Ain’t no mountain high, ain’t no valley low, ain’t no river wiiiide enough — to keep a guy from impressing a gal. New research suggests men are much more likely to take risks when there’s a possibility of romance, but the same finding doesn’t apply to women.
What’s the Deal?
In four separate experiments, researchers tested undergrads’ willingness to engage in different kinds of risky behavior, such as having unprotected sex, gambling, or driving recklessly.
The key was that some participants were primed with a “mating cue,” for example looking at photos of attractive members of the opposite sex and imagining going on a date with them. (In the first experiment, all participants indicated they were heterosexual; the study does not include these details about the other experiments.) The rest of the participants looked at photos of a street with buildings (sexy!) and were asked to imagine being on that street.
In every single experiment, the mating cue made guys a lot more likely to take risks. For ladies, however, the mating cue didn’t really matter in terms of their willingness to engage in risky behavior. The study authors suggest that one effect of men’s risk-taking is to improve their reputation and have a better shot of landing a partner.
Is It Legit?
Probably. The guy lifting way too much weight at the gym to impress the girl on the treadmill next door isn’t just a stereotype — it’s science. While men are more likely to take risks in the first place, a bunch of studies have found they’re a lot more inclined to try out that wild new move on the bike when there’s a lady present Age and gender differences in risk-taking behaviour as an explanation for high incidence of motor vehicle crashes as a driver in young males. Turner, C., McClure, R. School of Population Health, Mayne Medical School, University of Queensland, Herston, Queensland, Australia. Injury Control and Safety Promotion 2003 Sep;10(3):123-30.. Even when men are just primed to think about a woman (and seriously, when are they not thinking about a woman?), they become a lot more willing to take risks.
And even though those ladies may laugh when the guy goes tumbling off the bike, studies have found women actually tend to prefer risk-prone males who at least act brave and heroic. Researchers suggest that risky behavior may be a kind of reproductive strategy for men — a way to attract admiring female eyes and increase the possibility of mating.
That said, the authors behind this study acknowledge that their research has a number of limitations. For one thing, researchers relied on self-reports and asked people to only imagine risks they might take. It’s also worth noting that the study involved a college population, which the authors say is the age group that tends to exhibit the greatest gender difference in risk-taking behavior. Beyond that, all the participants were presumed to be heterosexual, which could have skewed or misrepresented the sample.
Still, just be careful on Valentine’s Day, especially if you’re trying to impress someone!
Have you noticed guys are more willing to take risks when they’ve got romance on the brain? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author at @ShanaDLebowitz.