A study suggests that men are more likely to cheat than women, not because they have weaker self-control, but because they have stronger sexual impulses.
Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University say previous studies have suggested men are more likely than women to pursue romantic partners that are "off limits," but that the explanation for this difference has been unexplored on a large scale.
For their study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the researchers conducted two separate experiments.
The first experiment, which involved 70 men and 148 women, was conducted in order to determine how both sexes reacted to real-life sexual temptations.
The participants were asked to recall and describe an attraction to an "unavailable" or "incompatible" member of the opposite sex. They were then required to complete a survey consisting of questions designed to measure:
- Strength of sexual impulse
- Attempts to intentionally control the sexual impulse, and
- Resultant behaviors.
Results showed that when men reflected on their past sexual behavior, they reported experiencing relatively stronger impulses and acting on those impulses more than women.
However, when it came to exerted self-control, it was found that men and women did not differ in this area.
"When men and women said they actually did exert self-control in sexual situations, impulse strength didn't predict how much either sex would actually engage in 'off-limits' sex," says Natasha Tidwell of the Departments of Psychology at Texas A&M University.
Paul Eastwick, assistant professor in the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas Austin, adds:
"Men have plenty of self-control - just as much as women. However, if men fail to use self-control, their sexual impulses can be quite strong. This is often the situation when cheating occurs."
Men have 'stronger impulse strength'
For the second experiment, the researchers wanted to measure the strength of sexual impulse in relation to the strength of impulse control. They recruited 326 men and 274 women to participate in a "partner selection game."
Computer-based images were shown to the participants of "desirable" and "undesirable" individuals of the opposite sex. The images were tagged with a prompt stating either "good for you" or "bad for you." The participants were then asked to either accept or reject "potential partners" based on these prompts within a certain time limit.
Some participants were also asked to go against their inclinations by rejecting desirable partners and accepting the undesirable, while others were specifically asked to do the opposite.
Results of this experiment showed that men performed worse than women, as they experienced a significantly stronger impulse to accept the desirable partners rather than the undesirable partners.
The researchers say the men's "impulse" to accept the desirable partners demonstrates why they performed worse than women in this task.
However, the experiment also estimated people's ability to exert control over their responses, and the researchers note that men did not demonstrate a poorer ability to control their responses relative to women.
"Overall, these studies suggest that men are more likely to give in to sexual temptations because they tend to have stronger sexual impulse strength than women do," says Natasha Tidwell.
"But when people exercise self-control in a given situation, this sex difference in behavior is greatly reduced. It makes sense that self-control, which has relatively recent evolutionary origins compared to sexual impulses, would work similarly - and as effectively - for both men and women."
Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that a person does not have to be in their partner's presence to know how they are feeling.