That time in the 1970s when scientists studied pickup artists

There's nothing like an experiment that can turn everyone, especially creepy pick-up artists, into a citizen scientist. Russell Clark and Elaine Hatfield conducted such an experiment in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There were clear results.

What would you do if someone of your preferred gender walked up and asked if you wanted to go to bed with them? The reply should probably be, "Are you a scientist?" Believe it or not, this was a study conducted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Volunteers recruited by scientists approached a number of people and asked them for a casual hook-up.


The study was pretty simple. A male volunteer approached women and a female volunteer approached men. They walked up to people around a college campus - because you know those college kids with their slutty knowledge - and asked, "I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be very attractive. Would you go to bed with me tonight?" To be fair to the scientists, there were variations, like "Will you come over to my apartment," or even "Would you go out tonight".

About seventy-five percent of men were happy to accept, but no woman did. The study wasn't extensive. The researchers only asked forty-eight people of each sex, and had many variations on the question, so the research wasn't comprehensive - but there was a large gender disparity. The scientists noted that there were "many possible reasons" for this.

What's interesting is the procedure for the experiment. The volunteers were rated by attractiveness (that must have made for an awkward time in the lab), and were asked to rate each person they approached on a one to ten scale of attractiveness as well. The volunteers were told to only approach people they themselves found attractive enough to have sex with, but weren't actually required to sleep with them. After the subject gave their response - whatever it was - scientists popped out of the woodwork to explain to them what the experiment was, question them briefly, and thank them for their participation. That must have been a real treat.

This happened thirty years ago, now. Do you think the answers (on both sides) might have been different? Do you think there might have been a way to rephrase the question to get more women, or more women than men, to respond in the affirmative? And will you now forever after be paranoid about strangers approaching you on the street with romantic interest?


Via Gender Differences in Receptivity to Sexual Offers, Mad Science Book.

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