Men Are Too Stupid To Understand The Word “No” And Can’t Read Body Language: A response to “Perceptual Mechanisms That Characterize Gender Differences in Decoding Women’s Sexual Intent” by Coreen Farris (2008, Psychological Science in press) and “Clueless Guys Can’t Read Women” by Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Staff Writer

Christopher Philip

A recent article by Coreen Farris et al. which is currently in press (2008, Psychological Science) with title “Perceptual Mechanisms That Characterize Gender Differences in Decoding Women’s Sexual Intent” and published through the University of Indiana and Yale says that, “Clueless Guys Can’t Read Women.” The study says that men not only mistake friendly nonverbal language as sexual cues, but also mistake sexual nonverbal language as friendly cues. It seems from her study that men just can’t read body language; they can’t read nonverbal communication by women.

The study had an initial group of both males and females rate images based on four categories (called affect groupings): friendly, sexually interested, sad, or rejecting. From that sample they chose an additional set of 80 men and 80 women to rate the final images into affect groupings once again. A photo was kept if the majority of men and women categorized the picture into the same affect group. Thus, for the study’s purpose, it follows that an average of men and women decided on this subset of photos based on their affect groupings, and then on further ratings, men when compared to women rated the images into the wrong affect group. Is this the best way to conduct this study? Does the conclusion of the study not mean that the affect groupings were poorly constructed from the beginning since men where included at the outset and are poor at rating affect? Does the study not have a very significant flaw?

To improve the study women could be asked to display postures they felt best conveyed the affect groupings. If a woman is asked to do a sexually interested posture, by definition whatever posture she comes up with is an accurate depiction of sexual interest for them. Because it is a posture she created naturally, it’s also a posture that could occur in a natural setting. The same can be done for all other affect groups. Then women and men could rate these photographs to see who is better at rating affect groupings based on the definition set by the female presenting the initial posture. A second method could include a panel of experienced readers of nonverbal language. Why include the poorer rater from the outset when it’s not necessary?

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I also wonder about how far Farris is taking her conclusions and what sort of influence she has had over a recent article presented at entitled, “Clueless Guys Can’t Read Women” by Jeanna Bryner LiveScience Staff Writer. What are the roots of Coreen Farris’ interests? Throughout the publication she cites reasons and motivations, including preventing rape, since men are naturally bad at reading body language, although it is never quite put this way. It’s phrased more along the lines of “Sexually coercive men are more likely than noncoercive men to report incidents of sexual misperception” with citations given. This notwithstanding, her past research deals with sexual coercion and misperceptions of intent indicating that perhaps her agenda is to uncover reasons to explain why men are too stupid to understand the word “no”. She feels that perhaps men’s propensity to rape is actually due to the fact that they are poor readers of body language. Does she forget that rape is a cheater strategy used by men to gain access to women when other means fail or due to a desire to dominate women and not at all because they can’t read body language? Does she think men are too stupid to understand the word “no”? I’ll leave these questions with her and see if she’ll come up with better methodology the next time.

Some notes: I don’t deny that men are naturally poor readers of body language (it’s the reason I wrote my book and why I study it myself). Plenty of studies have shown that women are naturally better. However, I do question the motivation and methodology of this particular study. I also wonder about the alternate viewpoint that women are bad at delivering nonverbal messages and that perhaps some of the onus should be placed on them (at least as far as press releases and research summary articles go).

A direct link to the full study “Clueless Guys Can’t Read Women” and “Perceptual Mechanisms That Characterize Gender Differences in Decoding Women’s Sexual Intent”:

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I have approached Coreen Farris and have allowed her the opportunity to justify the aim and context by which the study was conducted. Here are two e-mails which need to be considered to properly formulate your opinion of the study.

It would seem that:

1) Her research was taken out of context and the headline “Clueless Guys Can’t Read Women” was a way for LiveScience to elicit a visceral response from it’s readers with no direct influence from the study (see e-mail a) and

2) Physical abuse by men on women might be the result of a multitude of variables (too complex at this point to make conclusions) but of which *might* include their inability to read nonverbal cues to body language (see e-mail b).

Email a)

From: Coreen Farris

Date: Sun, Mar 23, 2008 at 12:34 PM Subject: Re: **Body Language Project on – Perceptual Mechanisms That Characterize Gender Differences in Decoding Women’s Sexual Intent To: Christopher Philip


Thank you for the link to your website. You’ve done a nice job of making the human ethology findings accessible. The “clueless guy” headline in the popular press was unfortunate as we have never approached gender differences from a deficit perspective. Rather, friendliness and sexual interest are internal motivations that are remarkably difficult to discriminate.



Email b)

From: Coreen Farris Date: Sun, Mar 23, 2008 at 3:23 PM Subject: Re: **Body Language Project on – Perceptual Mechanisms That Characterize Gender Differences in Decoding Women’s Sexual Intent To: Christopher Philip


I appreciate your continued interest in the research and methodology. My thoughts about the connection between sexual coercion and sexual misperception are outlined here:

Volume 28, issue 1

The article also outlines methodological considerations, which may help to answer some of your questions.

One thing that we’ve learned in the last 30 years of research on sexual violence is that the etiology is multidetermined, complex, and as with all behaviors with low base rates, difficult to predict. Sexual misperception is associated with small effect sizes suggesting that it plays a role *some* of the time for *some* men in *some* situations….


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