering an "attractive" potential mate should be enough.

Everyone knows that no spouse is perfect, but few put it in practice. Once you become aware that you are with your spouse because of a conscious choice, and that your commitment is a choice, you will not succumb to the fantasy that that attractive person is a better mate.

One will likely continue to flirt and reevaluate, because that's the human condition. But those who make conscious choices are far more likely to stick to their commitment--and be happy with it.
5 / 5 (5) Jul 15, 2008
huh... how about women feeling free to flirt with whomever she wants, but instinctively prone to have a "backup plan", so, if a new relationship does not work (and there is a possibility that it does not), she can always return to the old partner...
somehow author doesn't seem to see this possibility
4.7 / 5 (9) Jul 15, 2008
71 men, half of them meet available attractive woman, so we have 2 groups one 36 and one 35, now then they have filled out a questionnaire and it turned out one group was 12% more likely to forgive. So if all men in the bigger group were forgiving (the best case) then 36*(1-0.12)= 31.68 32 men were forgiving in the second group, so in the best case the difference between groups is only 4 persons!
But since the percent is 12% there had to be 25 forgiving men since that is the only possibility to get an integer 12% for a group smaller then 50 and it means that the difference was only 3 men.

Now lets see women's case: 58 makes 2 groups of 29, now if all were forgiving in one group then 29*(1-0.175)=23.925 24 were forgiving in the second group, a difference of 5 in the best case but to get 17.5% it had to be 4/23 as 5/29 is closer to 17% then to 17.5%.

So to sum it up 25 men in one group and 22 men in the other group were forgiving while 23 women in one group and 19 women in the other were forgiving.

This differences are way too small to be taken seriously!
5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2008
This differences are way too small to be taken seriously!

5 / 5 (1) Jul 16, 2008
"When psychologists say most people they usually mean most of the two dozen sophomores who filled out a questionnaire for beer money."
- The Moral Instinct - Steven Pinker

and just a snippet from the actual paper:
"Participants were, on average, 19 years of age
(SD  2.11), were involved in a romantic relationship for a median
length of 13.5 months (SD  17.6), and were compensated with
either course credit for an introductory psychology class or $5."

and's been shown how ridiculously flawed these survey studies are.

not rated yet Jul 19, 2008
This is a joke. How many collage going 19 year olds are in stable mature relationships? I believe the term they are looking for is "fuckbuddy".

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