If you walk into a bar and think that an attractive woman smiling at you wants to have sex with you, are you gauging her right or is it all in your head?
According to previous research, men have a tendency to misjudge a woman’s sexual intent, often based on individual or situational factors such as alcohol intoxication.
But the new study goes further, suggesting that a man’s attachment style – a personality trait reflecting his romantic relationship tendencies – may actually influence his perceptions of whether a woman is interested in him sexually.
The findings showed that men on the higher end of the attachment anxiety spectrum were most likely to imagine a woman being sexually interested in them.
“This is due in part to the men’s strong desire for intimacy,” said Joshua Hart, associate professor of psychology from Union College in New York.
To reach this conclusion, the researchers asked nearly 500 men to imagine a scenario in which an attractive woman at a night-club catches their eye.
Participants were asked to gauge the level of interest they believed the woman in the scenario was showing, ranging from “not at all interested” to “extremely interested.”
The men were also asked to assess the extent to which they exhibited either of two tendencies – toward attachment anxiety and toward attachment avoidance.
Those higher in attachment anxiety have a need for love and reassurance and a fear of rejection.
People higher in attachment avoidance typically are reluctant to trust and rely on others, and fear intimacy.
Further, men higher in attachment anxiety project their own flirtatiousness and sexual interest onto the woman, based on their hopes that she will reciprocate.
“If you view yourself as being flirtatious, that biases you to seeing others as behaving similarly,” Hart added in a paper published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
Conversely, men higher in attachment avoidance felt the opposite.
“Their lower interest in intimacy led them to be less interested in the fictional woman, thus seeing themselves as being less flirty, and in turn, imagining the woman as less sexually interested in them,” Hart said.
The study’s results are an example of how wishful thinking pervades human social interactions. “We see in reality what we wish to see, not necessarily what’s there,” Hart said.