Ever since interviewing pickup artist Mystery in 2007, I've wondered about the kind of women who fall for his shtick. Is it insecurity, masochism … a fetish for fuzzy top hats?
Now science has answered my question: Women who are charmed by the tactics found in manuals like Neil Strauss' "The Game" are generally either interested in casual sex -- or they're sexist. It turns out the same is also true of the men who use these strategies. For the most part, this means that pickup artist techniques work to pair up like-minds, which seems harmless enough, but it also comes with some worrisome implications, according to lead researcher Jeffrey Hall.
In two different studies -- the first of college students, the second of a national representative sample -- researchers at the University of Kansas analyzed the degree of people's sexist beliefs (more specifically, negative views of women) and interest in no-strings hookups. They compared those results with women's receptiveness to, and men's use of, pickup artist techniques. In particular, they focused in on three of the strategies used by Mystery: Isolating "the target" from her friends, subtly insulting her to lower her sense of self-worth and competing with other males to become "the leader of the pack."
The results make good sense: Women who want a no-strings hookup are attracted to men who clearly broadcast their interest in sex, and ladies who subscribe to negative stereotypes about their own gender will take a liking to aggressively dominant men. (An important caveat: The female subjects self-reported their receptiveness to various flirtation styles described in neutral terms. This is problematic because, as Mystery himself told me four years ago, "What a woman says she wants and what she responds to are two different things.") Conversely, men who simply want to get laid are more likely to turn to the sort of "tricks" found in "The Mystery Method: How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed," and dudes who think of women as sexual gatekeepers or trophies are more likely to treat them as such.
What's especially interesting about this study is that it not only confirms that there are sexist ideas behind pickup artist strategies -- as has often been the criticism -- but it also shows that sexist women are complicit. "Women are not just sexual gatekeepers," he says. "It's not like they're helpless, non-participants in this interaction. Instead, sexist women are essentially choosing sexist men." This is what's called "assortative mating" in social psychology -- basically, people tend to unconsciously filter out dissimilar individuals. "Even though they don’t know that they're using these strategies for these reasons and even though these strategies aren't used because you're inherently trying to show your sexist attitudes, what it essentially does is help sexist people find each other," he says.
It works out pretty well in this case -- except, of course, when a sexist ends up with casual sex seeker. Hall also points out that previous studies have found a link between sexist beliefs and acceptance of date rape and sexual coercion. "People who are sexist are also more likely to engage in dangerous sexual relationships with each other," he says. "So they may be successful in finding each other in courtship but the consequences might be very dangerous."