Error management theory: a new perspective on biases in cross-sex mind reading

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2000 Jan;78(1):81-91. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.78.1.81.


A new theory of cognitive biases, called error management theory (EMT), proposes that psychological mechanisms are designed to be predictably biased when the costs of false-positive and false-negative errors were asymmetrical over evolutionary history. This theory explains known phenomena such as men's overperception of women's sexual intent, and it predicts new biases in social inference such as women's underestimation of men's commitment. In Study 1 (N = 217), the authors documented the commitment underperception effect predicted by EMT. In Study 2 (N = 289), the authors replicated the commitment bias and documented a condition in which men's sexual overperception bias is corrected. Discussion contrasts EMT with the heuristics and biases approach and suggests additional testable hypotheses based on EMT.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Female
  • Gender Identity
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Male
  • Motivation*
  • Nuclear Family / psychology
  • Prejudice*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Social Perception*