Perceptual mechanisms that characterize gender differences in decoding women's sexual intent

Psychol Sci. 2008 Apr;19(4):348-54. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02092.x.


Men and women often disagree about the meaning of women's nonverbal cues, particularly those conveying dating-relevant information. Men perceive more sexual intent in women's behavior than women perceive or report intending to convey. Although this finding has been attributed to gender differences in the threshold for labeling ambiguous cues as sexual in nature, little research has been conducted to determine etiology. Using a model that differentiates perceptual sensitivity from decisional bias, we found no evidence that men have lenient thresholds for perceiving women's nonverbal behavior as indicating sexual interest. Rather, gender differences were captured by a relative perceptual insensitivity among men. Just as in previous studies, men were more likely than women to misperceive friendliness as sexual interest, but they also were quite likely to misperceive sexual interest as friendliness. The results point to the promise of computational models of perception in increasing the understanding of clinically relevant social processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intention*
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pilot Projects
  • Sex Factors
  • Sexual Behavior*
  • Social Perception*