My Neighbors Are Penis Zombies

Science sez, men really are mindless penis zombies:

[The authors] recruited 35 students, offering to pay each a small fee for the effort of masturbating while answering a survey.
Ariely and Loewenstein say their results are “striking” and more than confirm what most people believe about young men as a group – that when aroused, they (1) become sexually attracted to things otherwise offputting; (2) grow more willing to engage in morally questionable behaviour that might lead to sex; and (3) are more likely to have unprotected sex.

The study, incidentally, was done on undergrads here at Cal, so the results will be fun to think about when I’m walking around campus:

  • 34% of male undergrads believe birth control is the woman’s responsibility
  • 8% believe the withdrawal method is an effective form of birth control
  • 42% think women’s shoes are erotic
  • 5% would slip a woman a drug to increase the chances that she would have sex with them
  • 20% would keep trying to have sex with someone after she says “no”

I can only hope that 20% of my neighbors think “keep trying to have sex” means “whine at her about your blue balls” and not “keep shoving your penis where it isn’t wanted”.

In their concluding remarks (pdf here), Ariely and Loewenstein make some sensible points about how we’re generally bad at predicting our own behavior in the heat of passion, and awareness of our own frailty can help us make better decisions. Then they dive straight in to the deep end of the crazy pool:

[J]udges and jurors, who are generally unaroused when making decisions of guilt and punishment, may be excessively condemnatory and punitive toward sexual offenders because they make their decisions in a sexually unaroused state and fail to appreciate how intense sexual arousal would alter even their own decision-making in potentially compromising circumstances. The result is that decisions will be stigmatized as immoral misbehavior even by people who would themselves make the same choice when in an aroused state. It should be clear that such effects of arousal cannot justify any sexual exploitation, but they can make such behaviors somewhat more understandable. From the perspective of the legal system it is possible that sexual arousal should be given more credit as a partially mitigating factor than it would normally receive.

Deconstructing this dogfuckingly awry perspective is left as an exercise to the reader. What blows my mind is that such utterly irrelevant garbage can make it through peer review! Half-assed philosophy of law is pretty clearly outside the realm of the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, as are sly digs at date-rape victims who failed to properly empathize and anticipate the penis-zombie behaviors of their attackers. And you can say “our study can’t be generalized to women” without adding a 345-character digression on the placid, easygoing nature of the female sex drive. These people need a sterner editor; I think I just permanently damaged my eye-rolling muscles.

Link via Calstuff.


  1. Dave wrote:

    Various methods of statistical analysis aside, their sample size is incredibly small. Only 35 male undergraduates?
    I mean it’s pretty inconclusive. Only 42% found women’s shoes erotic? Come on, we all know there are waaaaayyyy more freaks at Berkeley than that!
    Plus, we know social sciences are really all about how well you can wave your hands while talking about random nonsensical topics. This should definitely be nominated for an Ig Nobel next year though!

  2. yami wrote:

    It’s not the small size so much as the extreme non-randomness that concerns me. I’m with you on the Ig Nobel, though I suspect that the sexology category is quite a crowded field.
    Are you at AGU this week?

  3. Dave wrote:

    I will be at AGU at some point, though unfortunately not for any significant research that I myself am doing.
    I’m a co-author on a poster for an outreach program we have over here. A few high school students worked with us this summer on a research project dealing with fossils found at Capitola Beach and we created a poster with our findings.
    Basically showing them what research is all about and how these swanky meetings work, as well as trying to get them interested in geosciences.
    We should be there most of the afternoon on Thursday (though I might be slightly late due to a Chem II lab. Blasted!), Anyway, the poster is “The Purisima Formation at Capitola Beach, Santa Cruz County, CA: A Deeper Examination of Pliocene Fossils”
    Do you have a poster or going at all this week as well?

  4. LDH wrote:

    At least the sample size on this is better than one journal article I read long long ago regarding visual pattern recognition in cats where they based their elaborate statistical analyses on experiments run on 3 (count ‘em, *3*) cats (I mean, it’s probably difficult to attach the electrodes into their little brains and all, but still..)

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