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Social Psychology Chapter 14

Terms in this set (36)

One gender difference concerned preferred age. Across many cultures, men universally prefer their sexual partners to be younger than themselves. It is no surprise that men report a preference for female features that signal a potential mate's youth. For example, men like facial features that resemble to some extent those of a baby: large eyes, a small nose, a small chin, and full lips. But, in fact, men are most attracted to women whose "baby-faced" features are combined with features that signal maturity, such as prominent cheekbones and a broad smile.

An evolutionary perspective suggests that the challenge men face when attempting to reproduce is finding a mate who is fertile—put simply, capable of producing offspring. But how can men deduce a potential mate's fertility level? One useful clue is a woman's age. Women are not fertile until puberty, and their fertility ends after they reach menopause around age 50. As our species evolved, men who were attracted to features of women's faces and bodies that signal that they are young (but not too young) were more likely to find a fertile mate and successfully reproduce. Another physical feature linked to fertility in women is waist-to-hip ratio (0.7 is the best number).

A person's waist-to-hip ratio is largely determined by the distribution of fat on his or her body, which is determined by hormones. Women with a waist-to-hip ratio near the attractiveness norm of 0.7 have a particular mix of hormones (estradiol and progesterone) that allows them to become pregnant more easily and to enjoy better physical health than do women with fewer curves
Lynne Cooper and colleagues (1998) have shown that many of these reasons for sex boil down to five core motives. Specifically, she finds that the among both college-student and community samples, the most frequently endorsed motives for sex are (in descending order) to enhance physical or emotional pleasure, to foster intimacy, to affirm one's sense of self-worth, to cope with negative emotions, and to gain partner or peer approval.

Cultural norms influence not only whether people engage in sex, but how comfortable they feel about reporting permissive sexual attitudes and behavior. But another explanation is that men tend to exaggerate the number of partners they've been with, whereas women tend to minimize that number. When men are asked about their number of partners, they tend to estimate the number rather than counting diligently, and when in doubt, they round up. Women, on the other hand, respond to researchers' inquiries into their sex lives by counting their partners more accurately and then fudging by subtracting a partner or two from their reported total.

Men exaggerate their numbers to appear like studs, and women downplay their numbers to appear chaste, then the difference between men and women would be especially pronounced if men and women were told that an experimenter would view their responses.

If men and women were put into a "bogus pipeline" condition in which they were led to believe that lying could be detected, sex differences in reported sexual behavior were almost nonexistent. So here we clearly see that cultural gender norms influence not only people's sexual behavior but also their willingness to report on it.