Just A Smile?

A March 31 New Scientist article on "The Love Delusion" mentions these puzzling observations:

Martie Haselton … research indicates that men typically overestimate the sexual interest conveyed by a woman’s smile or laughter.  When men see someone of the opposite sex smile at them they tend to think "she must be interested."  Women simply see a smile.  That’s not all.  It turns out that the smarter the guy, the more likely he is to show this "she wants me" bias.  … Glenn Geher … asked me how they thought women would respond to adverts in which other men offered no-strings-attached sex.  He found that the the higher the IQ, the more likely they were to think that women would be interested. 

It is surprising to see smarter people being less accurate.  So I wonder.  Yes, the men disagree with the women, but how clear is it that the women are right and the men are wrong?  Maybe around smart guys, smiles and laughter do indicate an interest which women will not admit, perhaps even to themselves.  After all, Tuesday’s New York TImes says:

The body’s entire motor system is activated almost instantly by exposure to sexual images, … the body is primed for sex before the mind has had a moment to leer.  Moreover, she said, arousal is not necessarily a conscious process. … Show a woman scenes of a man and a woman having sex, or two women having sex, or two men, or even two bonobos, Dr. Chivers said, and as a rule her genitals will become measurably congested and lubricated, although in many cases she may not be aware of the response.

Ask her what she thinks of the material viewed, however, and she will firmly declare that she liked this scene, found that one repellent, and, frankly, the chimpanzee bit didn’t do it for her at all. … “with women, there’s a discrepancy between stated preference and physiological arousal.”

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  • Perhaps there’s an important distinction to be made here between a person’s genes and the person: my genes might be sexually interested in you, but I might not be. Aroused, yes. Interested, no (if interested means, “would hop in the sack with you if invited).

    Why do “smart” people make this mistake: becuase they’re aroused by their own smartness (or, would themselves be more interested in a smart partner than a dumb one).

  • Peregrine John

    Damn straight there’s a discrepancy. Men who are successful with women have learned to make use of it, lulling the beliefs that are stated (or consciously believed) and playing to the actual truth beneath, getting it to overwhelm the outer mask. Women who are introspective (as differentiated from self-absorbed or otherwise self-deceptive) also make use of it, both to strengthen their own congruency and to see through other women.

  • rcriii

    It is surprising to see smarter people being less accurate.

    Why is this surprising? I see no reason that ‘smart’ should correlate with ‘ability to gauge sexual interest’.

  • Bob Unwin

    You seem to suggest that the women are actually turned on by the smart men, though they don’t recognize it, in the way that they are turned on by viewing sex. But the evidence presented does not suffice for the claim that they are turned on by viewing sex.

    It is plausible that being turned on involved something more than genitals becoming “measurably congested and lubricated”. If the smart guys just think they are affecting women like copulating bonobos would, then they may be correct. But the men supposedly think “she must be interested”, and being interested surely involves some conscious awareness of arousal or attraction.

    Of course, there are reasons to suppose that high-IQ men are more frequently found to be attractive by women. (They are on average more physically attractive, and they have more status). But this doesn’t mean that the high-IQ man knows better than the woman smiling at him what her true feelings are about him.

  • “Why is this surprising? I see no reason that ‘smart’ should correlate with ‘ability to gauge sexual interest’. ”

    If that’s the case, they shouldn’t be more likely to be wrong.

  • It is a rare web site where one can have an intelligent, refined discussion about how high-IQ men are like copulating bonobos.

  • Do women also “over estimate” the meaning of a smile in other women talking with men?

    Also, do they really over-estimate. I suspect that the reality isn’t that there is no interest, the reality is that interest is fleeting and fickle.

    An amusing book that exemplifies this is The Game (about a society of pick-up artist, their attempts to better understand, meet, and communicate with women, and their devolution into a competative, political, and catty reallity TV show like culture). Basically when talking with women, the goal wasn’t to impress them, it was just to avoid turning them off or making them uncomfortable.

  • anon

    Who would admit to being aroused by a picture of copulating bonobos?

    “When men see someone of the opposite sex smile at them they tend to think “she must be interested.” Women simply see a smile.”

    I imagine that a person smiling at a member of the opposite sex is more likely to be interested in that sense than a person smiling at a member of the same sex.

    Especially if the person they are smiling at is more attractive than usual in some way. Are other attractive people likely to take a similarly optimistic view of opposite sex smiles?

  • Ann Harrison

    I am not surprised at all…..I have had a number of guys approach me over the years because of the smile that I gave them. I have been told by them that my smile was warm and made them feel accepted. It doesn’t hurt to have perfect teeth, a body that is fit and shows that I exercise and care about my looks, and the brains to engage in a challenging conversation. Men are hunters….Ann

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