Foot-in-the-door as a pickup technique

Posted in news by jenapincott on September 27, 2009

kick_open_doorFrench psychologist Nicolas Gueguen is fun. He’s the guy who asks the pressing questions we’d all like answered, whether we admit it or not: Does makeup really make a woman more attractive to men?; Are dog owners more likely to get dates?; How much does cup size really matter?; and How does priming men to think about love change their behavior?

And now Gueguen strikes again, this time with a study on courtship and “foot-in-the-door-technique.” The latter is an actual term in psychology. “Foot in the door” is a compliance tactic in which an initial, small difficult-to-turn-down request is made (as in a solicitor asking passers-by on the street for their signature). Once people acquiesce to an easy request, they are likelier to agree to a larger request (to donate money, time, etc.). Kids seem to implicitly know the foot-in-the-door effect, as when they ask for a small treat, followed immediately by a request for a larger one.

But what about men looking for love (or sex)?

Gueguen wanted to know if the foot-in-the-door technique would work in a pick-up context, so he recruited a nice-looking guy in his twenties to solicit young, hot women in the street. Over a series of days the man approached 360 different ladies, and asked them if they’d like to have a drink with him. Some of the time he approached them, greeted them, and made the drink offer right away. In the foot-in-the-door condition, however, he asked them for directions or requested a light for his cigarette before inviting them to have a drink with him.

Turns out, the technique works. Women were significantly more likely to say yes to a drink with the guy if he made a minor request immediately beforehand. That’s how foot-in-the-door works, by fostering compliance. It’s easier to say no when the no hasn’t been preceded by a yes. (Incidentally, it’s also more difficult to say no after nodding your head.)

Of course, for most men the aim is to get much more than a foot in the door. For that, I suspect the actual nature of the second, larger request counts a lot. Ask too much, guys, and you’ll get a door-in-the-face.

The science of gaydar

Posted in news by jenapincott on September 20, 2009

malefaceGiven at least 1/20th of a second to look at a man, you can probably guess whether he’s gay — and be correct at least 70 percent of the time. Remarkably, your first split-second assessment would be as accurate as your impression after a full minute.

That was the case, at least, in a study by Tufts University psychologists Nalini Ambady and Nicholas Rule when they asked male and female judges to guess the sexual orientation of 90 faces of gay and straight men (without facial hair or piercings). Regardless of their own sexual orientation, the judges were astoundingly swift and accurate when it came to identifying most men’s sexual orientation. (Women’s faces weren’t tested.)

But the problem with gaydar — a contraction of “gay” and “radar” — is that identifying gay men and lesbians based on physical qualities alone isn’t always reliable. Despite the high accuracy rate for most faces, several yielded no clue of sexual orientation and were consistently misjudged. And when the judges were right, it was tough to pinpoint what clued them in. Was it the set of an expression? The hairstyle, the lips, the lower jaw? The eyes? Nevertheless, the results were surprising because many gays and lesbians attribute their own gaydar to behavioral cues such as the way someone looks at them — a sliding glance or the hint of a wink — or certain postures, gestures, facial expressions, and ways of speaking. As for straight women having gaydar, it might be evolutionarily advantageous — after all, it’s helpful to know who is a potential mate and who is not.

Stripped of cultural influences, there aren’t clear-cut, consistent physical distinctions that would trigger gaydar. Not that researchers haven’t found some very general biological differences between straights and gays.

As I detail in BLONDES:

* Prenatal testosterone levels, which are linked to sexual orientation, also influence traits such as finger ratios. Gay men’s ring and index fingers (of the right hand especially) are more likely to be the same length, like those of straight women, whereas a greater number of straight men have a ring finger that’s longer than their index finger. Women who identify themselves as “butch” lesbians are much more likely than “femme” lesbians or straight women to have a low digit ratio (ring finger longer than index finger) due to higher levels of prenatal testosterone.

* Depending upon the study (one here), gay men have a 34-82 percent greater chance of being left-handed than straight men (note: not all studies detect a bias), and lesbians are up to twice as likely to be lefties than straight women. Bear in mind that even though a gay man or lesbian has a higher chance of being left-handed, the majority of lefties are straight.

* Sniffing t-shirts of gays and straights, gay men prefer the odor of other gay men more than straights of either gender do. (Lesbians generally like the natural smell of other lesbians, straight women, and even straight men.)

* Gay men’s hair whorl (direction of scalp hair rotation) is more likely to be counterclockwise than that of straights. Nearly 30 percent of a sample of gay men had hair whorls that rotate counterclockwise, compared to fewer than 10 percent in a mixed group of men and women.

* A man’s gait might be another clue — in one study, judges identified gay men by their walks with about 60 percent accuracy. The reason is that some gay men have lower waist -to-hip ratios (larger hips compared to waist) than the average straight guy.

None of these traits proves a person is gay or lesbian, nor can their absence prove a person is straight. They’re just trends. Yes, gaydar works, although it’s as much an art as a science.

But someday, if MIT’s Project Gaydar goes as expected, identifying who’s gay may be mere computation.

No eyebrows = you’re less recognizable

Posted in news by jenapincott on September 15, 2009

sadr__ibrau__perception_2003 Evolution has done to our profiles what glaciers do to mountains. Gone is the jutting jaw. Washed away is the bulging brow ridge. Our faces are relatively flat compared to what they once were. This means there’s not much to look at to get your bearings. According to a study by Javid Sadr and his colleagues at MIT, eyebrows are a crucial part of facial identification. The behavioral neuroscientists discovered that faces without eyebrows are like land without landmarks.

The study: Volunteers were asked to identify fifty famous faces, including that of former U.S. president Richard Nixon and actor Winona Ryder. The photos were digitally altered and shown either without eyebrows or without eyes. When celebrities lacked eyes, subjects could recognize them nearly 60 percent of the time. However, when celebrities lacked eyebrows, subjects recognized them only 46 percent of time.

The lesson: eyebrows are crucial to your identity — they’re at least as important as your eyes, if not more so. If you put colored contacts in your eyes, pumped collagen into your lips, or put on a pair of funky sunglasses, people would probably still recognize you easily. But try shaving off your eyebrows. Chances are that everyone will say they didn’t recognize you at first glance.

As Sadr points out, eyebrows pop out against the backdrop of your face — and for that reason not only identify who you are but how you’re feeling. Along with the lips, they may in fact be the most expressive part of your body. The single raised eyebrow is a universal sign of skepticism, and the dual raised eyebrow a sign of surprise. Think about it — entire Charlie Chaplin movies are spoken in the language of brows.

The shape of your eyebrows also says, in a glance, a lot about your age and other characteristics. Bushy, gnarly, salt-and-pepper brows: old, powerful men. Thin, graceful arcs: young, stylish women. Sparse, light brows: childlike. When waxed and tweezed, the brow is a sign of good grooming.

Eyebrows sometimes meet each other halfway across the bridge of the nose, especially on men, to form a “monobrow,” which resembles the vanished browridge of our primate ancestors. Distinctive? Yes, and also brow-raising.

Are men in pinstripes more marriage-worthy?

Posted in news by jenapincott on September 8, 2009

There’s a new twist on that classic McDonald’s experiment, the one in which there are two photos of a guy; in the first he’s dressed in a Mickey D’s uniform and in the second he looks like a banker. Women are asked to judge the man’s physical attractiveness and — surprise! — he gets much higher attractiveness ratings when he’s wearing a suit.

In the current study by evolutionary psychologist Murray Millar at the University of Nevada, women behaved similarly. This time, 123 female judges were shown photos of three men seeking a partner. A description accompanied the photo of each man, containing general biographical information (e.g. place of birth, food preferences), a statement about what type of relationship he was seeking (long-term or short-term), and his profession, which was either high-status (doctor, banker, lawyer) or low-status (salesman, janitor).

No shocks here: As Millar suspected, women, when primed to think about a long-term relationship, found men more attractive when they were described as having a high-status profession than a low-status one. For a fling, the ladies gave men more-or-less equal attractiveness ratings regardless of profession. These results, Millar concluded, are in keeping with the evolutionary argument that women have different mating strategies. For long-term relationships, women implicitly place more value on social status and resources that may benefit her child. For short-term relationships, women place more value on cues of genetic value such as physical attractiveness. In the latter condition, it doesn’t matter so much if he cleans toilets or flips burgers for a living. They’re lovin’ it.

But it’s not always so simple, as I describe in BLONDES. Hormonal cycles may subtly push or pull us in unexpected directions. Don’t forget the UCLA study in which women who were in their peak fertile window (around ovulation) found poor creative men more attractive than rich boring ones, at least in the short term. As evolutionary psychologists suggest, mating isn’t always binary. That is, some women may pursue more than one strategy at once: marry a stable office worker and have curiously-timed flings with hunky down-and-out artists (or burger flippers).

Perceptions may also shift. As women becoming more economically independent, they may find high-dominance males less desirable in a marriage context. Better, perhaps, to have a man who’s around more to change diapers. Even now, given the cause of the current recession, pinstripes might not be so marriage-worthy.


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