Contextual representation may mediate sex differences in heterosexual attraction
Evolution Mind and Behaviour
Heterosexual men and women differ in their sensitivity to cues indicating material status. This dissociation has been explained by appealing to sexual selection processes that encourage women to evaluate men on the basis of their material status but could perhaps be explained by sex differences in contextual attention, or, associative representations. Method: In Experiment 1, heterosexual women rated the attractiveness of an opposite sex model in 4 conditions; (1) attractive context, (2)
... context, (2) attractive context with implied ownership, (3) unattractive context, and (4) unattractive context with ownership implied. A second experiment used a fictitious stockbroker learning task (with both men and women) in 2 biconditional discriminations to measure contextual attention (stage 1) and then to explore the structure of contextual representation (stage 2) using a transfer of occasion setting test. Results: In Experiment 1, females increased ratings in attractive contexts, both when context ownership was implied and when it was not. In the first stage of Experiment 2, men and women were equally sensitive to contextual cues. In stage 2, women's learning was impaired when a stimulus previously used as a target was employed as a context (they showed transfer of occasions setting), men showed no such difference. Conclusions: Sex differences in sensitivity to cues indicating material status may reflect how men and women tend to encode the relationships between background/context stimuli and target stimuli. Women automatically attend to the background and modulate the value of targets using a hierarchical form of representation, whilst men represent background-target associations configurally.