Dynamic competition account of men’s perceptions of women’s sexual interest
This work applies a dynamic competition framework of decision making to the domain of sexual perception, which is linked theoretically and empirically to college men’s risk for exhibiting sexual coercion and aggression toward female acquaintances. Within a mouse-tracking paradigm, 152 undergraduate men viewed full-body photographs of women who varied in affect (sexual interest or rejection), clothing style (provocative or conservative), and attractiveness, and decided whether each woman currently felt sexually interested or rejecting. Participants’ mouse movements were recorded to capture competition dynamics during online processing (throughout the decisional process), and as an index of the final categorical decision (endpoint of the decisional process). Participants completed a measure of Rape-Supportive Attitudes (RSA), a well-established correlate of male-initiated sexual aggression toward female acquaintances. Mixed-effects analyses revealed greater curvature toward the incorrect response on conceptually incongruent trials (e.g., rejecting and dressed provocatively) than on congruent trials (e.g., rejecting and dressed conservatively). This suggests that the two decision alternatives are simultaneously active and compete continuously over time, consistent with a dynamic competition account. Congruence effects also emerged at the decisional endpoint; accuracy was typically lower when stimulus features were incongruent, rather than congruent. RSA potentiated online congruence effects (intermediate states of behavior) but not offline congruence effects (endpoint states of behavior). In a hierarchical regression analysis, online processing indices accounted for unique variability in RSA above and beyond offline accuracy rates. The process-based account of men’s sexual-interest judgments ultimately may point to novel targets for prevention strategies designed to reduce acquaintance-initiated sexual aggression on college campuses.
To read the full paper:
Smith*, J.R., Treat, T.A., Farmer, T.A., & McMurray, B. (2018). Dynamic competition account of men’s perceptions of women’s sexual interest. Cognition, 174, 43-54. (pdf)