It turns out your measured reasoning on economic matters may be thrown off by fondling those Fruit of the Looms.
That’s the conclusion of a newly published study, which partially deflates one argument for the superiority of women.
Plenty of previous research has found the mere thought of sex can alter men’s attitudes and behaviors, often in unwelcome ways. This has inspired countless commentaries to the effect that males are at the mercy of one particular organ.
While confirming that truism, this research suggests sexual cues can also impact women’s financial choices. The difference is that females resonate to tactile cues rather than visual ones.
“The assumption that women do not respond to sexual cues when making economic decisions is incorrect,” writes a research team at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Flanders, Belgium. The researchers, led by doctoral candidate Anouk Festjens, discuss their results in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
They describe three experiments, the first of which featured 42 female students who were told they were judging the attractiveness of several items of clothing. Half examined a T-shirt, while the others checked out a pair of boxer shorts. In each case, they touched and held the item, ostensibly to evaluate its softness and comfort.
After handling either the shorts (which are associated with male sexuality) or shirt (which has no such association), they completed a survey designed to gauge their willingness to postpone immediate economic gratification for a bigger payoff later.
The results: "Touching a pair of boxer shorts heightened women’s preference for immediate monetary rewards."
A second experiment, using the same procedure, found exposure to a sexual cue (the boxer shorts) “makes women less loss-averse”—that is to say, more willing to take economic risks.
The final experiment featured 68 male and 73 female students, who were similarly asked to evaluate items of clothing, some of which connote sexuality.
Men rated either a T-shirt or a bra, while women evaluated either a T-shirt or the aforementioned boxers. Among those looking at the sexually tinged items, half could touch the undergarment in question, while the others simply looked at it.
They then were presented with a list of consumer items and asked their willingness to pay for each. The items were grouped into two categories: “reward products” (wine and chocolates) and neutral ones (including a chair and a computer mouse).
The women who touched the boxer shorts were willing to pay significantly more for the wine and chocolate, compared to fellow females who merely looked at them (or those who physically touched the T-shirt).
The men, meanwhile, were willing to pay significantly more for all of the items if they had touched the bra. Indeed, their willingness to part with their money was marginally higher even if they simply looked at the bra.
All in all, the sex-on-the-brain effect was stronger for men, but it was also found among women—or at least those who had put their hands on the item in question. “The affective meaning of a message or a product seems to be transmitted efficiently when it is touched,” the researchers write.
All of this confirms that the idea of sex leads males to take bigger risks in the economic realm (perhaps, the researchers write, “to show off their wealth” to potential mates). But it appears women are susceptible to this impulse as well—if the stimulus involved is tactile.
So, ladies, look, but don't touch, Your bank balance may be at stake.