Seeking attention from a person who is already interested in you is a very common response.
This may sound like a strange thing to do, but it’s something that is actually happening, according to new research from the University of Michigan.
“We found that individuals who were not interested in a particular person at the time were less likely to engage in this behaviour when they were seeking attention,” said lead author David W. Williams, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at the university.
“But they weren’t necessarily less interested when they found out about it later.”
Researchers from the U-M Department of Psychology were curious to know how this happened.
They designed a study to test participants’ perceptions of someone who was interested in them, but had yet to meet.
The participants were split into two groups, one who was told that they had just met a woman, and another who was not told that she was interested.
The first group of participants were then asked to complete a questionnaire that asked them to rate their perceived attraction to the opposite-sex person, their willingness to meet them, and how often they were willing to meet someone of their own gender.
Participants rated the attractiveness of the opposite gender person on a scale of one to seven, with one being a five.
The second group of individuals were asked to fill out a questionnaire to determine their willingness, ability, and likelihood of meeting with the opposite side.
In this second group, participants rated the same things on a four-point scale: one being an eight, and one being six.
They then completed a separate survey that asked participants to rate the same thing about their sexual interest in the opposite person, but they were asked specifically to rate it on a six-point, five-point or zero-point Likert scale.
The results of the survey indicated that the participants in the second group were more interested in the woman than the man, even when they had never met the other person.
The women’s ratings of the men’s attractiveness increased as they approached the woman, even though they were still only half as interested in meeting her as they were in meeting the man.
“This suggests that a person’s sexual attraction to someone of the same gender can become a cue for others to make assumptions about whether a person is interested in someone of that gender,” said Williams.
“It seems that a sexual interest that you have in someone, and then find out later that they are interested in somebody of the other gender, can be a cue that others have for you, which then increases your likelihood of making a decision about how you are going to respond to that person,” he said.
When the researchers analyzed the data from the second study, they discovered that a lot of people who were attracted to the other sex were not really interested in that person.
“In this second study of sexual interest, we found that participants were less interested in an individual who was already interested,” said study co-author Jonathan J. Schott, a doctoral candidate in the U of M’s department of psychology.
“They were more likely to make inferences about whether that person was interested, even if they were not actually interested in her at the moment.
That suggests that we need to think about how we interact with people who are already interested, and if that is going to lead to us making a more positive or even less negative assessment of that person.”
The researchers suggest that, at the very least, it might be helpful for people to try to keep a certain level of interest in someone who is not yet interested.
“It’s important to remember that sexual interest is an illusion, so if you don’t find a sexual partner who you like, then you might have to keep trying,” Williams said.
“In the future, it would be interesting to look at ways to reduce this expectation bias in the future.
The research has shown that when people have to face the reality that someone is not interested, they are less likely try to convince themselves they’re attracted to that other person.”
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