Seems some psychologists in Canada got together to test whether the old adage that men act like idiots around beautiful women had any truth to it. Turns out it’s true as the sight of a beautiful woman is enough to screw up men’s ability to rationally discount various options.
OK, so what the hell am I talking about? Well psychologists have known that the idea of “instant gratification” is a common tendency in all animals including humans. In other words, most animals will take an immediate reward over the possibility of a greater reward later and that process is known as “discounting the future.” The ability to recognize that waiting may bring greater rewards is called “rational discounting” and by extension the act of taking an immediate reward despite the promise of a greater reward later is called “irrational discounting.” The study was designed to test if sexual mood had any impact on people’s discounting behavior.
Resources have a value to individuals that change through time. For example, immediately available cash is generally worth more than the same amount would be in the future. But greater amounts of money in the future would be worth waiting for under so-called ‘rational’ discounting.
But some people, such as drug addicts, show ‘irrational’ discounting. For example, preferring a small amount of heroin today rather than a greater amount in the future.
Both male and female students at McMaster University were shown pictures of the opposite sex of varying attractiveness taken from the website ‘Hot or Not’. The 209 students were then offered the chance to win a reward. They could either accept a cheque for between $15 and $35 tomorrow or one for $50-$75 at a variable point in the future.
Wilson and Daly found that male students shown the pictures of averagely attractive women showed exponential discounting of the future value of the reward. This indicated that they had made a rational decision. When male students were shown pictures of pretty women, they discounted the future value of the reward in an “irrational” way – they would opt for the smaller amount of money available the next day rather than wait for a much bigger reward.
Women, by contrast, made equally rational decisions whether they had been shown pictures of handsome men or those of average attractiveness.
Of course marketers have known that “sex sells” ever since marketing was first invented which is why it’s so common to see ads for men’s products that are completely devoid of any men in it. This study just confirms what the marketers have known all along: when a pretty woman is nearby men act like total idiots.