This is big news for guys. For years, I’ve gently mocked my half of the species for being far-too-easily influenced by female images. Babes in bikinis alter male behavior, but it doesn’t always take that much. Simply including a photo of an attractive woman in a loan offer was enough to boost the response rate as much as a 4% lower interest rate (see A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal). Women, meanwhile, have been shown to be largely immune to manipulation by mere photos. In Brainfluence, my chapter on gender is heavily skewed toward influencing males – mostly because it’s far easier!
It would be easy to conclude that guys are ridiculously shallow (even subconsciously), but a new study shows that women aren’t actually immune to what psychologists call “sexual primes.” The lack of female response in past research seems to have been due to the investigators priming the wrong sense: sight. Touch, it turns out, is the more powerful sense for women.
The behavior that researchers have found in men exposed to sexual primes is “reward seeking.” Male subjects become more short-term oriented and more impatient. They are less willing to delay gratification for a larger future reward. If they were subjects in an adult marshmallow test, guys primed with female images would gobble the marshmallows and ransack the room for the rest of the bag.
The Belgian scientists tried a different approach to priming women. Instead of showing female subjects images of bare-chested hunks or Clooney-clones, they had women touch a pair of men’s boxer shorts. They found that the tactile stimulus increased reward-seeking behavior among women and made them less loss averse for both money and food.
Challenge for Marketers
Marketers have exploited the ease of priming males since the dawn of advertising. Even today, one sees advertising with the gratuitous insertion of attractive female imagery, mostly in ads for products and services bought primarily by males.
Knowing that women can be influenced in a similar way by tactile stimuli may make male marketers feel better about their gender, but it doesn’t make their job much easier. Visual cues can be easily added in many media: print, email, websites, video, TV commercials, etc. Tactile cues, particularly something specific like a pair of boxer shorts, just don’t lend themselves to easy or inexpensive inclusion in marketing.
I do think this research could have a bit of applicability in retail – packaging and displays that let female shoppers touch samples of men’s apparel (aren’t women the biggest buyers of underwear for men?) might result in higher sales.
Presumably, other tactile primes might work as well as boxers. Surely, there’s some readily available conference swag item that might do the trick. If you have a creative idea, please leave a (SFW) comment!