Temptation may be everywhere, but it's how the different sexes react to
flirtation that determines the effect it will have on their
relationships. In a new study, psychologists determined men tend to
look at their partners in a more negative light after meeting a single,
attractive woman. On the other hand, women are likelier to work to
strengthen their current relationships after meeting an available,
Men may not see their flirtations with an attractive woman as
threatening to the relationship while women do. Researchers found that
women protect their relationship more when an attractive man enters the
picture but men look more negatively at their partner after they've met
an available, attractive woman. Men can learn to resist temptation when
trained to think that flirting with an attractive woman could destroy
their relationship, said lead author John E. Lydon, PhD, of McGill
University in Montreal.
Researchers conducted seven laboratory experiments using 724
heterosexual men and women to see how college-aged men and women in
serious relationships react when another attractive person enters the
In one study, 71 unsuspecting male participants were individually
introduced to an attractive woman. Roughly half the men met a "single"
woman who flirted with them. The other half met an "unavailable" woman,
who simply ignored them.
Immediately after this interaction, the men filled out a
questionnaire in which they were asked how they would react if their
"romantic partner" had done something that irritated them, such as
lying about the reason for canceling a date or revealing an
embarrassing tidbit about them. Men who met the attractive "available"
woman were 12 percent less likely to forgive their significant others.
In contrast, 58 women were put in a similar situation. These women, who
met an "available" good-looking man, were 17.5 percent more likely to
forgive their partners' bad behavior.
"One interpretation of these studies is that men are unable to ward
off temptation. We do not subscribe to this. Instead, we believe men
simply interpret these interactions differently than women do," said
Lydon. "We think that if men believed an attractive, available woman
was a threat to their relationship, they might try to protect that
Using virtual reality scenarios in the last experiment, the
researchers wanted to see if 40 men could learn not to flirt when
mingling with attractive women if they formed a plan or strategy
beforehand. The researchers prompted half the male subjects in this
experiment to visualize being approached by an attractive woman. They
were then instructed to write down a strategy to protect their
relationship. These men were more likely to distance themselves from an
attractive woman in the subsequent virtual reality scenarios.
Lydon says women, on the other hand, don't need to be trained to
withhold any reactions when approached by attractive men. "Women have
been socialized to be wary of the advances of attractive men," says
Lydon. "These findings show that even if a man is committed to his
relationship, he may still need to formulate strategies to protect his
relationship by avoiding that available, attractive woman. The success
rate of such strategies may not be 100 percent but it is likely to be
significantly higher than if the man was not made aware of the specific
consequences of his actions."
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