How can I impress strangers

How hoping for sex makes us lie and deceive

Strategies for impressing potential sexual partners are diverse and widespread in nature - including among humans, of course. If you can't puff yourself up like a courting bird or change color like a newt, you resort to other behaviors in order to appear more attractive. With Homo sapiens lies, glossing over and deception are part of it.

A British-Israeli research team has now investigated this behavior in a series of experiments on students. The researchers' hypothesis: Sexual thoughts or arousal increase the likelihood that people will try to appear in the most positive light possible to unfamiliar people of the opposite sex - even at the expense of truth or their own convictions.

Sexual stimuli

For their study in the "Journal of Experimental Social Psychology" the scientists recruited 634 heterosexual students, including 328 women and 306 men. The subjects were on average almost 25 years old and were divided into two groups. As part of the investigation, one group was exposed to sexual stimuli - specifically: they were shown erotic pictures and videos. The control group was shown recordings with no sexual content. Immediately afterwards, the study participants had to interact with people of the opposite sex they did not know.

In the first part of the experiment, the test person couple should take opposing positions and try to convince the other. The researchers told the students what point of view to take. It was then evaluated to what extent the participants were willing to deviate from the opinion given to them. The result: participants who had previously been confronted with sexual content were far more likely to agree with the opinion of their counterpart. The scientists see this as a strategy to make a favorable impression on the unknown person of the opposite sex or to get closer to them.

In the second experiment, the researchers examined the extent to which study participants were willing to adapt their own views or preferences to those of the opposite sex. To do this, the test subjects first had to fill out a questionnaire and comment on various topics. Then they were confronted with the opinions and preferences of another person and were able to send them an online profile of themselves. It was found that the study participants were more likely to align their profile with the views of the person of the opposite sex if they had previously seen sexual content.

Incorrect information about sex partners

The last part was about the number of previous sexual partners. The participants first had to state in a questionnaire how many people they had sex with in the past. Then they had to exchange ideas with attractive, supposedly other test subjects in an online chat. In fact, the other person was a member of the research team who at some point directed the chat to the topic of sex partners.

The result was clear, write the scientists: The sexually stimulated study participants clearly tended to name a lower number of previous sex partners in the chat than in the questionnaire. The researchers suspect that both male and female participants rated too high a number of previous sex contacts as a deterrent for potential new partners. By the way, the most often mentioned fictitious number was seven.

For the scientists, the study confirms that sexually aroused people care more about how they are perceived by people of the opposite sex. "People do and say almost anything to establish a connection with an unknown, attractive person," said first author Gurit Birnbaum from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. "When your sexual system is activated, you tend to present yourself in the best possible light - and better than you actually are." (dare, November 9, 2019)