Tag: do gentlemen really prefer blondes?

Turn up the heat for a hot date

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 20, 2009

pic_0014 A friend asked me for a quick tip from BLONDES that she could use for her date that evening. I threw out a few ideas — home-cooked-meal smells may be aphrodisiacs, for instance. But this was a first date, she said, and she wanted to be cool and casual. She had in mind a wine bar.

I had a better idea. I told her to go somewhere that serves hot stuff in huge mugs. Hot chocolate, coffee, tea. Anything warm, nothing cold. And not just because it’s cold outside.

My advice draws on a popular study by Yale psychologist John Bargh (an advisee of Robert Zajonc), who studies nonconscious social behavior. Bargh asks: “What in our surroundings causes us to think, feel, and behave in ways without our intention or awareness?” The smell of lemon, for example, makes people feel compulsed to clean. The sound of Christmas music makes people want to shop longer.

And, it turns out, the feel of a warm cup in the hand makes people perceive others as warmer, i.e. more generous and caring. It’s a warm and fuzzy feedback loop, because people who hold warm cups act warmer, too. In Bargh’s experiment, people who held a warm cup were likely to be much more generous than people who were holding a cold cup. (One wonders: Are baristas warmer than sommeliers?)

In a second study, the researchers had subjects briefly hold either a cup of hot coffee or cold coffee before evaluating a stranger’s personality traits based on some stories. Subjects who had held the hot coffee assessed the person as being “warmer” on the likability scale than subjects who had held the iced coffee (4.7 vs 4.3). And there’s nothing magical about coffee: in other experiments, subjects who merely held a hot therapeutic pack judged others as warmer, and in turn acted more generously, than people who held ice packs.

What’s going on, according to the researchers, is a sort of conflation of physical and emotional warmth. A high temperature triggers activity in the insular cortex, an “old” brain structure that plays a role in processing both emotional and sensory experiences. It’s also the part of the brain that contains mirror neurons, which help people connect emotionally with others.

Of course, it all makes you wonder if the same phenomenon applies to climates. Is there any truth to the stereotype that Southerners are warm-hearted whereas Northerners are cold, Finns are temperamentally frigid and Haitians are hot? Is it any accident that the ice between couples melts when they go on beach vacations?

As instructed, my friend made her date wrap his hands around a mug of cocoa. It went well. He even called her later this evening to say how much he liked her. Of course, the feel-good dopamine blast from all the milk fat and sugar in the cocoa probably didn’t hurt either.

Sex for a stuffy nose

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 16, 2009

flu3 At the height of cold season, it seems worth mentioning a recent article in one of my favorite journals, Medical Hypotheses, that claims that sex alleviates cold symptoms.

The logic is as follows: a cold results in congestion and inability to breathe through the nose. Decongestants can solve the problem, but they’re addictive, ultimately ineffective — worse yet — they may blunt the taste buds. Of course, blowing the nose clears the nasal passages, but a recent Times article reported that nose blowing is actually bad because it reverses the flow of mucus into the sinuses, building up pressure and slowing down drainage.

The safer, more natural way to alleviate sinus pressure, according to the Medical Hypotheses authors, is to have sex — and to adhere to “proper scheduling….[to keep] the nose clear for the rest of [one’s] life.” Arousal stimulates adrenergic receptors, which are under the control of the sympathetic nervous system. The receptors in turn trigger vasoconstriction of blood vessels, which in turn help unstuff the stuffy nose. (According to a similar theory, sex may also cure a headache.) Focusing on men, the authors note that relief should immediately follow orgasm. In short, the nose shouldn’t be blown — rechannel your blowing efforts below the belt.

But does it really help? In theory, frequent sex (or masturbation) should keep the blood vessels constricted and the nose clear. Anecdotal reports say yes, sex clears the nose (and even the mind), but no serious study has been done to prove it really works.

My guess? I suspect that it’s true, sex really does clears nasal passages, but relief probably doesn’t not last long before you need to do it again — in which case, Sudafed must be replaced by Viagra.

Do people really look like their dogs?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 11, 2009

Clicking through the New York Times photo montage from the Westminster Dog Show yesterday, the classic question surfaced: Do dog owners resemble their dogs? There was the portly man with the shiny bald head lumbering around with his bulldog, the sleek dame and her whippet, a man resembling an Eastern potentate padding around the green with his Pharoah dog….

It’s no surprise then that a study from the University of California found that it’s true — dogs look like their owners, and owners look like their dogs. Psychologists photographed 45 dogs and their owners separately, then asked judges to guess which dog (of two) belongs to each owner. The judges were extremely accurate at matching — they were right much more often than by chance — but only for purebred dogs. There was also a trend for people and their pets to be rated similarly for friendliness. The researchers conclude that people who buy purebreds deliberately seek an animal that resembles themselves, and perhaps even acts similarly.

As discussed in BLONDES, the same has been found true for some people, especially women, in long-term relationships. They end up with spouses who resemble themselves, either physically or temperamentally. It turns out to be more a matter of comfort than aesthetics. Not everyone looks for a similar-looking mate, but a significant percentage do.

More interesting is the question of whether the type of people who have look-alike canine companions also seek look-alike human companions. On the streets of NYC I see look-alike couples — often two Wrangler-wearing leathermen — swaggering down the street with their identical mini-me pitbulls. So many questions: Did the guys own their dogs before meeting each other? After all, dog owners are more likely to get dates. If so, were the men attracted to each other’s pets before they were attracted to each other? (Or was the initial spark entre chiens?) Is owning the same breed of animal more bonding than owning the same brands of clothes or cars?

Is she really into you — or everyone?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 10, 2009

flirting_3sfw When a man meets a friendly woman, chances are he thinks she’s into him even when she isn’t. (As discussed in BLONDES this evolutionary bias is reversed in women; in fact, we’re more likely to think a man is just not all that into us. It’s especially true now that a certain mantra-like book and movie has drummed the notion into women’s subconscious.)

But can men tell if a woman is into every man she meets, not just him specifically? The answer is yes, according to Tyler Stillman and Jon Maner at the University of Florida. In their latest study, the psychologists asked 24 women to take a questionnaire that measured their sexual strategies, from high restricted (highly selective) to unrestricted (highly promiscuous). Then, one by one, they paired the women up with a “fairly attractive” and charismatic male research assistant and asked the duo to solve a Rubik’s Cube puzzle without talking and using only one hand each.

Later, male and female judges watched videos of the Rubik’s Cube-solvers, paying special attention to the women’s body language as they interacted with the cute guy. When asked to identify which women had promiscuous dispositions, the judges were surprisingly accurate. This might not be so surprising. More interesting are the body language cues associated with high sociosexuality versus those that were not.

While you might think any friendly body language might be interpreted by an unknowing observer as licentious, that’s just not so. It turns out that classic cues such as smiling, laughing, tilting the head, wearing a provocative dress, touching the hair, leaning towards a man with an open posture, are not reliable signals of promiscuity — just friendly flirtation — and even impartial observers could tell the difference. What distinguished wanton women’s behavior from that of their more selective peers were just a handful of cues: eyebrow flashes (frequent raising of the eyebrows for one-sixth of a second), fervid glances, and easy distraction from the task at hand.

In keeping with evolutionary theory, women were even more accurate than men when it came to perceiving whether a woman was an indiscriminate tart. To men, knowing a woman’s sexual disposition is helpful. It’s an opportunity! To women, particularly to jealous types, a licentious flirt represents something even more visceral: a threat.

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Women prefer men with big….pupils?

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 6, 2009

madmanIf the eyes are windows to the soul, women usually prefer average portals. That is, we’re comfortable with men whose pupils — the black bulls-eye of the eyeball — are medium-sized.

As detailed in BLONDES, we all pick up on pupil size unconsciously, and the size of a person’s pupils affects our perception of his or her attractiveness and desirability.

The pupil dilates and becomes up to ten times larger when a person is emotionally or sexually aroused. That pretty much explains why men prefer women with big pupils. And women’s general preference for men with medium-sized pupils is also explainable: we don’t want men who are overaroused….and potentially out of control sexually.

Unless, of course, when we want them to be.

This explains the outcome of the latest pupil-size study by Peter Caryl and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh. The psychologists found that women who were in the fertile part of the cycles — in particular, four days before ovulation — had a stronger preference for large-pupiled men. Previous experiments also found that women who prefer “bad boys” had a preference for guys with big pupils. Big pupils may be part of a suite of male sexual cues — like strong chins and aggressive behavior — that turn women on, some more than others, and more strongly during certain days of the cycle.

Of course, the researchers only asked women to rate pictures of men, not actual in-the-flesh subjects. There might be a big difference. A woman likely to conceive might in theory prefer a bulked-up pie-eyed hunk — but in real life the oaf might send her running.

Bright hair for dark days

Posted in news by jenapincott on February 4, 2009

emo040054According to Brit magazine Marie Claire, more women are dying their hair blond to cope with recession blues. Quoting a celebrity hairdresser, the article mentions that going blonde makes women feel more confident, youthful, and attention-attracting. In light of a recession, blond hair is defiantly sunny. It’s a reminder, perhaps, of youth and its hope, resilience, nonchalance.

Or is it that women are going blond to attract men? If so, it behooves them to read about how tough economic conditions affect men’s preferences in mates.

All this said, lightening up is an investment. With a touch-up required every 2-3 weeks, the cost of maintenance adds up. In fact, the downturn could reveal some very dark roots.

POLL: PMSbuddy — insult or asset?

Posted in news, Polls and Surveys by jenapincott on February 1, 2009

I’m amused by all the attention lavished on PMSbuddy, a free online service for men to keep track of their [wife’s, girlfriend’s, mother’s, sister’s, daughter’s] menstrual cycles. Advertised as a way of giving guys a “heads-up” at “that time of month,” the site tracks a woman’s cycle and predicts when she might be her “most irritable…when things can get intense for what may seem to be no reason at all.”

A few reactions:

1. From a reproductive standpoint, it’s actually in a gal’s best interest to keep her partner in the dark about her fertility cycles. As described in BLONDES, there are reasons why women evolved to have concealed ovulation. If your partner knows when you’re fertile, he knows when to guard you. (Of course, we inadvertently advertise our fertility anyway, albeit subtly.) And if he knows when you’re not fertile, he might go out and sleep with someone who is. Evolutionarily speaking, of course.

2. Women’s tolerance for the PMSbuddy proves that we live in a post-feminist era. Many women are genuinely OK with the concept. Yes, our moods fluctuate with our hormones — so what? However, judging from reactions online, some women are shouting sexism — and I wonder if there is a generational difference. These women are offended by the idea that their moods are predicted by hormones, at least to the degree that anyone else would notice. It suggests we have less control over our bodies and behavior than we’d like. Worse, some think PMSbuddy’s premise is that women are unstable and irrational in ways that men are not.

3. But the latter just isn’t true — that is, men are also hormonally volatile — and acknowledging this makes all the difference. As I discuss in the book, men’s testosterone levels rise and fall dramatically depending on their situation or context. Sometimes men have their own predictable cycles. Want proof? Take SuperBowl Sunday. Is your man a Steelers or Cardinals fan? How his team fares may predict whether his testosterone rises or plummets, which in turn could affect his mood for the next day or two.

Perhaps it’s time for TBuddy: a service to predict your man’s testosterone-based mood swings at “that time of season,” based on the game schedule and sports forecasting services. (A daily TBuddy may predict mood by taking into account the Dow and NASDAQ market predictions.)

“Blondes” in the National Post!

Posted in media by jenapincott on January 31, 2009

national_postHere’s my interview about BLONDES, published today in Canada’s National Post.

Why do women say chocolate trumps sex?

Posted in news by jenapincott on January 29, 2009

chocolaterex_468x481Ask most people what they lust after and the likely answer is chocolate. Ravishing a candy bar or a cup of hot cocoa, chocoholics claim to have chocasms. Chocolate lust is so intense that informal surveys in Europe and the United States report that about half their female participants prefer chocolate to sex.

One good explanation for this is that chocolate consumption is so often compared to sexual consummation, or a precursor thereof. But here’s the rub: there’s no proof that chocolate will lift the libido. If it has any amorous properties, they’re limited and vary from person to person. As detailed in BLONDES, chocolate contains neurotransmitters that might have a minor effect on the brain, but the scant amount in chocolate is rapidly metabolized. Chocolate is also a minor stimulant due to a caffeine-like property, and it contains the anti-clotting agent flavanol. Yes, it may be good for your heart, but researchers found no difference in sexual arousal between women who eat three servings of daily and none at all.

So why do many women say they’d rather unwrap a candy bar than roll in the sheets? Chocolate never disappoints is a glib answer, but there is something to be said for reliable pick-me-ups. The addition of sugar and fat in chocolate bars can raise your serotonin and dopamine levels, which lift your mood and energy levels. The stuff hits the reward-and-addiction circuits of the brain in the way that sex and other rewarding experiences do.

But why are there more female than male chocoholics? One theory is that serotonin levels are low in premenstrual women, and chocolate is a sweet way to perk ourselves up. (In fact, women’s desire for chocolate does seem to follow menstrual patterns.) But if that were so, wouldn’t any carbohydrate do — why crave chocolate and not candy canes? The answer could be that chocolate is unique. It has an unrivaled texture, aroma, and mouth-feel. It’s silken, sinful, and indulgent. Aided and abetted by (the serotonin-enhancing) milk and butter, it’s also a tactile marvel — it literally melts to your touch. It’s rich, complex, and sensual.

Perhaps the proper question is not how chocolate compares to sex. Ask instead how your lovers could be more like chocolate.

“Blondes” in Neuronarrative!

Posted in media by jenapincott on January 26, 2009

26611495Here’s my interview with Neuronarrative, a wonderful science site that delves into topics that intersect with neuroscience — including psychotherapy, primatology, and, of course, love and sex. I’m in esteemed company. Check out the site’s fascinating interviews with Frans de Waal, Philip Zimbardo, Gary Marcus, Susan Blackmore, and others.


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