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Flirting with Flirtation

When a woman meets an attractive, available guy, she tends to use the experience as an opportunity to shore up her existing relationship. When a guy meets an attractive, available woman, though, he suddenly takes a dimmer view of his female partner.

But chins up, gals: with a little training, our fellas can learn to do better.

That's the gist of a study in the new issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of Personality and Social Psychology conducted by researchers at McGill University in Montreal.

The team set up seven lab experiments to see how men and women in committed relationships behaved when they encountered tempting people of the opposite sex. The study included 724 college-age, heterosexual men and women.

In one experiment, 71 men were introduced individually to one of two attractive women. About half met a woman who was presented as being single and who flirted with the guy. The other half met a woman, said to be unavailable, who ignored the dude at hand.

Right after these encounters, the men were asked how they would react if their romantic partner had done something to tick them off, such as lying about her reasons for canceling a date. Those who'd met the attractive and available woman were less likely to forgive their partners for those transgressions than were the men who'd met the aloof and off-limits woman.

When the tables were turned, though, of 58 women set up in similar encounters, those who met an attractive and available man were much MORE likely to forgive their menfolks' crummy behavior.

John E. Lydon, the study's lead author, said in this account of his research that he thinks men might simply not see attractive women as threats to their relationships. Women, he suggests, are more likely to view encounters with hunky, unattached men as potentially harmful to their committed partnerships and thus to take steps to preserve those partnerships.

That's where practice comes in! In one of the seven experiments, 40 men were tested to see if they could resist flirting with attractive women by planning ahead. Half of these men were told to visualize an encounter with an attractive woman and then to devise a strategy -- "When I am approached by the attractive girl, I will then _____ to defend and protect my relationship." The guys in this group were indeed found to keep their distance from the alluring women they came across in subsequent virtual-reality sessions.

You can read the full study here.

And then let's hear from you. Do the study's findings ring true? Or do they simply sustain stereotypes?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  July 18, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Psychology  
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In the great scheme of things, do 'studies' like this one really amount to anything at all? Any changes in behaviour? Any earth-shaking improvements in relationships? No. Men will ogle other women even when they are with an attractive woman of their own whether it's a wife or girlfriend. Men don't need a reason to have sex - they only need a place. They have the attention span of a 2-year-old and the morals of an alley cat. I can cite you another 'study' that shows women who stay single are smarter than women who marry.

Posted by: Down time.... | July 18, 2008 11:52 AM | Report abuse

then u must be a genius

Posted by: howUdoin | July 18, 2008 3:01 PM | Report abuse

As with everything it's all in a controlled environment, in practice who can really say? And while interesting it has little bearing on how an individual reacts to situations.

Posted by: Alex | July 19, 2008 7:05 AM | Report abuse

I am astounded by the results of this study. Did they speak to actual women? I would expect that women would be more frustrated with their partners because they have become aware that better options are out there. Their tendency to defend their partners may be a symptom of what is wrong with society. I'm sure that similar logic is at work when women refuse to leave abusive relationships. Women are conditioned to worship their husbands because marriage is still a marker of attractiveness and social status. These women (and the ones in the study) need to be liberated! What's wrong with fantasizing about a cute guy you just met?

As for the men's forgiveness levels, I think that some men may not need training to become more forgiving. Some men have this trait on their own through self-discipline.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 19, 2008 2:42 PM | Report abuse

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