Why Some Men Can't Take a Hint

Men who are sexually aggressive tend to be worse at reading a woman's cues that she's not interested than men who are more relaxed about sex, according to a new study. The study's finding - that difficulties interpreting a woman's cues are linked with sexual aggression - certainly does not excuse rape, says University of Iowa psychologist Teresa Treat, a study researcher.

"But if we can better understand how women's cues might be misinterpreted, we'll be better able to address the difficulties of some young men that can result in such negative consequences," Treat said, according to LiveScience.com.

The statistics on sexual violence are sobering: some 17.6 percent of American women will be the victim of a rape, or an attempted rape, sometime during their lives, according to Department of Justice study conducted in 2000.

For the research for the study on misreading a woman's cues,  Treat's team of researchers invited more than 200 college-age men to view full-body pictures of women of varied levels of attractiveness. The women also wore different styles of clothing, and displayed various types of body language. While some were scowling or obviously not interested, other women in the photos had a "come-hither" expression.

When the men were shown the same pictures for a second time, the photos were mixed with new ones of the same women - except that the women in the new pictures had the opposite expression. If they'd been smiling and looking interested before, they now looked scornful, for instance.

Next, the men, who described their relationship history and attitudes toward sex in a survey, were instructed to select the pictures they'd viewed previously.

The result? Generally, the guys proved to be proficient at recalling the women who'd worn the "come-hither" expression - in particular when they were attractive and dressed in a provocative manner. But not all the men were as good at recalling the women's body language. In general, the men who were sexually aggressive (according to the surveys they'd completed) were the worst at remembering the women's original expression.

"Tracking and remembering a partner's emotions may play a role in the initiation and maintenance of a serious romantic relationship," Treat said, according to LiveScience.com. "Likewise, misremembering a woman's level of sexual interest could prompt some men to make unwanted sexual advances and become frustrated when a woman doesn't respond as anticipated."

Researchers are uncertain of how to interpret the study's finding, but one theory is that sexual aggression could result when a man is unable to correctly read a woman's cues.

Men in general aren't as good as women at picking up on the cues of another person, says Bonnie Eaker Weil, Ph.D., author of Make Up, Don't Break Up. "Men may be passive aggressive," she says. "And they may ignore the signals that are given to them."

Men who misread a woman's cues may act sexually aggressive when they've been drinking, says Daniela Schreier, Psy. D., of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology.

"When people are under the influence of alcohol, they get a little bolder," she says. "And a man who can't read a woman's cues and who thinks the door is still open doesn't take rejection very well when it happens. Let's face it, when a woman indicates a lack of interest, it can feel like a huge rejection."