The ruse is common in spy movies—an attractive female saunters in at a critical moment and seduces the otherwise infallible protagonist, duping him into giving up the goods.
It works in Hollywood and it works in real life, too. Men tend to say yes to attractive women without really scrutinizing whether or not they are trustworthy. But scientists have shown, for the first time, that a drug may be able to overcome this “honey trap,” and help men make more rational decisions.
Nearly 100 men participated in the study; half were given minocycline, an antibiotic normally used to treat acne, and half were given a placebo. After four days of this drug regimen, participants played a computerized one-on-one trust game with eight different women, based only on pictures of the female players.
In each round, the male player was given $13 and shown a picture of one of the female players. The male player would choose how much money he wanted to keep and how much he wanted to give to the female player. The amount given away was then tripled, and the female player would decide whether to split the money with the man or keep it all for herself. Unbeknownst to the men, however, the women kept the money every time.
The researchers also asked the men to evaluate the photos of the females to determine how trustworthy and attractive they appeared, on a scale of 0 to 10.
Just as the researchers hypothesized, the men who had taken the placebo were more trusting of attractive women than unattractive ones: these men gave about 65 percent of their money to the women they rated as attractive, but only 50 percent to those they found unattractive. Those men on the antibiotics, though, gave approximately 50 percent to each group of women, regardless of their attractiveness. The results of the study appeared in Nature earlier this month.
Scientists think the drug may clear the brain of distractions like, in this case, arousal, to improve focus for making rational decisions. And these scientists aren’t the first to show that the antibiotic has effects other than getting rid of zits. Other studies have demonstrated that minocycline can improve patients’ focus on social cues, encourage sober decision making and improve the symptoms associated with schizophrenia and depression.
While taking risks in the presence of attractive women might be a good thing when men are looking for mates, that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to social or financial decisions. Just take it from the lineup of subpar movie spies who have gotten duped.