Sex Roles

, Volume 29, Issue 1–2, pp 13–36 | Cite as

Inferring sexual interest from behavioral cues: Effects of gender and sexually relevant attitudes

  • Robin M. Kowalski


Research has found that men impute more sexual meaning to others' behavior than do women. However, little research has examined the possibility that men and women share perceptions of the sexual connotativeness of certain behaviors but diverge in their perceptions of other behaviors. In Study 1, 162 male and 186 female undergraduates, predominantly Caucasian, rated the degree to which each of 27 behaviors of male and female targets connoted a desire for sexual intercourse. Multivariate analyses of variance revealed that, whereas men perceived all but two of the female target behaviors more sexually than women, men and women differed in their perceptions of the sexual connotativeness of only about half of the male target behaviors. A factor analysis revealed three factors for both male and female target behaviors, reflecting mundane dating behaviors, romantic behaviors, and sexual behaviors. Relative to women, men perceived only the mundane dating behaviors more sexually, although regression analyses showed these effects to be moderated by subjects' attitudes toward women. Study 2 examined the extent to which sexually relevant attitudes (e.g., sex role stereotyping, adversarial sexual beliefs, and rape myth acceptance) moderate subjects' perceptions of the sexual connotativeness of the behaviors. Men, particularly those who endorsed traditional, sexually relevant attitudes, were more likely than women to impute sexual meaning to the behaviors. The implications of this for dating situations are discussed.


Regression Analysis Sexual Behavior Sexual Intercourse Moderate Subject Target Behavior 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Abbey, A. (1982). Sex differences in attributions for friendly behavior: Do males misperceive females' friendliness? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 42, 830–838.Google Scholar
  2. Abbey, A. (1991). Misperception as an antecedent of acquaintance rape: A consequence of ambiguity in communication between men and women. In A. Parrott & L. Bechhofer (Eds.), Acquaintance rape: The hidden crime. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  3. Abbey, A., & Melby, C. (1986). The effects of nonverbal cues on gender differences in perceptions of sexual intent. Sex Roles, 15, 283–298.Google Scholar
  4. Abbey, A., Cozzarelli, C., McLaughlin, K., & Harnish, R. J. (1987). The effects of clothing and dyad sex composition on perceptions of sexual intent: Do women and men evaluate these cues differently? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 17, 108–126.Google Scholar
  5. Acock, A. C., & Ireland, N. K. (1983). Attribution of blame in rape cases: The impact of norm violation, gender, and sex-role attitude. Sex Roles, 9, 179–193.Google Scholar
  6. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  7. Bostwick, T. D., & Delucia, J. L. (1992). Effects of gender and specific dating relationships on perceptions of sex willingness and date rape. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 11, 14–25.Google Scholar
  8. Burkhart, B. R., & Stanton, A. L. (1988). Sexual aggression in acquaintance relationships. In G. W. Russell (Ed.), Violence in intimate relationships. New York: PMA Publishing Corporation.Google Scholar
  9. Burt, M. R. (1980). Cultural myths and support for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 217–230.Google Scholar
  10. Burt, M. R. (1991). Rape myths and acquaintance rape. In A. Parrott & L. Bechhofer (Eds.), Acquaintance rape: The hidden crime. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  11. Burt, M. R., & Albin, R. S. (1981). Rape myths, rape definitions, and probability of conviction. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 11, 212–230.Google Scholar
  12. Buss, D. M. (1991). Evolutionary personality psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 42, 459–491.Google Scholar
  13. Cohen, J., & Cohen, P. (1975). Applied multiple regression/correlation analyses for the behavioral sciences (2nd ed.). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  14. Feild, H. S. (1978). Attitudes toward rape: A comparative analysis of police, rapists, crisis counselors, and citizens. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36, 156–179.Google Scholar
  15. Goodchilds, J., & Zellman, G. (1984). Sexual signaling and sexual aggression in adolescent relationships. In N. M. Malamuth & E. Donnerstein (Eds.), Pornography and sexual aggression. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  16. Goodchilds, J., Zellman, G., Johnson, P., & Giarrusso, R. (1988). Adolescents and their perceptions of sexual interactions. In A. W. Burgess (Ed.), Rape and sexual assault (Vol. II). New York: Garland.Google Scholar
  17. Hall, J. A. (1978). Gender effects in decoding nonverbal cues. Psychological Bulletin, 85, 845–857.Google Scholar
  18. Harman, H. H. (1976). Modern factor analysis. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  19. Hegeman, N., & Meikle, S. (1980). Motives and attitudes of rapists. Canadian Journal of Behavioral Science, 12, 359–372.Google Scholar
  20. Henley, N. M. (1977). Body politics: Power, sex, and nonverbal communication. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  21. Johnson, C. B., Stockdale, M. S., & Saal, F. E. (1991). Persistence of men's misperceptions of friendly cues across a variety of interpersonal encounters. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 15, 463–475.Google Scholar
  22. Kanin, E. J. (1969). Selected dyadic aspects of males' sex aggression. Journal of Sex Research, 5, 12–28.Google Scholar
  23. Krulewitz, J. E., & Nash, J. E. (1979). Effects of rape victim resistance, assault outcome, and sex of observer on attributions about rape. Journal of Personality, 47, 557–574.Google Scholar
  24. Major B., & Heslin, R. (1982). Perceptions of cross-sex and same-sex nonreciprocal touch: It is better to give than to receive. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 6, 148–162.Google Scholar
  25. Muehlenhard, C. L. (1988). Misinterpreted dating behaviors and the risk of date rape. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 6, 20–37.Google Scholar
  26. Muehlenhard, C. L., & Linton, M. A. (1987). Date rape and sexual aggression in dating situations: Incidence and risk factors. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 34, 186–196.Google Scholar
  27. Muehlenhard, C. L., & MacNaughton, J. S. (1988). Women's beliefs about women who “lead men on.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 7, 65–79.Google Scholar
  28. Muehlenhard, C. L., Friedman, D. E., & Thomas, C. M. (1985). Is date rape justifiable? The effects of dating activity, who initiated, who paid, and men's attitudes toward women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 9, 297–310.Google Scholar
  29. Muehlenhard, C. L., Koralewski, M. A., Andrews, S. L., & Burdick, C. A. (1986). Verbal and nonverbal cues that convey interest in dating. Behavior Therapy, 17, 404–419.Google Scholar
  30. Muehlenhard, C. L., Miller, C. L., & Burdick, C. A. (1983). Are high-frequency daters better cue readers? Men's interpretations of women's cues as a function of dating frequency and SHI scores. Behavior Therapy, 14, 626–636.Google Scholar
  31. Peplau, L. A. (1984). Power in dating relationships. In J. Freeman (Ed.), Women: A feminist perspective. Palo Alto, CA: Mayfield.Google Scholar
  32. Rosenthal, R., Hall, J. A., DiMatteo, M. R., Rogers, P. L., & Archer, D. (1979). Sensitivity in nonverbal communication: The PONS test. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Shotland, R. L. (1989). A model of the causes of date rape in developing and close relationships. In C. Hendrick (Ed.), Close relationships. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  34. Shotland, R. L., & Craig, J. M. (1988). Can men and women differentiate between friendly and sexually-laden behavior? Social Psychology Quarterly, 51, 66–72.Google Scholar
  35. Spence, J. T., & Helmreich, R. (1972). The Attitudes Toward Women Scale: An objective instrument to measure attitudes toward the rights and roles of women in contemporary society. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 2, 66.Google Scholar
  36. Warshaw, R., & Parrott, A. (1991). The contribution of sex-role socialization to acquaintance rape. In A. Parrott & L. Bechhofer (Eds.), Acquaintance rape: The hidden crime. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  37. Weis, K., & Borges, S. (1973). Victimology and rape: The case of the legitimate victim. Issues in Criminology, 8, 71–115.Google Scholar
  38. White, J. W., & Humphrey, J. (1991). Young people's attitudes toward acquaintance rape. In A. Parrot & L. Bechhofer (Eds.), Acquaintance rape: The hidden crime. New York: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin M. Kowalski
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyWestern Carolina UniversityCullowhee

Personalised recommendations