This study for the first time highlights that sexual signals cause adequate distraction of men's thoughts, thereby preventing them from focusing on their task. Men with inherent high levels of testosterone are particularly at increased risk of this distraction, following exposure to alluring images.
The researchers from University of Leuven recruited 176 heterosexual males between the age of 18 to 28 years. The study participants were encouraged to participate in certain financial games to test their fail play. One group of the male students were shown sexual cues of some kind. A group consisting of 44 men was given pictures that were to be rated. In this group again, some were shown pictures of attractive women while others were shown landscapes.
The second group of study participants consisting of 37 men was asked to analyze the texture, quality and color of a t-shirt or bra. The third group of men (95) were shown pictures of either young models or elderly women. Men form different groups were then paired to play a financial game, with $10. While the proposer suggested a split, the other game participant could either reject or accept the offer.
If the offer was accepted, the money was distributed as agreed earlier while neither partner got anything if the offer was rejected. The game was designed to mimic a situation representing hunting or food sharing situations. Surprisingly, men exposed to alluring images were more likely to accept a unfair offer compared to their counterparts.
Additionally, the length of the men's index finger to their ring finger was compared to get an idea about their testosterone level. A high testosterone level is indicated by a comparatively long ring finger. Men with high levels of the sex hormone were found to display a poor performance in the financial game. This effect could perhaps be due to their increased sensitivity to sexual images.
'We like to think we are all rational beings, but our research suggests ... that people with high testosterone levels are very vulnerable to sexual cues. If there are no cues around, they behave normally. But if they see sexual images they become impulsive. It's a tendency, but these people are not powerless to fight it. Hormone levels are one thing, but we can learn to deal with it,' said Dr Siegfried DeWitte, one of the researchers involved in the study.
'The fact men are distracted by sexual cues fits in to evolutionary experience. It's what they are expected to do. They are looking for opportunities to pass on their genes. If a man is being asked to choose between something being presented by an attractive woman and an ugly men, they might not be as dispassionate as they could be,' concluded Dr George Fieldman of the Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College.
Similar research is being conducted in women to examine if a visual stimulus could affect their behaviour.