Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Our results show that body patterns corresponding to different moral violations are felt in different regions of the body depending on whether individuals are classified as liberals or conservatives

Body Maps of Moral Concerns. Mohammad Atari, Aida Mostafazadeh Davani, Morteza Dehghani. Psychological Science, January 8, 2020.

Abstract: It has been proposed that somatosensory reaction to varied social circumstances results in feelings (i.e., conscious emotional experiences). Here, we present two preregistered studies in which we examined the topographical maps of somatosensory reactions associated with violations of different moral concerns. Specifically, participants in Study 1 (N = 596) were randomly assigned to respond to scenarios involving various moral violations and were asked to draw key aspects of their subjective somatosensory experience on two 48,954-pixel silhouettes. Our results show that body patterns corresponding to different moral violations are felt in different regions of the body depending on whether individuals are classified as liberals or conservatives. We also investigated how individual differences in moral concerns relate to body maps of moral violations. Finally, we used natural-language processing to predict activation in body parts on the basis of the semantic representation of textual stimuli. We replicated these findings in a nationally representative sample in Study 2 (N = 300). Overall, our findings shed light on the complex relationships between moral processes and somatosensory experiences.

Keywords: emotion, feeling, morality, moral-foundations theory, natural-language processing, open data, open materials, preregistered

Our cultural prioritization of penile-vaginal intercourse over more clitorally focused sexual activities is linked to the gendered orgasm gap

Orgasm Equality: Scientific Findings and Societal Implications. Elizabeth A. Mahar, Laurie B. Mintz & Brianna M. Akers. Current Sexual Health Reports, Jan 8 2020.

Purpose of Review: Studies have consistently found that there is a gendered orgasm gap, with men experiencing orgasm more frequently than women in heterosexual sexual encounters. This literature review aims to highlight the current state of research on orgasm equality and to explore the reasons underlying this orgasm gap.

Recent Findings: Our review of recently published studies indicates that the gendered orgasm gap still exists today. Additionally, these studies underscore how sociocultural factors can contribute to the differences in reported orgasm frequency between men and women in heterosexual encounters.

Summary: This review suggests that our cultural prioritization of penile-vaginal intercourse over more clitorally focused sexual activities is linked to the gendered orgasm gap. Additional related contributing sociocultural factors may include women’s lack of entitlement to partnered sexual pleasure, societal scripts about masculinity, and women’s cognitive distractions during partnered sex. Recommendations to increase orgasm equality are discussed.

Sociocultural Explanations for the Gendered Orgasm Gap

In all sexual contexts in which women have the most orgasms
(e.g., masturbation, relationship sex, sex with other women),
there tends to be greater focus on clitoral stimulation.
Research finds that when women masturbate the vast majority
stimulate their clitoris, either alone or coupled with penetration [22, 29, 30]. Additionally, in casual sex, women receive
less oral sex and other forms of clitoral stimulation than they
do in relationship sex [31]. Finally, one study found that women in same-sex relationships reported more frequent orgasms
resulting from their partners’ stimulation of their clitoris and
from oral sex than women in heterosexual relationships [32•].
In short, these findings suggest that a likely reason for the
gendered orgasm gap is that during heterosexual sexual encounters, many women are not getting the clitoral stimulation
they may need to orgasm [19]. This lack of clitoral stimulation
has been theorized to be linked to several underlying cultural
factors including our cultural overvaluing of intercourse,
women’s lack of entitlement to sexual pleasure, a conflation
of penetration-based orgasms and masculinity, and our lacking
sex education system.

Cultural Overvaluing of Intercourse

Scholars have implicated our cultural devaluing of women’s
sexual pleasure and clitoral stimulation, and parallel
overvaluing of men’s sexual pleasure and intercourse to underlie the orgasm gap (e.g., [2, 33]). This overvaluing of intercourse is reflected in what has been termed our current
cultural script for heterosexual sex, which proceeds as follows: foreplay (just to get the woman ready for intercourse),
intercourse, male orgasm, and sex over [18, 33, 34]. In this
scenario, the man is responsible to give the woman an orgasm
during intercourse giving by lasting long and thrusting hard
This cultural prioritization of intercourse is reflected and
perpetuated in our language and media. We use the words sex
and intercourse5 as if they were one and the same and relegate
everything before to “foreplay,” implying it is a lesser form of
sex than intercourse [35]. Recent studies indicate that media
images of heterosexual sex generally portray women
orgasming from intercourse alone, if they orgasm at all. To
illustrate, content analyses of pornography indicate that the
orgasm gap is reflected there, with only about 17–18% of
women in comparison to 76–78% of men shown to reach
orgasm, and most of women’s orgasms shown to be achieved
through vaginal or anal intercourse [36, 37]. One recent study
used content analysis to code PornHub’s 50 most viewed
videos of all time and found that in the videos where women
are shown reaching orgasm, only 25% of the orgasms involve
some form of direct or indirect clitoral stimulation [36].
Additional evidence of media emphasizing intercourse is a
study that textually analyzed top articles from Men’s Health,
a popular men’s magazine, and discovered a focus on female
orgasms achieved through vaginal penetration [38]. Even in
instances where these articles encouraged sexual variety, they
spoke of variety almost exclusively in terms of intercourse
positions [38]. Such popular press advice runs counter not
only to research that indicates that most women do not orgasm
from penetration alone, but also to findings that combining
intercourse with other more clitorally focused sexual activities
during partnered sex is associated with women’s increased
3 orgasm frequency [9•, 39]. For example, one study found that Shirazi et al. [26] demonstrated that the way questions are phrased regarding
the occurrence of orgasm during intercourse modulates women’s reported
frequency of such orgasms, with the highest rate of orgasm reported when
the question specifies that intercourse include concurrent clitoral stimulation
and the lowest rate of orgasm reported when the question specifies no such
concurrent stimulation, with a mid-range rate found when this was left
4 In this convenience sample, 19% said they rarely if ever orgasmed with a
5 Given our cultural usage of the words sex and intercourse as equivalent,
research asking about women’s orgasms during “sex” could lead to lower
reports of orgasms than actually occur during partnered sexual activity because
many heterosexual women exclude activities that are associated with increased
likelihood of orgasm (e.g., receiving oral sex) from their personal definitions of
sex [9•, 35]. Researchers are thus advised to use precise wording in their
studies of orgasm.
women report more frequent orgasms if their sexual encounters include deep kissing, manual genital stimulation, and/or
oral sex in addition to intercourse [9•].

Women’s Lack of Entitlement to Sexual Pleasure

Research suggests that women may set the bar for satisfactory
sex quite low—specifically, the absence of pain and degradation rather than as the presence of pleasure and orgasm [40].
Indeed, research finds that many heterosexual women express
going into partnered sexual activity expecting not to orgasm
[41] and valuing their partners’ orgasms more than their own
[42, 43]. In fact, when women report on their sexual satisfaction, these reports often reflect their perception of their partners’ sexual satisfaction rather than their own [44, 45].
Women prioritizing providing their partners—rather than
themselves—pleasure during sexual encounters has been connected with them feeling less entitled to sexual pleasure and
also less likely to communicate to their partners how they need
to be stimulated in order to orgasm, two factors positively
associated with reaching orgasm in the research literature
[9•, 11, 46, 47].
Women’s lack of entitlement to sexual pleasure may be
especially pronounced during casual sex. One qualitative study
[31] found a double standard in which both men and women
question women’s (but not men’s) entitlement to pleasure in
hookups, while believing strongly in women’s (as well as
men’s) entitlement to pleasure during relationship sex. This
sexual double standard seems to translate directly to behaviors
focused on clitoral stimulation. A large-scale study [15] found
that “men are more likely to engage in cunnilingus—a practice
strongly associated with women’s orgasm—in relationships
than in hookups. In contrast, women engage in fellatio at high
rates across all contexts” (p. 362). Relatedly, another practice
strongly related to women’s orgasms—clitoral self-stimulation
during intercourse—was found to be more common in relationship sex than in casual sex. According to the authors, these
findings suggest that the orgasm gap is larger in casual sex
because women are less likely to feel entitled to seek their
own sexual pleasure and men are less motivated men to provide their partners with pleasure, with both resulting in less
clitoral stimulation for women.

Conflation of Penetration-Based Orgasms and Masculinity

While studies on casual sex [15, 31] position men as not
caring about women’s pleasure, other findings suggest that
men care deeply about women’s pleasure—although they
may be misguided about how to provide that pleasure. As
detailed above, our cultural script gives men responsibility
for “giving” women orgasms by lasting long and thrusting
hard [38]. A qualitative study found that men often felt distressed and sometimes emasculated when their female partner
does not orgasm [48]. Similarly, a recent vignette study found
that men reporting having higher sexual self-esteem and feeling more masculine when they imagined that their partner
orgasmed during sex versus imagining that she did not [49].
The female partner that the men were instructed to imagine
was an attractive woman that they had had sex three times
with, so neither a first-time hookup nor a relationship partner.
Whether and how men’s feelings of masculinity would change
when imagining differing types of partners (e.g., first time
hookup, girlfriend) is an empirical question awaiting study
and could shed light on the seemingly contradictory findings
that men do not care about women’s pleasure during hookups
and findings that men care so deeply about women’s orgasms
that they see “giving” one to be a reflection of their manhood.
Regardless of the results of such future research, existing
research indicates that women are expected to protect men’s
egos by orgasming during intercourse. One qualitative study
[28] found that female participants reported being concerned
that it would hurt the male partner’s ego if they did not have an
intercourse-based orgasm. The women in this study also believed that asking their partners for clitoral stimulation would
hurt their partners’ feelings. Given such findings, it is no wonder that a majority of women report having faked an orgasm
during intercourse, with some of the most common reasons for
faking being to protect their partners’ egos and to give their
partners pleasure [28, 34, 50]. Women also report faking orgasms to avoid appearing abnormal, because they, too, believe
they should be orgasm from intercourse alone [34]. A qualitative study found that women report feeling abnormal or
dysfunctional when they do not orgasm during penilevaginal intercourse [45].
In sum, several deeply intertwined sociocultural factors
related to expectations of female orgasm during intercourse
are linked to the gendered orgasm gap. Nevertheless, additional sociocultural factors have been implicated in women’s comparatively lower rate of orgasm when compared to men.

Additional Sociocultural Factors

Two additional cultural factors that may underlie the orgasm
gap are women’s cognitive distraction during sexual encounters and our lacking sex education system. Regarding the latter, the United States’sex education system often presents sex
as dangerous rather than pleasurable and particularly fails to
cover women’s sexual pleasure by excluding mention of
women’s external genital anatomy or women’s orgasms [20,
51, 52].
Women also report higher levels of both overall cognitive
distractions and appearance-focused cognitive distractions
during sexual activity than men [53] and these cognitive distractions are linked to lower levels of sexual satisfaction [54]
and orgasm [55]. One specific area of appearance-focused
cognitive distraction is women’s genital self-image, with
women’s positive feelings towards their genitals associated
with sexual satisfaction and enhanced orgasmic capacity with
a partner [56, 57]. Another common focus of cognitive distraction (for both women and men) is performance anxiety,
including worries about pleasing one’s partner and about if
one is going to orgasm. While for men, there is often concern
about orgasming too quickly, for women, the concern often
focused on taking too long to orgasm [24]. Regardless of the
content of the performance-based worry, there is evidence that
mindfulness, an approach characterized by “acceptance and
non-judgment of the present moment,” may enhance women’s
orgasmic capacity by decreasing cognitive distractions, such
as concerns about appearance or performance, during sexual
activity (p. 418) [58]. Mindfulness is useful in taking the focus
away from a performance-oriented view of sex and placing the
focus on pleasure and eroticism. Indeed, despite the focus of
this review on the gendered orgasm gap, it is essential to
underscore that pressure to achieve orgasm is linked to stress
in women [50] and that pressure to achieve orgasm (for both
women and men) makes orgasm less likely, given that orgasm
is often the result of a pleasuring/eroticism process rather than
a performance imperative [33]. Additionally, women differ
greatly in how important orgasm is to their sexual satisfaction
[24]. Thus, prior to turning to strategies to close the orgasm
gap, it is important to examine the issue of the importance of
orgasm to women’s sexual satisfaction.

How Important Is Orgasm to Women’s Sexual Satisfaction?

As detailed in a seminal review article [24], women differ
greatly in how important orgasm is to their sexual satisfaction.
Such individual differences may also be reflected in seemingly contradictory research findings, with some research finding
that many women report feeling sexual satisfaction even when
they do not orgasm [50] and other research reporting that
women’s orgasms are associated with increased sexual satisfaction and positive outcomes [10, 13, 31]. While we do not
dispute either set of findings, we also acknowledge that it is
difficult to separate the importance women place on their own
orgasms from the sociocultural factors that underlie the gendered orgasm gap. To explain, given our cultural scripts that
prioritize penetrative sex, when women are unable to reliably
orgasm through this method of stimulation, they may come
not to expect orgasms [41] and—as a way of reducing feelings
of abnormality—come to view their own orgasm as unimportant [59]. Potentially bolstering this view is the finding that
both men [44] and lesbian women are more likely than heterosexual women to include orgasm as a metric of their
partnered sexual pleasure [41, 46]. In other words, those most
likely to orgasm during partnered sexual encounters due to
being less negatively affected by the prioritization of intercourse are those most likely to view orgasm as most
important. While we are not suggesting that orgasm be set as
an imperative goal to achieve, that orgasm must be equally
important to all women, or that that every sexual encounter
needs to be completely synchronous (i.e., equally pleasurable
and orgasmic for both partners), consistent and robust research
findings concerning a gendered orgasm gap points to an underlying societal issue to be addressed.

Recommendations for Closing the Orgasm Gap

Given that sociocultural factors have been implicated in the
orgasm gap, it is likely that sociocultural interventions could
prove useful in closing the gap. In the conclusion of a recent
study on women’s pursuit of orgasm, it was proposed that an
effective societal intervention may be simply to “acknowledge
that broad claims about women’s biological capacity for orgasm are facile” (p. 8) [18]. Additionally, societal-level advocacy work aimed at women and men promoting clitoral
knowledge and the equal valuing of women’s and men’s most
reliable routes to orgasm will be useful.
Nevertheless, such awareness raising alone is likely insufficient, given that one study found that teaching women about
their clitoris is linked to orgasm frequency during masturbation but not during sex with a partner [2]. Instead, the most
empirically supported technique for women struggling with
orgasm concerns is to direct them to figure out what type of
clitoral stimulation they need via masturbation and then to
help them transfer this type of stimulation to partner sex or
in other words, helping them to engage in sexual behaviors in
which they get the same type of stimulation alone as with a
partner [33]. For women to get the same sexual stimulation
alone as with a partner entails replacing our current cultural
script for sex (i.e., foreplay, intercourse, male orgasm, sex
over) with turn-taking scripts (e.g., oral sex during which the
female orgasms followed by intercourse during which the
male orgasms; stimulation of the clitoris to prepare the woman
for intercourse, followed by intercourse during which the male
orgasms, then followed by vibrator stimulation during which
the woman orgasms) or scripts where penetration is consistently paired with clitoral stimulation (e.g., via an intercourse
position which provides clitoral stimulation to the women;
using a hand or a vibrator during intercourse). The underlying
strategy in teaching individuals to utilize such new scripts is
consistent with research finding that women are most orgasmic when including a variety of activities (e.g., oral sex, manual stimulation, intercourse) in their sexual encounter [9•]. In
short, closing the orgasm gap will require teaching women
and their male partners specific skills and methods with which
to apply clitoral knowledge to their sexual encounters [60].
Three recent studies show that this method holds promise.
One study found that undergraduate women who took a
Human Sexuality course covering topics such as women’s
genital anatomy and pleasure, cultural factors underlying the
orgasm gap, and evidence-based methods to enhance
women’s orgasm (e.g., mindfulness, masturbation training
with transfer to partner sex via sexual communication and
new sexual scripts) showed improvements on measures of
sexual functioning, including attitudes towards women’s genitals, cognitive distraction during sexual activity, and entitlement to pleasure when compared to students who took quasicontrol courses [61]. Another study found that women who
read a book (Becoming Cliterate [19]) combining feminist
analysis of the cultural reasons for the orgasm gap and the
same evidence-based methods to enhance women’s orgasm
improved on multiple measures of sexual well-being, including orgasm [62]. Finally, another study [63] found that men
who read a summary chapter aimed at male readers of this
same book (Becoming Cliterate [19]) showed improvement
on clitoral knowledge, sexual communication, dysfunctional
beliefs about women’s sexual satisfaction, and dysfunctional
beliefs conflating masculinity and sexual performance.
Additional interventions aimed at both women and men to
close the orgasm gap should continue to be developed and
empirically evaluated.
Importantly, such future interventions and research
should be more inclusive of individuals who are transgender or non-binary. We could locate only one study on orgasm frequency not exclusively focused on cisgender individuals. This study found that cisgender women in relationships with cisgender women orgasmed more than both
cisgender women in relationships with cisgender men and
individuals in relationships that include one or more transgender or non-binary partners [64]. Additional work should explore how the orgasm gap affects gender minority
individuals and aid in developing inclusive interventions
for these individuals.

Human self-domestication was done with sociosexual selection for dampened reactive aggression

Masculinity and the Mechanisms of Human Self-Domestication. Ben Thomas Gleeson. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, Jan 6 2020.

Objectives: Pre-historic decline in human craniofacial masculinity has been proposed as evidence of selection against reactive aggression and a process of ‘human self-domestication’ thought to have promoted complex capacities including language, culture, and cumulative technological development. This follows observations of similar morphological changes in non-human animals under selection for reduced aggression. Two distinct domestication hypotheses posit developmental explanations; involving dampened migration of embryonic neural crest cells (NCCs), and declining androgen influences, respectively. Here, I assess the operation and potential interaction of these two mechanisms and consider their role in human adaptation to a cooperative sociocultural niche.

Methods: I provide a review and synthesis of related literature with a focus on physiological mechanisms affecting domesticated reductions in masculinity and sexual dimorphism. Further, I examine several modes of pre-historic sociosexual selection against aggressive reactivity which are proposed to have driven human self-domestication.

Results: I show that pluripotent NCCs provide progenitors for a wide range of vertebrate masculine features, acting as regular targets for sexually driven evolutionary change. This suggests hypoplasia of NCC-derived tissues due to dampened NCC migration is sufficient to explain declines in lineage specific masculine traits and features under domestication. However, lineage-specific androgen receptor variability likely moderates hypoplasia in NCC-derived tissues, and may influence NCC migration, though this latter influence requires further investigation.

Conclusions: These findings synthesise and extend theorised physiological mechanisms of domestication and human self-domestication. Self-domestication under sociosexual selection for dampened reactive aggression and correlated masculine physiology enabled human adaptation to an increasingly complex sociocultural niche. The analysis highlights several avenues for further productive investigation.

Rising individualism and emancipative values, as an outcome of modernization, diminish the importance of religious faith for people’s happiness, while increasing the importance of a feeling of life control

Cultural Evolution Shifts the Source of Happiness from Religion to Subjective Freedom. Michael Minkov, Christian Welzel & Michael Schachner. Journal of Happiness Studies, Jan 8 2020.

Abstract: Numerous studies have reported a positive individual-level association between happiness and two psychologically distinct states of mind: religious faith and subjective freedom (a feeling of life control). Although the strength of these relationships varies across countries, no general pattern driving this variation has been shown so far. After surveying 40,534 randomly selected respondents from 43 nations, we find that in countries where happiness is more closely related to religious faith, it is less strongly associated with subjective freedom, and vice versa. We have also identified the driving force behind this inverse relationship. Rising individualism and emancipative values, as an outcome of modernization, diminish the importance of religious faith for people’s happiness, while increasing the importance of subjective freedom. We conclude that the dominant emancipatory direction of cultural evolution favors freedom over religion.

An Initial Test of the Cosmetics Dehumanization Hypothesis: Heavy Makeup Diminishes Attributions of Humanness-Related Traits to Women

An Initial Test of the Cosmetics Dehumanization Hypothesis: Heavy Makeup Diminishes Attributions of Humanness-Related Traits to Women. Philippe Bernard, Joanne Content, Lara Servais, Robin Wollast & Sarah Gervais. Sex Roles, January 8 2020.

Abstract: Objectification theory suggests that sexualization has significant dehumanizing consequences for how perceivers see women. To date, research has mostly documented how sexualized bodies in the mass media are objectified and dehumanized. The purpose of the present work was to test the novel cosmetics dehumanization hypothesis (CDH), that is, that subtler manifestations of sexualization, such as heavy makeup, might influence the way people attribute humanness-related traits to women. Across four experiments, 1000 participants (mostly from the United Kingdom and United States) were asked to evaluate women’s faces with or without heavy makeup. Consistent with the CDH, results showed that faces with makeup were rated as less human while using complementary indicators of dehumanization: They were perceived as possessing less humanness, less agency, less experience (Experiment 1), less competence, less warmth, and less morality (Experiments 2–4) than faces without makeup. This pattern of results was observed for faces of both models (Experiments 1–2) and ordinary women (Experiments 3–4). In Experiment 4, we manipulated the part of the face that wore makeup (eye makeup vs. lipstick) and found that faces with eye makeup were attributed the least amount of warmth and competence. A meta-analysis based on Experiments 2–4 confirmed the robustness of the findings, which were not moderated by either participant gender or sexual orientation. Whereas prior studies suggested that a focus on faces may serve as an antidote for objectification and related dehumanization, the present set of experiments indicates that this strategy might not always be effective.

The green mate appeal: Men's pro‐environmental consumption is an honest signal of commitment to their partner

The green mate appeal: Men's pro‐environmental consumption is an honest signal of commitment to their partner. Sylvie Borau, Leila Elgaaied‐Gambier, Camilla Barbarossa. Psychology & Marketing, January 7 2020.

Abstract: Green consumption is associated with femininity. This green‐feminine stereotype has been accused of deterring men from buying green products to protect their gender identity. Here, we investigate whether men can benefit from this green‐feminine stereotype, beyond the status effect of green conspicuous consumption. We propose that green consumption can act as a signal of altruism and high commitment both as a partner and as a father. Based on evidence showing that these traits are sought in a long‐term partner, we predict that men can increase their value as long‐term mates by engaging in green consumption. We also investigate whether men involved in a long‐term mating relationship are indeed eco‐friendlier, testing the novel hypothesis that green consumption is an honest signal of commitment. Finally, we specify the type of commitment that is associated with men's green consumption. Across six studies, our findings suggest that green consumption is an honest signal of men's long‐term mating value and that it is a more reliable sign of partner commitment than of father commitment. We discuss how companies and governments can use these findings to increase green consumption among men.

Although appearing nervous and awkward during an initial encounter with an attractive other may seem counterproductive for future mating success, the reaction may have potential adaptive value

Perceived Nervous Reactions during Initial Attraction and Their Potential Adaptive Value. Susan M. Hughes, Marissa A. Harrison & Kathleen M. de Haan. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, Jan 7 2020.

Objective: We sought to examine perceived nervous reactions when first interacting with a particularly attractive person/potential romantic partner. From a theoretical standpoint, we cogitate on the possible adaptive nature of these reactions that appear seemingly counterproductive for future mating success.

Methods: We documented 280 participants’ retrospective self-reports of experiencing a variety of physiological, vocal, and behavioral reactions during an initial encounter with a person they found highly attractive. We also asked participants to rate the reactions of others that they used to determine if another person was attracted to them.

Results: Participants reported most frequently experiencing increased attentiveness, smiling, staring, heart rate, giggling/laughter, blushing, and difficulty concentrating during this first encounter. Both sexes reported speaking faster and being less able to express themselves clearly, and women reported using a higher pitch and having a more unsteady tone of voice during an initial encounter of attraction. Further, participants reported observing similar nervous reactions by others whom they perceived were attracted to them. These findings were examined while considering individual differences in sociosexual orientation (i.e., propensity toward uncommitted sex), self-perceived mate value, empathy, and gender.

Conclusions: Participants reported that they did, indeed, experience a cluster of anxiety-related physiological and behavioral reactions during an initial encounter with someone they found highly attractive. Although appearing nervous and awkward during an initial encounter with an attractive other may seem counterproductive for future mating success, we discuss potential adaptive functions for displaying these responses.

Reasons why Nervous Responses during Initial Attraction May be Adaptive

Whereas it was our aim to document the cluster of nervous reactions upon initial
encounter, it is of interest to explore the adaptive function of these physiological
responses reported in this study. At first glance, it would not appear adaptive for
someone to display nervous reactions during an initial encounter with an attractive,
potential mate. These reactions may make an individual seem awkward, clumsy,
ignorant, and uncomfortable and may deter one from considering that person as a
potential mate. Even though these reactions seem counterproductive for future mating
success, our data show that people report they are prevalent. Because the reproductive
consequences of a behavior affect the incidence of that behavior in subsequent
generations, this cluster of nervous signs may serve some adaptive function. Below we
present six possible adaptive reasons why nervous reactions during an initial encounter
with a potential mate are common.

Strong, Honest Sign of Mate Interest

These nervous reactions may serve an adaptive
function of being a salient signal of reproductive interest. In particular, attraction/
romantic interest can be easily distinguished through vocal tones (Hughes et al.,
2010). It may be difficult to mask anxious reactions during this encounter. Particularly
for men, because nervousness can cause problems with cognitive performance
(Karremans et al., 2009; Sarason, 1984), nervousness may make it more difficult for
a man to disguise his true feelings and display phony traits during an initial encounter.
Therefore, these reactions may serve as an honest signal of interest when in the
presence of a potential mate. It is also adaptive to attend to cues of romantic interest
to either avoid or engage in expending energy on individuals who may or may not be
interested or available (Bendixen et al., 2019; Floyd, Judd, & Hesse, 2008).
Both male and female participants indeed reported experiencing several physiological and behavioral reactions when first talking in person to someone whom they found
highly attractive and deem a potential romantic partner. Although the documented
responses occur typically under conditions of “fight or flight” (Marks & Neese, 1994),
we argue that this cluster of signals can be thought of as a psychobiological signature of
honest interest, and these reactions in the presence of a potential mate may serve an
adaptive function of signaling reproductive interest, enhancing the chances of obtaining
a desired mate. Given that our sample was a good representation of peak reproductive
years (a mean of 29.1 with a standard deviation of 12.7 years; Dunson, Baird, &
Colombo, 2004), our participants likely had an increased opportunity to experience
these reactions during initial attraction compared to younger, traditional, college-age
samples typically recruited in other research.

Trigger Reciprocal Feelings

Signs of romantic interest often trigger reciprocal feelings
(Kenny & La Voie, 1982; Montoya & Insko, 2008), and as reported by our participants,
people use these nervous reactions to assess whether another person is attracted to
them. Research shows that when one is made aware that a person is attracted to them,
they become more attracted to that person; but people need to be aware of other’s
feelings toward them for strong reciprocal liking to occur (Luo & Zhang, 2009).
Noticing reciprocation of interest would be particularly advantageous so as to decrease
the chances of missing a mating opportunity and avoid the risk of being rejected.
More Effective Communication Research has shown that when put in a stressful
situation, some aspects speech quality decreases such that speech fluency (as measured
by pause time) is significantly reduced and the frequency of flustered speech increases
(Buchanan, Laures-Gore, & Duff, 2014; Kasl & Mahl, 1965). However, several other
aspects of speech quality are actually enhanced during stressful situations, perhaps
unbeknownst to the speaker. For instance, under instances of stress, communication
rate (words per minute) increases, productive language (ratio of productive to nonproductive speech) increases (which is particularly pronounced during the early part of a
speech task), the use of non-fluencies (such as hmm, uh, um, etc.) is less likely, and
word-finding difficulties do not seem to impair speech (Buchanan et al., 2014). Thus, it
can be argued that when a person becomes anxious when first speaking to someone to
whom they are attracted, their semantic communication is essentially more effective.
We also found that women reported raising the pitch of their voice, which may have
made them sound more attractive. Thus, these speech patterns that occur under the
stress of an initial interaction may actually enhance the chances of impressing and
attaining the desired mate.

Indication of Desirable Traits Associated with those Who Exhibit Nervous Behavior

Anxious individuals have been shown to be more adept at conveying positive
qualities and appeared more willing to engage; they appeared nicer, more interesting,
and more conversational, all of which could increase their desirability (Brumbaugh &
Fraley, 2010). A person who exhibits nervous reactions during initial attraction could
serve as an indication to a potential mate (particularly women) that the suitor possesses
other personality traits that would be favorable in long-term relationships and for future
parenting such as being sensitive, caring, and responsive.
People generally like those who are more facially expressive, and it is seen
as more attractive (Sabatelli & Rubin, 1986). As such, people show greater
facial movement during high versus low anxiety situations (Harrigan &
O’Connell, 1996), and nonverbal expressiveness positively impacts interpersonal
perceptions (Sabatelli & Rubin, 1986). Having a more expressive nature, including displaying nervousness, could also demonstrate other positive characteristics that people find attractive (Sabatelli & Rubin, 1986). In fact, nonverbal
expressiveness could even compensate for a lack of physical attractiveness and
may enhance initial interpersonal impressions so as to allow the person to
appear more attractive (Sabetelli & Rubin, 1986). Along these lines, previous
research has shown that men were more likely to be accepted as a potential
romantic partner during a speed-dating event when they arrived with elevated
levels of the stress hormone, cortisol (van der Meij et al., 2019) suggesting that
being nervous may have its advantages.

Sweating Allows for the Release of Pheromones

Nervously sweating during an initial encounter with an attractive, potential mate may increase the release of pheromones
which can serve as a chemical signal of attraction to the recipient (Saxton et al., 2008).
When individuals become anxious, they tend to show increased palmar sweat (Kasl &
Mahl, 1965) and body perspiration (Galassi et al., 1981) and there is evidence to
suggest that human pheromones are released through these axillary sweat glands (Beier,
Ginez, & Schaller, 2005). Pheromones signal sexual readiness in other species and
likely do so in humans (Thornhill, Chapman, & Gangestad, 2013) and can affect
perceptions of attraction in humans (Rantala, Eriksson, Vainikka, & Kortet, 2006;
Thornhill & Gangestad, 1999; Wyart et al., 2007). For instance, women who were
exposed to androstadienone, a purported male pheromone released by axillary sweat
glands, gave men at a speed dating event higher attractiveness ratings than did women
with no exposure (Saxton, Lyndon, Little, & Roberts, 2008). Exposure to
androstadienone appears to increase sexual response, increase focus, and improve
mood in women (Jacob, Hayreh, & McClintock, 2001; Hummer & McClintock,
2009; Jacob, Garcia, Hayreh, & McClintock, 2002; Verhaeghe, Gheysen, & Enzlin,
2013). Further, release of pheromones has been shown to be valuable for making mate
assessments and can facilitate quick judgments (Hummer & McClintock, 2009;
Thornhill & Gangestad, 1999).
Pheromones may have other direct influences on the recipient. Pheromone exposure
affects skin temperature and conductance (Jacob et al., 2001) and cortisol levels (Wyart
et al., 2007). Thus, it is possible that the recipient could interpret one’s own physiological arousal caused by the pheromone exposure to be the result of their own attraction to
the sender. In addition, there is some evidence from the animal kingdom that pheromones serve to appease conspecifics (Pageat & Gaultier, 2003). Indeed, empathetic
responses to signals in sweat have been documented in humans. Prehn-Kristensen et al.
(2009) found that exposure to sweat from individuals in anxiety-provoking situations
activated areas of the brain related to emotional processing and empathy regulation.
Future studies may explore how pheromones released during this nervous interaction
with a potential mate could influence human opposite-sex conspecifics.

Aid in the Assessment of Matching Mate Value

Mutual nervousness could reveal
matching mate value whereas if only one person is nervous and the other is not, then
this could be a sign of a mismatch in mate value. In other words, whether one, both, or
neither persons of the dyad experiences nervousness when meeting for the first time
could help to differentiate between those who have a matching mate value from those
who are discordant. Individuals generally tend to desire mates with some level of
similarity to themselves and who are of matching social desirability (Berscheid,
Walster, & Walster, 1971; Buston & Emlen, 2003; Figueredo, Sefcek, & Jones,
2006), which often reflects a desire for someone of matching mate value. Back et al.
(2011) argued that knowing one’s own mate value is essential to reproductive to
success. Further, one could view any arousal felt when reciprocating that attention
from a potential mate as a signal of matching mate value.