Megs Carpenter, PhD.

Social Psychologist

Sex, Power, & Attraction: impact of power on sociosexuality and attraction

Across the globe, men have historically had more access to power, resources, and social status than women. Much of our current literature on sexual behaviors is based on the idea that sexual strategies are dependent on both ecological conditions (e.g., sex ratios, parasite prevalence, access to resources) and the biological imperative to mate. The current study investigated power -- defined as one's control over others -- as a potentially important social factor in the sexual behavior of women. Two studies experimentally manipulated women's sense of power in order to determine its impact on sociosexuality and attraction to specific facial features.

In Study 1, participants completed a narrative priming task asking them to either write about a time when they had power over others (high power condition), or others had power over them (low power condition). Following this priming task, participants completed a series of measures including the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory- Revised (SOI-R; Penke & Asendorpf, 2008) and the Mate Value Inventory-7 (MVI-7; Kirsner, Figuerdo, & Jacobs, 2003). Results demonstrated that women in the high power condition tended to be less willing to engage in casual sex, than those in the low power condition. This supports sexual strategies theory, which argues that whenever possible women should prefer long-term committed sexual relationships.  

In Study 2, participants completed the same narrative power priming task as in Study 1, following by a task meant to illicit a mating goal (i.e., get participants to think about sex with a partner as a goal). This mating goal task asked participants to select from a list of 10 faces those that they found most attractive. Following this task, participants were shown an array of faces for each face they found attractive in the primary array. In this secondary array of 5 faces, the original face they found attractive was morphed to be more or less masculine and participants were asked to indicate which face within this array they found most attractive (see Figures 1 and 2). Finally, participants completed the SOI-R. Results demonstrated a direct contrast to those found in Study 1, such that women in the high power condition, when primed with a mating goal, were more interested in casual sex than those in low power. Furthermore, women in the high power condition were more likely to believe that the targets that they found attractive would also find them attractive in return. 

This study is currently being written up for publication, stay tuned for the manuscript! More details are forthcoming. 

Figure 1
Target Faces Used in Primary Array for Study 2

Figure 2

Sample Secondary Array for Study 2



Figure 2. Sample secondary array using Target C from the primary array. Faces become incrementally more masculine as you look from left to right.  For each face individuals found attractive in the primary array, they were shown a secondary array that manipulated the masculinity of the primary target, with the primary target being the midpoint of masculinity.