Single women look longer when they're checking out men than women who are taken, a new study finds.
Neuroscientist Heather Rupp, of The Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, had men and women rate 510 photos of faces of members of the opposite sex and give their gut reaction on the person's attractiveness, masculinity/femininity, and other subjective ratings.
The study included 59 men and 56 women ages 17 to 26, who were all heterosexual, from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and who were not using hormonal contraception. Some of the participants had sexual partners, while others did not (21 women did and 25 men did).
While the study, detailed in the March issue of the journal Human Nature, found that both single and attached women had similar subjective ratings of photos, single women spent more time evaluating the photos. The researchers say this shows that the women were demonstrating a greater interest in the snapshots.
While that may come as no surprise, no such difference was found between single and attached men.
"The findings may reflect sex differences in reproductive strategies that may act early in the cognitive processing of potential partners and contribute to sex differences in sexual attraction and behavior," Rupp said.
Another previous study found a gender difference in men and women's ratings of members of the opposite sex who were and were not in relationships. Women were more likely to find single men more attractive than married men, while men found single and married women equally attractive.<
Other studies have found that relationship satisfaction can affect how long a person looks at a slide of an attractive member of the opposite sex. Those in unhappy relationships are likely to look longer.
Previous studies have also shown that hormones, relationship goals and social context can influence a person's interest in the opposite sex, but the new study is the first to find that having a current sexual partner can shape this interest, the researchers said.
The researchers also noted that this influence of partner status in women could reflect that women, on average, are relatively committed to their romantic relationships, "which could possibly suppress their attention to and appraisal of alternative partners."
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
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