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Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Silly analogies, I know. But it kind of gets the point across. A paper by Griskevicius et al (2006) suggests that, when individuals in a same-sex group are presented with the option of conforming or non-conforming when a sexy other is around, men and women behave differently.

Let me explain, and more importantly, let me pose a question.

Griskevicius et al (2006) conducted two studies. The first asked participants (N = 237) to rate a number of images (to determine their aesthetic preference) then placed them in a same-sex group (online; 3 members) to discuss some of the images. They participant was always last to engage in the discussion, and was basically given the option to conform to a unanimous group opinion, or non-conform (i.e. Like vs Dislike). The trick, however, is that prior to the group discussion participants were given a written scenario to imagine themselves in; the first was a 'self protective' scenario:

In the self-protective scenario, participants imagined being in a house
alone late at night. As the scenario progressed, they overheard scary noises
outside and believed that someone had entered the house. After calling out
and receiving no reply, the story ended as someone was about to enter the

A 'mate-attraction' scenario:

In the mate-attraction scenario, participants imagined being on
vacation with their friends. While on vacation, the reader met a highly
desirable person of the opposite sex and spent a romantic day with the new
romantic interest. The scenario ended as the two people were passionately
kissing on a moonlit beach and feeling a strong desire to be with each other.

Or a 'neutral/control' scenario:

In the control scenario, participants
imagined getting ready to go to a much-anticipated concert with a same-sex
friend. They imagined that, during the night of the show, they could not
find the concert tickets. Later, the friend arrived with the tickets, and they
both headed off to the show anticipating a delightful musical experience.

Delightful! Ha, not my concerts. But anyway....

So they found that men who were primed with the 'mate attraction' condition significantly non-conformed way more often than men in the 'self protection' condition. How much? This much:

The male data is huge, right? Men - primed to think of sexy situations - will non-conform relative to control men and threatened men. Anecdotally this makes sense. What's the advice all teenagers (and many men) will give someone trying to impress a girl? 'Get her attention', 'Stand out from the crowd', not too surprising, really. It should be noted this is particularly strong when the group opinion is 'negative' - with the reasoning being that a non-conformity to what is perceived as an undesirable opinion has the greater payoff. If the group opinion is 'positive' standing out like a sore-thumb with a contradictory opinion has a greater risk associated with the payoff. The first example might be when everyone is calling a piece of modern art rubbish, and the man stands back and says 'No, actually, this is really powerful'. He may look more educated, cultured, and generally more desirable. When a group of men love a piece of art, it would seem folly to expose one's ignorance by standing back and saying 'My 3-year old niece could do better. This artist should get a real job!'.

The more interesting part, I think, is the women's data. Women, when primed with a sexy situation, conformed more relative to controls, and were statistically no different from the threatened group. The point? Women conform more when trying to impress men. Griskevicius et al (2006) argue that a more desirable trait in women is being a good group-member, and not rocking the boat.

Study 2 pushed it a little further, and assessed whether the group opinion was objective or subjective. Participants were provided with the data from 'previous participants' (dummy answers that were unanimous) on all the questions, which were either objective (e.g. Is living in NY more expensive than living in Chicago?) or subjective (e.g. Which colour is better for a car - silver, or green). As expected women were generally conformists across both conditions (when sexually primed). Men, however, only non-conformed when they could get away with it - that is, when the answer was objective (unfalsifiable). Men, apparently, don't want to non-conform in an objective context for fear of being wrong (and for other social reasons), but are willing to non-conform if it's a matter of opinion and will allow them to stand out.

One caveat is that this effect is primarily seen when can non-conform to be an individual, and not a member of a small minority. If you're to make a decision between the majority and the minority, it seems men want to be with the majority.

So pretty interesting, right? In my mind the male data makes sense; I think the fact that women conform more to impress men is the interesting part.

...Now my question - Is this an evolutionary explanation of mate selection, or a social explanation of mate selection?

...also, I'm positive there's anecdata out there about the time ladies did something to stand out, or why certain ladies don't like the show off. We're not talking about getting in a fight here, or about who does the most outrageous thing. We're talking about a difference of opinion, and the likelihood of non-conforming (and probably lying) in order to stand out. We're talking about that time they guy said he actually loved the 'Sex in the City - The Movie', when other guys would walk a mile over glass not to watch it. See the benefit?


Griskevicius, V., Goldstein, N., Mortensen, C., Cialdini, R., & Kenrick, D. (2006). Going along versus going alone: When fundamental motives facilitate strategic (non)conformity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91 (2), 281-294 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.91.2.281


iskevicius, V., Goldstein, N., Mortensen, C., Cialdini, R., & Kenrick, D. (2006). Going along versus going alone: When fundamental motives facilitate strategic (non)conformity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91 (2), 281-294 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.91.2.281width: 1px; height: 1px; overflow: hidden; text-align: center;">

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I think of this is societal too. I am not saying all men, but men do get threatened or intimidated by women who speak out (or maybe its something else I don't know not I am not in their heads or claim to have psych background) but they do have some reaction it. I am rather opinionated and not afraid to say what I think in some situations and its gotten me some interesting reactions.(and no I was not being aggressive or rude just discussion-like) I have literally been told if I were more agrreable men would like me more, and that I was too uppity and loud.(not sure what that means should I just nod quietly then?!) In these situations I have been talked down to, and was explained why I was wrong and pretty much told I was too stupid to know better. I hate that. And I really end up on the defensive and its uncomfortable, and I like debate and discussion a lot, enjoy diff. points of view that make me think and maybe make me more sure of my own or even change my mind.

Though some men do like that I speak me my mind and have my own thoughts not discounting those, but I don't run into them a lot.

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I know this is gonna be hard for you to wrap you brain around, but what if *using the same words* they primed men to think about "mate attraction" while for women they inadvertantly primed for self-protection? I know a lot of women who would be pretty on-guard in the moonlight beach scenario. And it would certainly explain why they got such strikingly similar results with the 'self protection' and 'mate attraction' conditions for women.

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@becca - that's an interesting thought. I would be nice to see data relating to that prime as being efficious. My intuition disagrees with you, however, because it's a scenario that is read by the individual, and the individual is free to interpret it as they choose. I find it difficult to believe that most women reading that scenario (which was longer than expressed here or in the paper) which was designed to be evocative in a particular way as completely the opposite. Additionally, the threat and attraction scenario would need to be equally evocative in order to manifest the same effect. However, I agree - that if the scenario was threatening it might explain the results.


@alchemy - No doubt that you (and many others) have been trodden on for being outspoken or individualistic. It's sad that people will actually reprimand you for that. I don't disagree with anything you say, nor with the proposition that some men like individual women (that makes perfect sense, really - I count myself among them). What might be interesting is the next time you find yourself in a situation where you might be trying to impress/flirt with a guy (assuming you're not already taken, etc) monitor how you react with regard to the group. For instance, you might very well be the stand-out - but if discussion comes down to the movie you just saw, or the meal you just ate, and everyone rubbishes it (even though you thought it was alright) just monitor how/if you modify the way you express your opinion. I'm not suggesting you do, or that you're a cad to the group - I am suggesting that this effect is probably most likely going to manifest by very small degrees. Perhaps you'll just contribute less to the conversation rather than expressing all your thoughts. It'd be a small thing.

I make the suggestion because I know there are times when I've thought a movie was fairly average and everyone loved it (...Inception) and I just decided it wasn't worth the effort to rock the boat, so I just didn't choose to contribute. Perhaps if I was trying to impress a girl I'd be a touch more outspoken, but only up to the point where I didn't incur ridicule from the group.


@both - but you guys think this is a social thing? That men are taught to be the stand-out, and are not born to play the standout when the price is right?

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Mmm. These are the kind of sociology studies that I hate. They are designed face up to take a stereotype and force a response that points towards proving that the stereotype is real. But they forget to try other conditions to prove that what they found is false!.

As becca is saying, if you are trying to differentiate the response to a situation by gender(not sex, gender. Another confussion I hate), you really have to verify if the stimuli is triggering the same thing in both genders BEFORE you measure the response to the stimuli. It's like when I was discussing with a friend about a study (I never read the study, sorry about the lack of bibliography) that "proved" that men had an exercise instint compared to women, when the study showed that they were more likely to exercise compared to a population of women. Of course they had forgotten to tell you that the population was a group of students in a college in a socioeconomically poor area, with a high crime rate. I told my friend that the study actually "proved" that women have better perception of social threats!.

One interesting difference would have been to do the same study in a non WEIRD population ( I assume it was WEIRD by the Journal name and the last name of the authors, sorry for the ethnocentric presumption) where being individualistic may be seen as a defect (not a virtue as in our WEIRD society). The hypothesis could have been better proven if the non WEIRD men were more prone to go with the group compared to WEIRD men.


PS: WEIRD nomenclature comes from : The weirdest people in the world?Joseph Henrich D Steven J. Heine Ara Norenzayan BEHAVIORAL AND BRAIN SCIENCES (2010) 33:2/3


PS: Becca...really...really?

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Yes Psycasm, I have to agree sometimes I just stay quiet for the sake of it or have to tread lightly when in professional situations. I try not to be aggressive but sometimes the disagreement in itself is considered an attack. I have done similiar and I like observing people and understand where you coming from; see how things change when you change behaviour. Sometimes I just let things go its not worth it, I agree. I disagree by saying nothing and changing the subject it is sound advice. I try to leave the real stubborn side of me to come out when topics are serious. Its a delicate balance especially when trying to impress and flirt with someone, you want to be memorable look confident but at the same time not be the bitch. Its a good rule of thumb to maybe be strongly convicted one on one but in a group not to rock the boat too much. Damn dating i s hard, next time I will observe the group more and see how thats affected. Interesting observation I will let you know how it goes. Ultimately though, I always figure men that can't handle that can't handle me anyway.  ;)

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@yannisquerra really. I'm not even sure they weren't priming for *both* mate attraction and self-protection, and that society is *set up for them to be linked* for women. Unless the scenario explicitly involves someone you know, the default (even in a 'romantic' situation) is to not completely trust them. At least, in reality that's usually the case. The question is, when imagining or fantasizing, do women completely shrug off realism? I don't. I can't. But I may be uniquely flawed in that respect.


@Psychasm designed to be evocative... by whom?

And yeah, at least with respect to differences-of-opinion, I'm pretty sure it's social/learned. Of course, some men are 'born' with something that makes them stand out to begin with, which give them more scope to express differences-of-opinion. (my father was born with a congenital heart defect and so he was urged not to participate in sports- leading to a somewhat different relationship with male social hirearchy than most people born in otherwise similar situations).

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designed to be evoactive by the researchers. They didn't mention any validating tests for their primes. Personally I found them to be a bit weak 'a delightful musical experience', and moonlit kiss on the beach and probably not going to be super effective for me (or for many men, I suspect). Can't speak to the preferences of women. But yes, their primes appear unvalidated and so it's right to question their validity.

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by 'the researchers'... who, as best as I can tell, are all men. Do you even think about how the *who* of the experiment affects the data?

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