Saturday, October 16, 2021

374 districts in the UK: Geographic regions with higher aggregate scores on given personality trait collectively spend more money on categories associated with trait (extravert-drinking, agreeable-charity, conscientious-savings; open-transport)

Ebert, T., Götz, F. M., Gladstone, J. J., Müller, S. R., & Matz, S. C. (2021). Spending reflects not only who we are but also who we are around: The joint effects of individual and geographic personality on consumption. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 121(2), 378–393. Oct 2021. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspp0000344

Abstract: Interactionist theories are considered to have resolved the classic person-situation debate by demonstrating that human behavior is most accurately described as a function of both personal characteristics as well as environmental cues. According to these theories, personality traits form part of the personal characteristics that drive behavior. We suggest that psychological theory stands to gain from also considering personality traits as an important environmental characteristic that shapes sociocultural norms and institutions, and, in turn, behavior. Building on research in geographical psychology, we support this proposition by presenting evidence on the relationship of individual and regional personality with spending behavior. Analyzing the spending records of 111,336 participants (31,915,942 unique transactions) across 374 Local Authority Districts (LAD) in the United Kingdom, we first show that geographic regions with higher aggregate scores on a given personality trait collectively spend more money on categories associated with that trait. Shifting the focus to individual level spending as our behavioral outcome (N = 1,716), we further demonstrate that regional personality of a participant’s home LAD predicts individual spending above and beyond individual personality. That is, a person’s spending reflects both their own personality traits as well as the personality traits of the people around them. We use conditional random forest predictions to highlight the robustness of these findings in the presence of a comprehensive set of individual and regional control variables. Taken together, our findings empirically support the proposition that spending behaviors reflect personality traits as both personal and environmental characteristics. 


The parent–daughter relationship, laden with the Confucian value of filial piety, is the major pathway of minority stigma to force Chinese women with same-sex attraction into heterosexual marriage & make female SSA culturally unintelligible

Cultural Unintelligibility and Marital Pressure: A Grounded Theory of Minority Stigma Against Women with Same-Sex Attraction in Mainland China. Tao H. Wei, Lori L. Jervis, Yun Jiang, Kerstin M. Reinschmidt, Lancer D. Stephens, Ying Zhang & Thomas A. Teasdale. Archives of Sexual Behavior, Oct 12 2021. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10508-021-02050-4

Abstract: Minority stigma against sexual minority women and its contributions to these women’s health disparities have been widely investigated in Western countries. By contrast, little has been known about minority stigma against women with same-sex attraction (WSSA) in mainland China. This study aimed at exploring the nature, genesis, and pathways of minority stigma among this rarely studied minority group in terms of China’s unique social and cultural organization of gender and sexuality. A grounded theory approach was applied to 28 participants of Chinese WSSA through in-depth telephone interviews to elicit their views and perspectives anchored in their daily experiences with gender hierarchy and normative heterosexuality. Findings of this study identified marital pressure and cultural unintelligibility as two principal components of minority stigma against Chinese WSSA. A conceptual framework was developed to illustrate how minority stigma relies on the mutually reinforcing loop of martial pressure and culturally unintelligible status of female same-sex attraction to oppress Chinese WSSA within and across intrapersonal, interpersonal, and structural levels. The parent–daughter relationship, laden with the Confucian value of filial piety, was highlighted as the major pathway of minority stigma to force Chinese women with same-sex attraction into heterosexual marriage and make female same-sex attraction culturally unintelligible. These findings lay a foundation for conceptualizing and measuring minority stigma of Chinese WSSA caused by the stigmatization of their same-sex attraction. Moreover, these findings would contribute greatly to understanding how cultural particularities critically affect the local process of stigmatization through which power relations and social control are practiced.




Tendency to laugh negatively predicts conversation enjoyment

Wood, Adrienne, Emma Templeton, Jessica M. Morrel, Frederick T. Schubert, and Thalia Wheatley. 2021. “Tendency to Laugh Is a Stable Trait: Findings from a Round-robin Conversation Study.” PsyArXiv. October 15. doi:10.31234/osf.io/gk9z2

Abstract: Is the tendency to laugh a stable trait? What does the amount of laughter tell us about the personality and state of the producer, and how does their laughter influence the people around them? To answer these questions, we used a round-robin design where participants (N=66) engaged in 10 different conversations with 10 same-gender strangers. This design allowed us to determine state- and trait-level differences in how much people laugh and to isolate different sources of variability in the amount of laughter per conversation. More than half of the variability in the amount a person laughs is attributable to individual differences. This tendency to laugh negatively predicts conversation enjoyment. A smaller amount of variability in the amount people laugh is due to qualities of their conversation partners. Partners who tend to elicit others’ laughter are perceived as more relatable. We examined the personality correlates of laughter and found that less intellectual and less empathically-concerned participants (i.e., nonserious participants) produced and elicited more laughter. In summary, how much a person laughs is not a straightforward function of enjoyment. Instead, it is a behavioral trait associated with being perceived as relatable, supporting laughters’ proposed function of conveying harmless, nonserious intentions.


The New Genetic Evidence on Same-Gender Sexuality: Implications for Sexual Fluidity and Multiple Forms of Sexual Diversity

The New Genetic Evidence on Same-Gender Sexuality: Implications for Sexual Fluidity and Multiple Forms of Sexual Diversity. Lisa M. Diamond. The Journal of Sex Research, Volume 58, 2021 - Issue 7, Feb 23 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2021.1879721

Abstract: In September of 2019, the largest-ever (N = 477,522) genome-wide-association study of same-gender sexuality was published in Science. The primary finding was that multiple genes are significantly associated with ever engaging in same-gender sexual behavior, accounting for between 8–25% of variance in this outcome. Yet an additional finding of this study, which received less attention, has more potential to transform our current understanding of same-gender sexuality: Specifically, the genes associated with ever engaging in same-gender sexual behavior differed from the genes associated with one’s relative proportion of same-gender to other-gender behavior. I review recent research on sexual orientation and sexual fluidity to illustrate how these findings speak to longstanding questions regarding distinctions among subtypes of same-gender sexuality (such as mostly-heterosexuality, bisexuality, and exclusive same-gender experience). I conclude by outlining directions for future research on the multiple causes and correlates of same-gender expression.

Do We Have the Right Categories?

Another avenue for future research involves investigating the degree to which observations of subtypes of same-gender expression and their differing genetic/environmental influences depends on our conceptual framings of gender and sexual orientation. Historically, laypeople and scientists have conceptualized individuals as oriented toward the same gender or the other gender (or both genders), as opposed to being oriented toward women or men (or both). This framing directly affects the type of gender differences we observe. Consider, for example, one of the most robust gender differences in same-gender sexuality: the fact that women show more genital arousal than do men when presented with sexual stimuli depicting their “less-preferred” gender (Chivers & Bailey, 2005; Chivers et al., 20042007). Early work suggested that this “nonspecific” pattern of genital arousal (i.e., arousal that is not specific to one’s preferred gender) characterized all women, but later work showed that nonspecific genital arousal was most pronounced among self-described heterosexual women (reviewed in Chivers, 2017), and scholars have considered a range of social and evolutionary reasons for heterosexual women’s uniqueness in this regard (Chivers, 2017; Diamond, 2017; Kuhle & Radke, 2013).

Yet the definition of heterosexual women as “unique” depends on the classification of sexual stimuli as preferred or non-preferred, according to participants’ self-described patterns of attraction. Within this framework, heterosexual women are unique because they show stronger genital arousal to their non-preferred gender (i.e., women) than do all other groups. But what if we re-classified the sexual stimuli as simply “men” versus “women?” Using this re-classification, exclusively gay men are suddenly the outlier group (Diamond, 2017). Whereas heterosexual women, lesbian women, bisexual women, heterosexual men, and bisexual men all show some degree of genital arousal to sexual stimuli depicting women, gay men do not.

Hence, should we describe heterosexual women’s genital arousal patterns as uniquely “fluid” or gay men’s genital arousal patterns as uniquely “rigid?” How much do these patterns depend on the mechanisms underlying genital versus subjective arousal, given that these mechanisms are distinct (Chivers, 2017), and that concordance between genital and subjective arousal differs for men versus women (Suschinsky et al., 2009)? Furthermore, what is the role of aversion to same-gender versus other-gender stimuli and/or partners (or male versus female stimuli/partners) in shaping subtypes of sexual diversity (see Dehlin et al., 2019; Freund, Langevin, Chamberlayne et al., 1974; Freund, Langevin, Zajac et al., 1974; Jabbour et al., 2020; Safron et al., 2007; Semon et al., 2017)? As reviewed earlier, the Kinsey-type “single continuum” model of sexual orientation (challenged by Ganna et al. 2019) posits exclusive same-gender attractions and exclusive other-gender attractions as polar opposites, but perhaps the true opposite of exclusive same-gender attraction is same-gender aversion or indifference. Models which account for aversion and/or indifference are better suited to including the experiences of asexual individuals (Bogaert et al., 2018; Brotto & Yule, 2017) and those who experience their own attractions as “gender neutral” (Diamond, 2008). Further integration of these nuances into genetically-informed research would make a strong contribution to understanding the nature and development of different forms of sexual diversity.

On this point, it bears noting that a growing body of sexuality researchers now refer to sexual orientations as gynephilic (preferring women), androphilic (preferring men) and biphilic (preferring both genders) rather than “same-gender” and “other-gender” (for example, Antfolk et al., 2017; Chivers, 2017; Huberman & Chivers, 2015; Huberman et al., 2015; Petterson et al., 2018; Semenyna et al., 2017; Skorska & Bogaert, 2020; Snowden et al., 2020; Timmers et al., 2018; Vásquez-Amézquita et al., 2019). There is an intuitive appeal to this approach, given that most individuals describe themselves as desiring aspects of “women” and “men” rather than “sameness” and “otherness.” This approach is also better suited to describing the experiences of transgender and nonbinary individuals, since it focuses on the gender expression of sexual partners without making presumptions about one’s own or one’s partners’ birth-assigned sex/gender. Yet the “same-gender/other-gender” framework represented by the Kinsey scale continues to dominate social scientific research on this topic, perhaps reflecting the cultural dominance of this model of sexual orientation in Western culture (which necessarily feeds back to influence how sexually-diverse individuals come to perceive, understand, and experience their own patterns of eroticism). Certainly, the same-gender/other-gender framing is useful for capturing the fact that heterosexuality is culturally valued and expected, whereas same-gender sexuality is stigmatized and marginalized. The experience of stigma and marginalization is so relevant to the life experiences of individuals with same-gender attractions (and to the likelihood that they will express these attractions) that it seems naive to categorize attractions as “woman-oriented” or “man-oriented” without taking account of which type of attractions are socially permitted versus punished. Yet as we move forward in trying to understand genetic influences on sexuality, we should remain mindful of the extent to which our framing of core constructs (such as same/other versus woman/man) shapes our observations and interpretations.

Questions of Mechanism

Future research on sexual orientation, sexual fluidity, and their genetic/environmental underpinnings may also benefit from closer attention to the full range of conscious and nonconscious processes through which different types of sexual stimuli are attended to, neurologically processed, and responded to (Dickenson et al., 2020; Safron et al., 2007; Safron & Hoffmann, 2017). Such process-oriented work is exemplified by Chivers’s (2017) nuanced and sweeping analysis of the potential contribution of visual attention, implicit and explicit processing, and incentive motivation to heterosexual women’s “nonspecific” patterns of genital arousal. Given that environments fluctuate over the lifespan, whereas genes remain fixed (setting aside for now the complications of epigenetics, Charney, 2012; Ngun & Vilain, 2014; Rice et al., 2012; Richardson & Stevens, 2015), the mechanisms underlying change in sexual experience and expression warrant particularly close study. As reviewed above, sexual fluidity has been defined as a heightened sensitivity to situational change in sexual responsiveness (Diamond, 2008), but this definition leaves unspecified the process through which sexual responsiveness changes at all. There is a growing body of rigorous research on the role of learning and conditioning in human sexual response (Hoffmann, 20122017; Hoffmann, Janssen, & Turner; Klucken et al., 2009), and this work should be more comprehensively integrated into investigations of genetic and environmental influences on same-gender expression.

Of course, the notion of learned or conditioned sexual responses may bring to mind the unfortunate history of behavior-modification approaches to “extinguishing” undesirable sexual impulses (Hoffmann, 2017), which has had particularly harmful effects on sexually-diverse individuals who have been subjected to “conversion” and “reparative” therapies (APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, 2009). Perhaps because of this history, sexual orientation is commonly (if inaccurately) described as fundamentally immutable (Diamond & Rosky, 2016). Yet from a basic developmental perspective, the role of learning and exposure in human and nonhuman sexual development is well established (reviewed in Hoffmann, 20122017). As Hoffman summarized, conditioning is quite simply “a process by which organisms, including humans, learn about the relationship between events. Through conditioning, we can learn to predict events, we can learn signals for biologically significant stimuli, we can learn the value of stimuli, and we can learn the consequences of our actions. Hence, sexual conditioning can prepare us to respond sexually and can contribute to our erotic preferences and to how we behave sexually” (Hoffmann, 2017, p. 2213).

Positing a role for learning and experience in the expression of same-gender sexuality does not invalidate the notion of genetically influenced sexual predispositions. Rather, drawing from Freund and Blanchard (1993), we might think of genetic influences as differential sensitivities to certain classes of reproductively-relevant stimuli (in this case, “man/woman” may prove a more relevant classification scheme than “other-gender/same-gender”), and our experiences interact with and elaborate these sensitivities to produce consistent – albeit not rigidly static – patterns of desire. Notably, learning and conditioning played an important role in Kinsey’s understanding of same-gender sexuality. As reviewed by Cass (1990), he viewed all forms of sexual preferences as learned. Cass suggested instead (similar to Freund and Blanchard) that individuals possess intrinsic sexual interests, but that these interests could be strengthened by repeated, satisfying same-gender experiences, as well as the process of attaching psychological significance to these experiences (in the form of gay/lesbian/bisexual identification and social validation). Cass posited that such strengthening effects should be more influential for those whose preferences were less “regular, stable, and fixed” to begin with (1990, p. 252), and she speculated that both women and bisexuals were more likely to belong to the latter group.

These thirty-year-old speculations demonstrate that scientific debates about subtypes of same-gender sexuality (bisexual versus exclusive, man-oriented versus woman-oriented, fixed versus fluid) have been longstanding interests within sexuality research (for an even broader historical and cultural view, see Murray, 2000). Ganna et al’s (2019) data do not definitively resolve these questions, but they point toward productive avenues for future study, in addition to suggesting new questions that we had not yet thought to consider.

More frequent and more extreme upward comparisons resulted in immediate declines in self-evaluations & cumulative negative effects on individuals’ state self-esteem, mood, & life satisfaction after a social media browsing session

Midgley, C., Thai, S., Lockwood, P., Kovacheff, C., & Page-Gould, E. (2021). When every day is a high school reunion: Social media comparisons and self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 121(2), 285–307. Oct 2021. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000336

Abstract: Although past research has shown that social comparisons made through social media contribute to negative outcomes, little is known about the nature of these comparisons (domains, direction, and extremity), variables that determine comparison outcomes (post valence, perceiver’s self-esteem), and how these comparisons differ from those made in other contexts (e.g., text messages, face-to-face interactions). In 4 studies (N = 798), we provide the first comprehensive analysis of how individuals make and respond to social comparisons on social media, using comparisons made in real-time while browsing news feeds (Study 1), experimenter-generated comparisons (Study 2), and comparisons made on social media versus in other contexts (Studies 3 and 4). More frequent and more extreme upward comparisons resulted in immediate declines in self-evaluations as well as cumulative negative effects on individuals’ state self-esteem, mood, and life satisfaction after a social media browsing session. Moreover, downward and lateral comparisons occurred less frequently and did little to mitigate upward comparisons’ negative effects. Furthermore, low self-esteem individuals were particularly vulnerable to making more frequent and more extreme upward comparisons on social media, which in turn threatened their already-lower self-evaluations. Finally, social media comparisons resulted in greater declines in self-evaluations than those made in other contexts. Together, these studies provide the first insights into the cumulative impact of multiple comparisons, clarify the role of self-esteem in online comparison processes, and demonstrate how the characteristics and impact of comparisons on social media differ from those made in other contexts.


Friday, October 15, 2021

Beliefs about one’s desirability as a short-term mating partner positively predicted life satisfaction for uncommitted men but not for uncommitted women

Functionally Calibrating Life Satisfaction: The Case of Mating Motives and Self-Perceived Mate Value. Ahra Ko et al. October 8th, 2021. https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-947875/v1

Abstract: If life satisfaction has functional significance for goal achievement, it should be calibrated to cues of potential success on active and fundamentally important goals. Within the context of mating motivation, we tested this hypothesis with self-perceived mate value—an assessment of one’s potential mating success. As hypothesized, because most individuals (eventually) seek long-term relationships, self-perceived long-term mate value predicted life satisfaction for men and women regardless of relationship status. In contrast, and also as hypothesized, self-perceived short-term mate value predicted life satisfaction only for individuals with short-term mating goals—single uncommitted men (Studies 1, 2A, and 2B), individuals dispositionally motivated toward short-term relationships (Studies 2A and 2B), and single uncommitted women for whom short-term mating motivation was experimentally engaged, enabling causal inference (Study 3). Results support a functional conceptualization of life satisfaction, showing that currently active mating goals can shape the extent to which goal-specific self-perceived mate value predicts life satisfaction.

Keywords: life satisfaction, mate value, mating motivation, functional approach


General Discussion

If life satisfaction is a subjective indicator of potential goal achievement, active and fundamentally important goals should shape the extent to which life satisfaction is calibrated to cues linked to likely success on these goals. We focused on mating goals because they are of fundamental concern to nearly all people at some point in their lives and because differences in motivation for different mating strategies enable nuanced hypotheses not readily derived by other conceptual approaches. Because mate value takes different forms depending on whether one is adopting long-term versus short-term strategies, and because these different strategies tend to be differentially relevant to men and women and to people in uncommitted versus committed relationships, the implications of mate value for life satisfaction are likely to be nuanced in sex- and relationship-specific functional ways. Across four studies, we found consistent, theoretically coherent patterns of results revealing that both chronically active and experimentally activated mating goals predict the association between selfperceived mate value and life satisfaction. Whereas higher self-perceived long-term mate value predicted greater life satisfaction for both men and women regardless of current relationship status (Studies 1, 2A, and 2B), higher self-perceived short-term mate value predicted greater life satisfaction only for those motivated towards short-term relationships—single uncommitted men (Studies 1, 2A, and 2B), individuals dispositionally motivated towards short-term mating relationships (Studies 2A and 2B), and single uncommitted women whose short-term mating motivation was experimentally heightened (Study 3). Internal meta-analyses across the four studies revealed the above findings to be reliable and robust. Alternative Explanations Study 3’s experimental manipulation of women’s short-term mating motivation directly demonstrated that engagement of short-term mating motivation causes a significantly stronger association between selfperceived short-term mate value and life satisfaction for the uncommitted women. Given the experimental failures of Studies 2, however, we were not able to assess the causal relationship between self-perceived mate value and life satisfaction. Although we believe the functional logic articulated makes it likely that self-perceived mate value causes life satisfaction, one could hypothesize a reverse causal pathway, such that greater life satisfaction enhances self-views of mate value because such satisfied individuals are also more optimistic about their potential success on mating (Lucas et al., 1996; Schimmack et al., 2004). Alternatively, one might hypothesize that people with a general inclination to view themselves favorably may possess both an enhanced self-view of mate value and a belief that one’s life is generally of high quality—thereby generating a positive correlation between self-perceived mate value and life satisfaction. Although apparently reasonable on their faces, such alternatives cannot logically account for the pattern of findings presented—(1) for the relatively low correlations between long- and short-term mate value, (2) for differences in how long- and short-term mate value predicted life satisfaction, (3) for the lack of positive association between short-term mate value and life satisfaction for men in committed relationships, (4) for the lack of positive association between short-term mate value and life satisfaction for women (except for uncommitted women exposed to our manipulation of shortterm mating motivation in Study 3), or (5) for the robustness of the link between mate value and life satisfaction against other self-evaluations. The specificity of the observed effects cannot be readily derived from conceptualizations focused on positive illusion biases caused by life satisfaction or from general self-enhancement. One might argue that the weak association between women’s short-term mate value and life satisfaction results from women’s generally negative responses to sexual valuation (Calogero, 2004; Fairchild & Rudman, 2008). However, women’s own beliefs about their short-term mate value were not negatively associated with their life satisfaction. Moreover, for uncommitted women exposed to our manipulation of short-term mating motivation, short-term mate value positively predicted life satisfaction. Such results are in line with findings that being sexually valued by a committed mating partner is positively linked to women’s relationship satisfaction (Meltzer, 2020; Meltzer et al., 2017).


Implications and Future Directions Function of Life Satisfaction.

Extending the growing literature on the adaptive functionality of inner experiential states, the current research offers a useful framework for reconceptualizing life satisfaction. Our findings support a novel hypothesis that life satisfaction serves as part of an internal psychological system that monitors individuals’ success or failure in managing important social challenges. Consistent with this, life satisfaction was predicted by cues implying success or failure toward the relevant goals (e.g., short-term mate value) only to the extent those goals were dispositionally important and/or acutely engaged (e.g., for those interested in short-term relationships). Longitudinal studies suggest that life satisfaction is prospectively associated with and precedes desirable characteristics, resources, and adaptive behaviors (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Consistent with these findings, we found that feelings of life satisfaction may direct behavioral resources toward facilitating success of relevant goals. Life satisfaction of uncommitted men statistically mediated the association between their self-perceived short-term mate value and short-term mating behavior. Our finding is in line with longitudinal studies that suggest life satisfaction is associated with and directly precedes various beneficial downstream consequences, as well as behaviors paralleling success (Luhmann et al., 2013; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005), although our research design does not allow for dispositive conclusions ruling out alternative mechanisms (e.g., see Supplement). Future research might profitably explore the full functional process by investigating how life satisfaction, calibrated to cues related to potential success in desired goal pursuit, causes downstream goal-enhancing behaviors.


Individual Differences in Determinants of Life Satisfaction.

People vary greatly in their life satisfaction. The specificity of our findings suggests that a range of individual differences contribute importantly to differences in life satisfaction. First, differences in goal priorities are likely to contribute to differences in life satisfaction. Because different cues are useful for assessing likely success for different goals, and because people differ in which goals they prioritize, one would expect life satisfaction to be selectively calibrated to different goalspecific cues for different people. To better predict life satisfaction, one should consider individual differences in goal priority and likely success in those prioritized goals. Second, individuals might differ in life satisfaction because, even when life satisfaction is shaped by a similar goal pursuit, there may be substantial differences in how life satisfaction is calibrated, given the relevance of different features as cues to goal success for different individuals. For example, because different features shape mate value for men and women (Li et al., 2002), life satisfaction of men and women may track different features (Ko & Suh, 2019). Last, one’s ecology and culture might influence which fundamental goals are chronically active and which indicators represent goal achievement, thereby influencing life satisfaction. For instance, given that women in areas of high income inequality (where female mating competition is enhanced) more frequently post sexualized photographs of themselves on social media (Blake et al., 2018), self-perceived short-term mate value might contribute more to the life satisfaction of women who live in environments where the incentive for sexualization is high. Because mate qualities and mating strategies are shaped differently by ecology and culture (Marlowe, 2004; Pillsworth, 2008), future research might profitably investigate how life satisfaction is calibrated by different valuations and criteria for mating partners across different ecologies and cultures. 


Nuanced Conceptions of Self-perceived Mate Value

The current study highlights the usefulness of differentiating between long-term and short-term mate value. Not only were self-perceived long-and short-term mate value only modestly correlated, but they differentially predicted life satisfaction for different individuals, and when different mating goals were engaged. Future work may benefit from examining how people assess their long- vs. short-term mate value given that different factors are desired for long- vs. short-term mating relationships (Li & Kenrick, 2006), and whether distinctive forms of self-perceived mate value have unique implications for other important psychological variables. Our findings further suggest that people may have relatively reliable beliefs about their mate value. Although we attempted to shift personal beliefs about short-term mating desirability via implicit social comparison and direct feedback, we were unsuccessful; for adults who have been mating-motivated for some time, self-perceived mate value may be stable in the short-term (Edlund & Sagarin, 2014). Specifically, because both men and women highly prioritize physical attractiveness for short-term mating relationships while also believing it difficult to intentionally control or alter physical attractiveness in the absence of great effort (Ben Hamida et al., 1998), experimentally manipulating self-perceived short-term mate value may be quite difficult. Future research may profitably investigate factors that shape mate value stability and change.

Telling people they are intelligent correlates with the feeling of narcissistic uniqueness (the feeling of being special, bragging about one's abilities and enjoyment of one's successes)

Telling people they are intelligent correlates with the feeling of narcissistic uniqueness: The influence of IQ feedback on temporary state narcissism. Marcin Zajenkowski, Gilles E. Gignac. Intelligence, Volume 89, November–December 2021, 101595. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2021.101595

Highlights

• We examined whether positive IQ feedback facilitates the expression of narcissism.

• Positive IQ feedback correlated with increased striving for uniqueness.

• IQ feedback influenced self-assessed intelligence.

Abstract: Research indicates that grandiose narcissism is associated positively with self-assessed intelligence (SAI). Furthermore, the direction of possible causation is considered to flow from narcissism to SAI. However, an intriguing question is whether the effect might be reciprocal, that is, whether the belief that one is intelligent facilitates the expression of narcissism. In the current study (N = 364), we investigated this issue by examining how two types of IQ feedback, (1) positive feedback (IQ is above average) and (2) negative feedback (IQ is below average), influenced SAI and a temporary state of narcissistic admiration. Our study revealed that positive IQ feedback correlated with increased people's SAI and one subscale of state narcissistic admiration: striving for uniqueness (i.e., the feeling of being special, bragging about one's abilities and enjoyment of one's successes). By contrast, negative IQ feedback was associated with decreased people's SAI and lower level of state narcissism. We conclude that IQ feedback may shape people's beliefs about their intelligence, and that lay concepts of intelligence might incorporate some narcissistic elements, such as the feeling of being uniquely special.

Keywords: AdmirationIntelligenceIQ feedbackNarcissismState narcissism

6. Discussion

We investigated how the IQ feedback influences the temporary state narcissism. The information that one's intelligence is below average or above average had impact on some aspects of narcissism as well as people's estimation of their cognitive ability. Below we discuss the obtained findings.

Our main hypothesis stated that the level of state narcissism will be larger in the positive IQ feedback group than in the negative IQ feedback group: the hypothesis was only partially supported. The concept of narcissistic admiration that we used in the current research contains three subdimensions: grandiose fantasies, striving for uniqueness and charmingness. Our study revealed that IQ feedback had statistically significant impact only on one of them: striving for uniqueness. Thus, telling people that their IQ is below/above average appears to influence more substantially the affective-motivational aspect of narcissism, rather than the cognitive or behavioural aspects (we can only state that the results for the other two dimensions were non-significant). An important element of narcissistic uniqueness is the feeling of being special, bragging about one's abilities and enjoyment of one's successes (Back et al., 2013). Additionally, the belief that one is extraordinary intelligent might result in perceiving oneself as distinct from others. The need for distinctiveness is regarded as an important motive in narcissism (Freis, 2018). Our finding suggests that the lay concept of (high) intelligence is associated with pleasant feelings that motivate people to action, give them strength and help them to distinguish from others.

This result corroborates previous research showing that SAI is associated with self-confidence (Howard & Cogswell, 2018). Moreover, the approach motivation accompanying SAI might explain the fact that SAI predicts educational achievements beyond objective intelligence (Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2006). On the other hand, viewing one's abilities as low might decrease motivation and, in turn, undermine cognitive performance.

We confirmed our remaining hypotheses. In line with previous research (e.g., Ackerman & Wolman, 2007Gold & Kuhn, 2017), we found that, in general, people estimated their intelligence lower after completing the IQ test. However, the type of IQ feedback (positive vs. negative) moderated the change of the SAI level. Specifically, telling participants that their intelligence was above average increased SAI, while the exposure to the information that IQ was below average decreased SAI. Thus, people's beliefs about their IQ seem to be sensitive to external information, even if the information is not necessarily accurate. This finding suggests that the feedback people receive about their abilities over the course of life (e.g., from parents, in school) may have important consequences for their intelligence self-views and, possibly, their self-concept. Our last hypothesis that the IQ feedback would have an impact on the perception of intelligence test validity was also supported. Participants perceived the test as more adequate for measuring IQ in the “higher-than-average” group than in the “lower-than-average” group. This implies that the attitude toward IQ testing, might be influenced by previous experience and the feedback one has received about his/her abilities.

We found that the negative IQ feedback had a larger effect on SAI than had the positive feedback. This is in line with some research findings showing that negative feedback might have greater influence on behaviour (e.g., learning, emotional reaction) than positive feedback (Freedberg, Glass, Filoteo, Hazeltine, & Maddox, 2017Ilies, De Pater, & Judge, 2007). In the case of SAI, the possible explanation might be related to the confirmation bias and the fact that most people are convinced their intelligence is above-average (Zell et al., 2020). Thus, the positive IQ feedback is consistent with people's self-image, whereas the negative IQ feedback is a mismatch in their self-knowledge which leads to stronger psychological reactions.

The current study might have implications for our understanding of the origins of narcissism. Cumulative evidence shows that parents play a substantial role in shaping their children's level of narcissism (Thomaes & Brummelman, 2018). Individual differences in narcissism emerge around the age of 8, when children are able to form global views of themselves (Brummelman et al., 2015). Parents may cultivate narcissism in their children by overvaluing their accomplishments, that is, seeing and treating their children as more special and entitled than others. In one of the largest studies in this area, Brummelman et al. (2015) tested children (7–11 years old) and their parents for a period of 2 years. The results revealed that children's level of narcissism was highly associated with parental overvaluation. However, the study of Brummelman et al. (2015) assessed general beliefs of the parents, for instance, “my child is more special than other children”. In light of our findings, it would be interesting to examine whether narcissism in children is associated with parents overvaluation in more specific domains, such as cognitive ability. We found that the positive IQ feedback increased at least one subdimension of state narcissism. It is possible that a child frequently praised for his/her abilities, especially undeservedly, might develop a stable trait of (grandiose) narcissism. It needs to be acknowledged, however, that this interpretation is rather speculative. In our study we tested how a one-time information influenced state narcissism. In order to examine the development of trait narcissism, a longitudinal study is necessary testing the long-term effects of parents' evaluation of their children.

Our findings also reveal some interesting aspects of intelligence itself. The notion of intelligence is a central concept in modern (especially Western) society, however, people's perception of this construct might substantially differ from the academic definitions (Furnham, 2001). Intelligence is regarded as rather ambiguous attribute and laypersons may assign different meaning to it (Dunning, 2005). We found that the information people receive about their IQ level, after completing an IQ test, had a an impact on at least one dimension of state narcissism. It is possible that the lay concept of intelligence contains some narcissistic elements and the belief that one is smart is inseparably associated with narcissistic feelings of being special and better than others. This interpretation might shed some light on the controversies around the studies on intelligence group differences (e.g., Gottfredson, 1997Neisser et al., 1996). The controversial debates on this topic might be fuelled by the lay understanding of intelligence. Specifically, members of presumably more intelligent group might provoke members of less intelligent group by manifesting their narcissistic superiority.

Our structural equation model revealed another interesting finding about the association between narcissism and SAI. While the correlation between the narcissism latent variable and pre-feedback SAI was similar across conditions, the magnitude of association between narcissism and post-feedback SAI depended on the feedback type. Specifically, it was substantially higher in the negative feedback condition than in the positive feedback group. Thus, individual differences in narcissism were more important for people's self-estimation in unfavorable situation. This suggests a regulatory role for grandiose narcissism, when faced with ego-threatening information. Perhaps when people received the feedback that their IQ was above average, they thought positively about their cognitive ability, regardless of the narcissism level. However, with respect to the “lower than average IQ” feedback condition, grandiose narcissists might have used self-protective tactics to maintain a positive image of their intelligence. According to many models of narcissism, grandiose narcissists use various intrapersonal strategies for regulating the self to make themselves feel positive (Campbell & Foster, 2007Morf & Rhodewalt, 2001). For instance, they might have blamed situational factors, rather than themselves, for their poor performance (e.g., Rhodewalt & Morf, 1995), by devaluating the idea of psychological testing or thinking that their extraordinary giftedness was not captured by the test they completed. More research is needed to understand the processes underlying narcissists self-regulation in this context.

Finally, we showed that narcissistic admiration might be successfully measured not only as a trait, but also as a temporary state. The state of narcissism has been already examined in previous studies (Giacomin & Jordan, 2018). However, the extant research has focused on the general grandiose narcissism (e.g., using modified instruction of the Narcissistic Personality Inventory; Giacomin & Jordan, 2016) or used adjectives as items to measure temporary state of grandiose and vulnerable narcissism (Edershile et al., 2019). Our research expands these findings by showing that grandiose narcissism's facets might be assessed as a temporary state using the full items of the original Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire. We found that the type of feedback in the content domain of intelligence had a statistically significant impact on one of the admiration's subdimensions: striving for uniqueness. With large sample sizes, and more measures, it remains to be established whether other facets of narcissistic admiration, as well as narcissistic rivalry, might be sensitive to situational factors. Additionally, future studies could examine the influence of the information type on state narcissism. For instance, an intriguing question is whether the IQ-related effect generalizes to other agentic attributes (e.g., leadership, entrepreneurship, sexual potential etc.), or whether positive/negative feedback on communal attributes (e.g., kindness, morality, empathy) has distinct effect on state of grandiose narcissism. Another problem that requires attention relates to the similarities between narcissism and self-esteem. Although both constructs overlap, they also differ substantially with several respects (Brummelman, Gurel, Thomaes, & Sedikides, 2018). Thus, it would be worth investigating how feedback about IQ, and other attributes, affects states of narcissism and self-esteem.

7. Limitations and conclusions

The current study was not free of limitations. First, we used a between-subjects design. Specifically, we compared state narcissism in two groups after the IQ feedback, but we did not control participants' baseline (pre-feedback) state narcissism. We chose the less statistically powerful between-subjects design, because we believe that asking the same, very specific, questions twice, within a short period of time, might have a confounding impact on the (second) measurement. We attempted to deal with the problem of potential differences in the pre-manipulation level of narcissism by measuring trait narcissism. The analysis revealed no significant differences between compared groups. Second, the magnitude of the experimental feedback effect on state narcissism was relatively small (Cohen, 1988). Thus, replication, with a larger sample size, would be useful. Despite the fact that the effect on state narcissism was small, it should be considered potentially important, given that the significant effect was achieved with just one piece of feedback. Further research with multiple occasions of indiscriminate, positive feedback may show a more substantial impact on narcissism. Third, the study was conducted online. It is an open question whether the IQ feedback from an experimenter during face-to-face meeting might have greater impact on the state narcissism and its facets. Nonetheless, the current study's procedure allowed to avoid the effect of experimenter and his or her specific characteristics. Fourth, while we compared people's response to positive and negative feedback about their IQ, we did not include control group with neutral feedback. Future studies could examine this possibility by comparing feedback of different valence (positive, negative) with the situation where participants are told they have average IQ, or receive no feedback at all.

In conclusion, we found that IQ feedback influences people's self-views. Specifically, positive information results in higher estimation of one's intelligence and a higher state of narcissistic uniqueness, while negative information is linked with decreased self-assessed intelligence and lower level of state narcissism. Thus, the external feedback can influence people's beliefs about their intelligence, on the other hand, however, the lay concepts of intelligence might contain some narcissistic elements, such as the feeling of uniqueness.

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Thursday, October 14, 2021

How Does Our Brain Generate Sexual Pleasure?

How Does Our Brain Generate Sexual Pleasure? Barry R. Komisaruk & Maria Cruz Rodriguez del Cerro. International Journal of Sexual Health, Oct 13 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/19317611.2021.1989534

Abstract: We present herein an exploratory essay on sexual pleasure, in support of the objective of developing an evidence base of knowledge for the WAS Declaration of Sexual Rights. We have attempted to account for the feeling of erotic sexual pleasure, in terms of what is known about neuronal function. The brain regions that are activated during women’s orgasm, and their perceptual and physiological roles, are compared with brain regions related to chemically induced euphoria and craving. The brain regions that are activated at orgasm match those that are activated by both euphoria and craving. Based on these findings, we propose that erotic, sensual feeling is a simultaneous activation of euphoria plus craving. The importance of sensory stimulation, proprioception, sensations, and feelings is emphasized by evidence that their disruption leads to pathologies. The process of buildup of excitation to a peak and then resolution is proposed as a basic “orgasmic” property of the nervous system shared by multiple systems, as in a sneeze, which we consider to be a non-genital orgasm. We postulate a process by which an excitation pattern feels pleasurable and – at higher intensity – euphoric, if it is congruent with an unconscious dynamic “template,” but aversive and at higher intensity painful, to the extent that it is incongruent with the template. Under this formulation, peak neuronal excitation that is congruent with the unconscious, simultaneously “getting what is craved,” generates orgasmic, erotic, sexual pleasure.


Moderate-to-large effect of MDMA (Ecstasy) on self-reported sociability-related outcomes (e.g., feeling loving, talkative, and friendly)

Does ±3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy) induce subjective feelings of social connection in humans? A multilevel meta-analysis. Annie Regan, Seth Margolis, Harriet de Wit, and Sonja Lyubomirsky. In press, PLoS One, Oct 2021. http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/files/2021/10/Regan-Margolis-de-Wit-Lyubomirsky-in-press.pdf

Abstract: 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) is a psychostimulant known for producing positive subjective effects and for enhancing social functioning and social connection in both clinical and recreational settings. Over the past two decades, scientists have begun to study the psychological effects of MDMA through rigorous placebo-controlled experimental work. However, most existing studies have small Ns, and the average sizes of the reported effects are unknown, creating uncertainty about the impact of these findings. The goal of the present study was to quantify the strength of MDMA’s effects on self-reported social connection by aggregating sociability-related outcomes across multiple placebo-controlled studies. To this end, we conducted a multilevel meta-analysis based on 27 studies, 54 effect sizes, and a total of 592 participants. The results revealed a moderate-to-large effect (d = 0.86; 95% CI [0.68, 1.04]; r = .39; 95% CI [.32, .46]) of MDMA on self-reported sociability-related outcomes (e.g., feeling loving, talkative, and friendly). Given the magnitude of its effect on felt sociability, we propose that MDMA may have powerful implications for a variety of social contexts and for clinical settings, in particular. Finally, we discuss potential mechanisms underlying the relationship between MDMA and sociability-related feelings, as well as future directions for experimental work in this area. 

Keywords: MDMA, Psychopharmacology, Sociability, Connection, Meta-Analysis


Atheists were further perceived as more prone to infidelity, especially when attractive

Preliminary evidence for an aversion to atheists in long-term mating domains in the Southern United States. Mitch Brown. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, October 13, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/02654075211045051

Abstract: The centrality of religiosity in selecting long-term mates suggests atheism could be undesirable for that context. Given recent findings suggesting several positive stereotypes about atheists, a largely distrusted group, individuals could prefer atheists in mating domains not emphasizing long-term commitment (i.e., short-term mating). Two studies tasked U.S. participants with evaluating long-term and short-term mating desirability of theists and atheists while assessing perceptions of their personalities. Study 1 indicated atheists were more desirable in short-term mating than long-term mating, though this preference did not translate to being preferred over theists. The pre-registered Study 2 demonstrated this effect is specific to physically attractive targets. Atheists were further perceived as more prone to infidelity, especially when attractive. Results are framed from an evolutionary perspective while discussing anti-atheist prejudice.

Keywords: Atheism, mate preferences, evolutionary psychology, infidelity, stereotyping


How does noise generated by researcher decisions undermine the credibility of science? 73 research teams independently conducted studies on the same hypothesis with identical starting data, & we find excessive variation of outcomes

Breznau, Nate, Eike Mark Rinke, Alexander Wuttke, Muna Adem, Jule Adriaans, Amalia Alvarez-Benjumea, Henrik K. Andersen, et al. 2021. “Observing Many Researchers Using the Same Data and Hypothesis Reveals a Hidden Universe of Uncertainty.” MetaArXiv. March 24. doi:10.31222/osf.io/cd5j9

Abstract: How does noise generated by researcher decisions undermine the credibility of science? We test this by observing all decisions made among 73 research teams as they independently conduct studies on the same hypothesis with identical starting data. We find excessive variation of outcomes. When combined, the 107 observed research decisions taken across teams explained at most 2.6% of the total variance in effect sizes and 10% of the deviance in subjective conclusions. Expertise, prior beliefs and attitudes of the researchers explain even less. Each model deployed to test the hypothesis was unique, which highlights a vast universe of research design variability that is normally hidden from view and suggests humility when presenting and interpreting scientific findings.

Supplemental Materials osf.io/bs46f/ 


Regional personality assessment through social media language: Openness to experience was higher on the coasts, extraversion was higher in southern states, agreeableness was higher in western states, emotional stability was highest in the south

Regional personality assessment through social media language. Salvatore Giorgi et al. Journal of Personality, September 2021. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopy.12674

Abstract

Objective: We explore the personality of counties as assessed through linguistic patterns on social media. Such studies were previously limited by the cost and feasibility of large-scale surveys; however, language-based computational models applied to large social media datasets now allow for large-scale personality assessment.

Method: We applied a language-based assessment of the five factor model of personality to 6,064,267 U.S. Twitter users. We aggregated the Twitter-based personality scores to 2,041 counties and compared to political, economic, social, and health outcomes measured through surveys and by government agencies.

Results: There was significant personality variation across counties. Openness to experience was higher on the coasts, conscientiousness was uniformly spread, extraversion was higher in southern states, agreeableness was higher in western states, and emotional stability was highest in the south. Across 13 outcomes, language-based personality estimates replicated patterns that have been observed in individual-level and geographic studies. This includes higher Republican vote share in less agreeable counties and increased life satisfaction in more conscientious counties.

Conclusions: Results suggest that regions vary in their personality and that these differences can be studied through computational linguistic analysis of social media. Furthermore, these methods may be used to explore other psychological constructs across geographies.


The personality trait of neuroticism (proneness to negative emotions) leads to avoidance, which maintains negative emotions and can lead to emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety

Neuroticism and Disorders of Emotion: A New Synthesis. David H. Barlow, Andrew J. Curreri, Lauren S. Woodard. Current Directions in Psychological Science, August 23, 2021. https://doi.org/10.1177/09637214211030253

Abstract: We describe an approach to anxiety, depressive, trauma-related, and other disorders, which we conceptualize as “emotional disorders” because of shared underlying dimensions uncovered by the study of traits or temperaments. We then explicate a functional model of emotional disorders based largely, but not exclusively, on the temperament of neuroticism and describe common factors that account for the development and maintenance of these conditions. We conclude by describing, and presenting supporting data for, a unified transdiagnostic approach to the treatment of emotional disorders that directly targets the underlying temperament of neuroticism and associated temperamental characteristics.

Keywords: neuroticism, transdiagnostic treatment, emotional disorders



Salivary testosterone among men was linked to concurrent sex partners & masturbation; among women, Sal-T was positively associated with masturbation; gay women, in addition, with partnered sex

Salivary Testosterone and Sexual Function and Behavior in Men and Women: Findings from the Third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3). W. G. Macdowall et al. The Journal of Sex Research, Oct 11 2021. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2021.1968327

Abstract: Using data from the third British National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles (Natsal-3) we examined associations between salivary testosterone (Sal-T) and sexual function and behavior. Single morning saliva samples were self-collected from a subsample of participants aged 18–74 years and analyzed using mass spectrometry. 1,599 men and 2,123 women were included in the analysis (40.6% of those invited to provide a sample). We adjusted for confounders in a stepwise manner: in model 1 we adjusted for age only; model 2 for age, season and relationship status, and model 3 we added BMI and self-reported health. In the fully adjusted models, among men, Sal-T was positively associated with both partnered sex (vaginal sex and concurrent partners) and masturbation. Among women, Sal-T was positively associated with masturbation, the only association with partnered sex was with ever experience of same-sex sex. We found no clear association between Sal-T and sexual function. Our study contributes toward addressing the sparsity of data outside the laboratory on the differences between men and women in the relationship between T and sexual function and behavior. To our knowledge, this is the first population study, among men and women, using a mass spectrometry Sal-T assay to do so.

Discussion

To our knowledge, this is the first population level study, of both men and women, using a validated salivary measure to explore the associations between Sal-T and aspects of sexual function and behavior.

We found no clear associations in our data between Sal-T and either overall sexual function (as measured by the Natsal-SF) or individual problems with sexual response in men or women. Among women, our data showed solitary sex to be more strongly associated than partnered sex with Sal-T; levels of Sal-T were higher in those who masturbated more recently and more frequently. We found no association between Sal-T and heterosexual partnered sexual activity among women, as measured by occurrence of vaginal sex in the past month, and nor did we find an association with number of partners or concurrency. The only measure of partnered sex associated with Sal-T among women was ever experience of same-sex behavior.

Among men, Sal-T was associated with masturbation but not more strongly than it was with partnered sex. Associations were seen between higher levels of Sal-T and recent occurrence of heterosexual partnered sex and with concurrency of sexual partners in the last five years, but not with number of sexual partners. The association with concurrency was reflected in men’s attitudes toward ‘casual’ sexual encounters, which were similarly linked with higher levels of Sal-T.

Contextualization and Interpretation

The absence of an association between T and overall sexual function in men in our large dataset is unsurprising given the measure of overall sexual function used in Natsal-3 which, as indicated above, took account not only of individual problems with response, but also the relational context, which is heavily influenced by psychosocial factors. The absence of any association with individual aspects of sexual function (erectile difficulties, lacking enjoyment in sex, distress about sex life, lacking interest in sex) is perhaps more surprising. The dominant narrative assumes T is the ‘biological driver’ of sexual desire in men. The fact that men have both higher levels of T and report higher levels of interest in sex than women seems to speak to this narrative (van Anders, 2012). Much of the evidence linking T with sexual desire in men has, however, come from clinical studies among those with overt T deficiency in the context of investigating the effects of TRT (Corona et al., 2017). There is little empirical evidence (van Anders, 2012), including that now provided by our study that T levels in men within the normal range are associated with sexual desire. In the European Male Aging Study (EMAS), which focused specifically on older men – though like Natsal drew on a large sample of community dwelling individuals – only weak associations were found between aspects of sexual function and T. These included ‘overall sexual function’ (O’Connor et al., 2011) and erectile dysfunction and frequency of both sexual thoughts and morning erections, though the associations with these latter three sexual symptoms were attenuated when adjustments were made for age, BMI, and co-existing health conditions (Wu et al., 2010). Further, the findings from EMAS highlight the non-linear relationship between T and aspects of sexual function and point to symptom-specific T ‘thresholds’; only under the ‘threshold’ does the probability of experiencing the sexual symptom increase (O’Connor et al., 2011; Wu et al., 2010). Hence, among older men, androgen deficiency is only likely to be a key pathogenic component in problems of sexual function when T levels are overtly subnormal (Wu et al., 2010). In older men with unequivocal age-related hypogonadism, TRT has been associated with modest improvements in sexual function (Matsumoto, 2019; Snyder et al., 2016). Evidence of the value of T supplementation for ‘low T’ within the normal range as a therapeutic solution to problems, such as erectile dysfunction and low libido, however, is lacking (Huo et al., 2016).

The few large community studies that have been conducted in women have identified associations between androgens and sexual function though in unadjusted analyses (Davis et al., 2005), or among women in menopausal transition (Randolph et al., 2015). In our unadjusted model, we did find an association between Sal-T and sexual desire in women, which remained significant after adjustment for age (with women lacking interest in sex having lower Sal-T than those who did not) but was attenuated after further adjustments for relationship status, season, BMI, and general health status, highlighting the importance of contextual factors. The current global consensus is that there is insufficient evidence regarding the use of T for the treatment of sexual function in premenopausal women, but among postmenopausal women T may yield benefits in terms of increasing sexual desire (as well as other components of sexual function including arousal and orgasmic function) (Davis et al., 2019). Evidence from controlled trials among postmenopausal women indicates that estrogen-only therapies are also associated with increases in sexual desire and that these effects can be enhanced when estrogen is coupled with T (Cappelletti & Wallen, 2016).

Our data support our prior assumption that the relative influence of hormonal status and social context, and hence the strength of associations between Sal-T and sexual behavior, would vary between men and women. Attempts to understand why dyadic sex, especially partner concurrency, is more strongly associated with T among men than women have drawn on evolutionary theories asserting that it may have greater reproductive advantage for men (Puts et al., 2015; van Anders et al., 2015). Yet associations between T and dyadic and solo sex may also be differentially moderated in men and women by gendered social norms regulating sexual behavior (van Anders et al., 2015). Variation in the extent to which men and women may be differentially socialized to non-exclusivity features regularly in explanations as to why men report larger numbers of sexual partners than women in research (Jonason & Fisher, 2009; Mitchell et al., 2019).

Sal-T’s marked link with masturbation among women, in the absence of an observed link with aspects of partnered behavior, may be seen as consistent with the notion of a stronger moderating effect of social factors on hormonal influences on women’s behavior. It has been proposed that masturbation may be a ‘truer’ measure of sexual desire, as although socially censured, it is neither constrained by social surveillance nor dependent on social relations. The suggestion in our data of a stronger link with solitary than partnered sexual activity among women accords with evidence reported elsewhere; albeit from either laboratory studies and/or those utilizing smaller convenience samples (Randolph et al., 2015; van Anders, 2012). Interpretation of these findings has drawn on the bi-directionality of the association between T and sexuality (Goldey & van Anders, 2011) and on the different meanings and motivations attached to solitary and partnered sex. For example, qualitative research among women points to solitary sexuality as primarily erotic and partnered sexuality as nurturant (Goldey et al., 2016). Women self-identifying as heterosexual have been shown to be more likely to reach orgasm in solitary compared with partnered sex (Carvalheira & Leal, 2013) and the experience of orgasm has been found to increase levels of T (van Anders et al., 2007).

Our finding of higher mean Sal-T in women with ever experience of same sex sex is illuminated by a recent systematic review, investigating whether lesbian and bisexual women may have different levels of sex hormones compared to heterosexual women. The review found tentative evidence of higher T among sexual minority women, though the heterogeneity of studies and problems with confounding made it hard to draw definitive conclusions (Harris et al., 2020).

Strengths and Weaknesses

This study had a number of strengths. Firstly, Natsal-3 is a large population-based study of men and women, covering a wide age range and capturing multiple aspects of sexual function, behavior, and attitudes. Secondly, Sal-T was measured by the ‘gold standard’ method of mass spectrometry using samples collected at the same time of day in order to account for the diurnal variation in testosterone. Thirdly, we were able to adjust for known confounders identified in our earlier analysis (Clifton et al., 2016; Keevil et al., 2017), so that independent associations between Sal-T and sexual function and behavior could be established. A number of limitations need also to be considered. Firstly, nonparticipation bias is likely to have occurred both in relation to recruitment to the main survey and providing a saliva sample. There were known differences between those who did and did not return a saliva sample, though statistical weighting was used to minimize these biases. The second limitation is that, with the exception of items relating to appraisal of sex life, the Natsal-SF (which included the questions about the individual problems with sexual response) was only asked of people who were sexually active in the past year and so excluded those who may not have had sex in over a year because of sexual difficulties. The third limitation relates to the adjustments made. While we did adjust for variables identified from our previous analyses as linked with both Sal-T and sexual function and behavior (Clifton et al., 2016; Keevil et al., 2017) there are, however, likely to be other confounders that we have not adjusted for. A further limitation relates to the complexity of the phenomena under investigation and the challenge in establishing causal direction when using cross-sectional data and single saliva samples given evidence that the relationship between T and sexual behavior is bi-directional (Escasa et al., 2011). We also have to recognize the limitations of a peripheral measure of T in assessing T status. In men and women, it is thought that a large proportion of androgens (and estrogens) are produced within cells where they exert their action and circulating androgens do not reflect this ‘intracrine’ androgen synthesis (Labrie, 1991). Relatedly, different forms of the androgen receptor are thought to vary in their sensitivity to T (Wåhlin-Jacobsen et al., 2018). Hence, circulating T is only part of a complex picture.

Our study contributes toward addressing the deficit in terms of attention paid to the role of T in women’s sexuality (Bancroft & Graham, 2011) and the sparsity of data on the differences between men and women in the relationship between T and sexual function and behavior. Our data tend to confirm that differences between men and women need to be understood by examining them in the context of both social and hormonal influences on sexual function and behavior.