Being around a pretty woman can make men take more risks, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at the risk-taking behaviors of 96 young adult men, with an average age of nearly 22, by asking them to do both easy and difficult tricks on skateboards.
First, the young men performed the tricks in front of another man, then in front of a young, attractive female. (The attractiveness of the woman was independently assessed by 20 male raters.)
The testosterone levels of the skateboarders were measured after each trick. Testosterone is a male sex hormone that fuels sexual interest, arousal and activity, and is also associated with increased competition and risk-taking.
When skateboarders attempt tricks, they make a split-second decision about whether to abort the trick or try to land it, based on a mid-air evaluation of the likelihood of success and on the physical costs that failure might bring — such as falling flat on their face.
It was that moment the researchers sought to examine, because it resembles the type of risky decisions that young men make when behind the steering wheel of a car or when in physical confrontations with each other. As a group, young males are at the highest risk of early death of any group in industrialized countries in part because they are the biggest risk-takers.
As the researchers expected, the skateboarders took greater risks in the presence of the attractive female, even when they knew there was a greater chance they could crash. Along with this increased risk-taking, the young men had higher testosterone levels when they performed in front of the female than when they did their jumps in front of another guy.
"This experiment provides evidence for an effect that has existed in art, mythology, and literature for thousands of years: Beautiful women lead men to throw caution to the wind," wrote the authors of the study, Richard Ronay and William von Hippel, of the University of Queensland in Australia.
"These findings suggest that, for men, the adaptive benefits gained by enticing mates and intimidating rivals may have resulted in evolved hormonal and neurological mechanisms that facilitated greater risk-taking in the presence of attractive women," they added.
The results of the research are detailed in the first issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.