After looking at sexually arousing images, men, but not women, become more impatient for financial rewards and more willing to take financial risks. Now a study has shown that women too show these changes to their decision making if they touch “sexually laden stimuli” – in this case men’s boxer shorts!
Across three studies, Anouk Festjens and her colleagues led over a hundred female undergrads to believe they were taking part in customer research for a clothing manufacturer. The women handled a pair of men’s boxer shorts or a t-shirt and rated it on various factors such as the quality of the fabrics. After touching the clothing they answered financial or other questions, the precise format varying from study to study.
Handling boxer shorts, but not a t-shirt, increased the women’s* preference for immediate financial reward – that is, they said they’d have to be offered more money in a week or a month’s time to entice them to forsake the immediate offer of €15. Stated differently, women who touched a t-shirt perceived €15 in a month’s time as being worth around €12.50, whereas women who touched the boxer shorts perceived €15 in a month’s time as being worth around €10.50 – a statistically significant difference.
In another study, the women said whether they’d be willing to play various gambles that involved risking starting amounts of money or chocolate for the prospect of winning more money or chocolate. Women who’d first handled boxer shorts were willing to play riskier gambles than those who handled a t-shirt.
A final study involved heterosexual women and men, and this time there were three conditions – handling boxer shorts (or a bra in the men’s case); looking at boxer shorts (or a bra) through plexi-glass; or handling a t-shirt. After this, the participants said how much they’d be willing to pay for a variety of rewarding (e.g. wine) or neutral (e.g. a keyboard) products. The key finding here was that women who handled boxer shorts were willing to pay more for rewarding products than those who merely looked at the shorts, or touched the t-shirt. Men, by contrast, were willing to pay more for both types of product after either looking at or touching a bra, compared with touching a t-shirt.
“We contribute to the literature by showing that the assumption that women do not respond to sexual cues when making economic decisions is incorrect,” the researchers concluded.
What explains these effects on behaviour? Festjens and her colleagues believe that the touch of men’s boxer shorts has sexual connotations that triggers the general reward circuitry in the women’s brains – hence their subsequent risk-taking and willingness to pay more for other rewards. For men, a similar, yet broader, process is triggered by the sight or touch of stimuli with sexual connotations. “We call upon further research to investigate the gender-specific sensitivity to sexual cues and their effects,” the researchers said.
Anouk Festjens, Sabrina Bruyneel, and Siegfried Dewitte (2013). What a feeling! Touching sexually laden stimuli makes women seek rewards. Journal of Consumer Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jcps.2013.10.001
*The sexual orientation of the women in the first two studies was not specified.