, Volume 15, Issue 5-6, pp 283-298

The effects of nonverbal cues on gender differences in perceptions of sexual intent

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Abstract

The effects of several nonverbal cues on perceptions of male and female stimulus persons' sexuality were examined. Based on the findings of Abbey (“Sex Differences in Attributions for Friendly Behavior: Do Males Misperceive Females' Friendliness?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1982, 42, 830–838) and other investigators, we hypothesized that in general males would attribute more sexuality to both male and female targets than would females. Furthermore, we hypothesized that males' and females' perceptions of sexual intent would be most divergent in situations in which the nonverbal cues were most ambiguous (e.g., causal touch, moderate interpersonal distance). To test this hypothesis, the effects of three nonverbalcues were examined: interpersonal distance, eye contact, and touch. Males rated female targets as more seductive, sexy, and promiscuous, and expressed more sexual attraction to the opposite-sexed target, than females did for both ambiguous and nonambiguous nonverbal cues. Males' ratings of the male targets' sexuality were higher than females' ratings in two of the three studies. Also, across the three studies both female and male subjects rated the female target higher than the male target on the sexual traits. The implications of these findings for future research are discussed.

We would like to thank Chuck Goebel, Richard Harnish, Sue Strong, Esther Strause, Ellen Trumbo, and Nancy Weishew for their assistance in conducting this research.