Worst Science Article of The Week: Women Are Evil, and Want Your Husband

By Melissa Lafsky | August 20, 2009 11:45 am

Jealous womanOh Lord. From the Telegraph, we’d expect this. But New Scientist?

From a piece posted earlier this week:

Women: do you have a man? If you do, better beware. Chances are that some lone female has her eye on him.

A new study provides evidence for what many have long suspected: that single women are much keener on pursuing a man who’s already taken than a singleton.

The study of which they speak consisted of a survey of 184 heterosexual university students, both male and female. Half were single, and half in relationships. The entire group was told that a computer program would match them with an ideal partner.

Unbeknownst to the participants (but knownst to us), everyone was offered a “fictitious candidate partner who had been tailored to match their interests exactly.” Every woman was shown the same picture of “Mr Right,” and ditto for the men. Half the participants were told their ideal mate was single, and the other half that he or she was off the market. According to NS,

The most striking result was in the responses of single women. Offered a single man, 59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase.

The article goes on to quote the study authors’ conclusions like:

single women may be more drawn to attached men because they’ve already been “pre-screened” by other women and found to be satisfactory as a mate, whereas single men are more of an unknown quantity.

What the piece neglected to note was the fact that filling out a survey form indicating you might be willing to go after a dude is a far cry from actually going after that dude. So by logic, a small sample size of women reporting more interest in an attached man shouldn’t lead to a screaming rush of hide-your-men-crazy-zombie-mate-poachers-are-on-the-loose.

Plus, there’s also the small matter of what those photos of Mr. Right looked like, as the study authors note:

One limitation of the present study was that it used a single male and female target photo and although our pretest indicated both photos were perceived as moderately attractive, our study showed men’s attractiveness ratings for the female photo were higher than women’s ratings for the male photo.

So maybe the lede should be something more like: “If your man is not super attractive, other women may need him to be pre-screened before they’d think about going after him.”

This post has been appended from its original version.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Can Pheromone Body Wash Make You More Desirable?
Discoblog: Bad Study of the Week: A Social Life Predisposes Women to Rape
Discoblog: Two Twins, Two Dads: DNA Test Proves “Twins” Born to Different Fathers

Image: iStockphoto

  • yo mama

    I’ve noticed newscientist.com having more and more BS “clickbait” stories. That’s why I’ve started looking around for another science news site. I’m trying out discover, and this is a good start. Stick it to ’em!

    Yo mama

  • http://thenemetaphysicalclub.blogspot.com Stephanie

    I’m not quite certain what qualifies this article for “Worst Science Article of the Week” based on the criticisms you’ve noted. Also, there is a misprint here (based on a misprint on NS). “59 per cent were interested in pursuing a relationship. But when he was attached, 90 per cent said they were up for the chase”… This was the main effect for sex, and the numbers reflect a -3 to + 3 scale, not percentages.

  • Pingback: Dr Petra Boynton I Blog I Sex and science stuff - 21/08/09()

  • Sean

    “What the piece neglected to note was the fact that filling out a survey form indicating you might be willing to go after a dude is a far cry from actually going after that dude.”

    But this is unfortunately a problem with all sorts of these kinds of studies. Yes, it is an important caveat, but it is not unique to this study and in no way qualifies it as the “worst science article of the week.”

    “If your man is not super attractive, other women may need him to be pre-screened before they’d think about going after him.”

    Are you joking? Since 99% of men are not “super attractive,” this hardly changes the point at all.

    You seem to be criticizing this article because you do not like its conclusion, but you aren’t giving any valid reasons for criticizing it. (“Hide-your-men-crazy-zombie-mate-poachers-are-on-the-loose “—seriously!?) I am not defending it, but kneejerk politics doesn’t belong in a science blog.

  • http://starkreal.blogspot.com/ Todd I. Stark

    Dissenting Opinion

    Please pardon another dissenting opinion here (thanks, Sean), but I didn’t think the data was intrinsically weaker than any other survey based study, at least not from what I’ve seen so far, nor does the NS editorial spin seem particularly severe. Yes they took some sensationalistic liberties with their speculations on the implications that went beyond the data, but that’s why they’re a magazine not a science journal. Discover does precisely the same thing, as evidenced for example by the over-reaction on this page.

    I am surprised at how much of a politicized sounding reaction this report got on this page and how little substantive analysis so far justifies the extreme tone of the reaction (“worst article or the week”). I’m looking very hard for some knowledgeable analysis of evidence and seeing only “I don’t like someone saying that women would do this,” and “it doesn’t seem logical to me.” Those aren’t substantive critiques of evidence, unless has somehow become a matter of opinion.

    From what I see, it seems a perfectly reasonable, plausible hypothesis that under some conditions women may evaluate men favorably based on some signal that they are capable of committment, which happens to be provided by an established relationship. I don’t know if the current data really helps us evaluate that hypothesis yet, and certainly the article on this page didn’t help at all either.

    This hypothesis is not all that different from the notion that men or women might be attracted to someone because they have cute kids, which people don’t seem to get so offended over. Or do they?

    It may not be terribly easy to demonstrate, but it’s not impossible and it might be useful information, even if it were only true under certain conditions.

    Maybe I’m missing something, and maybe the data will turn out to be worthless, but I don’t see that in any substantive form from the critiques here in any case, I just see a knee-jerk reaction.

    As I said, I realize this is a dissenting opinion here, and I’m open to be persuaded if I’ve erred in my evaluation.

    kind regards,


  • http://www.singletude.blogspot.com Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

    Perhaps I can offer some more convincing evidence to support the author’s assertion that this is pseudoscience, although the bigger problem is how the media reported it. Just about every media source that picked up this article used it to vilify single women, asserting that married women should beware of their single friends, who were undoubtedly preparing to sink claws into their husbands at the first opportunity.

    The first problem with this portrayal is that the study only examined college-age girls, many of whom still have a superficial, competitive, “high-school” attitude toward relationships and see dating as a big game rather than the prelude to something serious. So the results aren’t necessarily generalizable to older women.

    Second, the researchers informed the students that they were selecting men from a dating database and that the man in question was “in a current relationship.” However, the media changed “current” to “committed,” “serious,” or even “marital.” Now, if a college-age guy was using a dating service and said he was in a “current” relationship, a lot of girls would assume it wasn’t too serious. Pursuing that guy is a lot different than pursuing a guy who’s been married for 10 years.

    Third, the questions the researchers asked mostly had to do with how attractive the girls found the guy. There were only one or two questions asking them if they would be interested in actively pursuing him. These were all factored into the same composite score. The problem is that you can’t assume women will actually pursue attached guys just because they might find them more attractive.

    Finally, the researchers didn’t clarify that they were asking if the girls would pursue the guy while he was in a relationship. There’s too much room for that question to be interpreted as a hypothetical (i.e., assuming you could, in a perfect world, would you be interested in pursuing this guy?). I know I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they meant while he was still with someone else! So, again, it might be stretching it to assume that these girls actually would pursue the guy while he was unavailable.

    At the end of the day, we know one thing from this study–that college-age women find guys with relationship experience more attractive, which makes sense. We don’t know if they find guys more attractive when they’re currently in relationships because the study didn’t test for that. A better design would’ve included one single guy with no previous relationship experience, one single guy with previous relationship experience, and one guy currently in a relationship. That’s the only way to identify whether it’s relationship experience in general or current relationship status that attracts women. I’m willing to bet that the single guy with verified previous relationships would fare just as well or better than the “taken” guy.

  • http://onely.org Onely

    Yes to everything Singletude said! Thanks, Singletude.

    As a dedicated New Scientist subscriber–I am such a geek that my heart actually flutters when it arrives in my mailbox–I was disappointed to see them buying into the singlist party line here. Say it’s not so! = ( = ( = (

    I feel a letter to the editor coming on. . . You all should write too!!


  • Pingback: Study: Talking to Hot Women Makes Men Lose Brain Function | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • http://onely.org Onely

    This article is printed in the hard copy edition too: 22 August 2009, page 15. Everyone write in!


  • amphiox

    I wonder how “attached” the attached man was presented as. Did they say what kind of romantic relationship the man was in? ie dating casually, dating steadily, engaged, married, married with dependent children, married but separating, etc. It would seem to me that the level of social taboo with regards to breaking the prior relationship might have at least some effect on the willingness of the single woman to try. For example, a man “attached” in a casual dating relationship would still be considered relatively “available” since most such relationships are not permanent, while to break up a family with young dependent children is one of the stronger taboos.

    And to control for the “pre-screened” hypothesis, they needed to include other forms of socially unavailable partners not related to being in a relationship with another woman. For example, one choice could have been a priest (or a priest in training who might conceivably be convinced to change his mind) or other vocation with a vow of celibacy.

  • Pingback: Do Men Get Struck By Lightning More Than Women? | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()

  • Rich

    You are forgetting that humans are animals, and like any other animal, follow certain mating behaviours. you may not like them, just like you wouldn’t like to be an “ugly” human, but that is not evidence they are false.

    Second, you seem to see the results as “evil” and “bad”. How exactly is it “bad”? What are you basing your opinion on? I mean, from a single male perspective it may be “bad”, but as a scientist (as you are respresenting on a scientific magazine blog), I don’t find this as bad or good, simply as true (or possibly true). Is it “wrong” that “example gender” has “example problem” while the other doesn’t? Is it wrong that human mating behaviour is as it is? No, it simply is.

    If you don’t like the (said supported) “truth” of your subconcious, then recognize it, form and opinion (you have done) and behave the way you want to behave (regardless of your urges).

    all human behaviour is “bad” from some point of view, is it any suprise this behaviour is “bad” to you?

  • Pingback: Should We Be Funding Studies on the Perfect Piece of Toast? | Discoblog | Discover Magazine()


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


Quirky, funny, and surprising science news from the edge of the known universe.

See More

Collapse bottom bar