This is something of a follow-up to yesterday's post, about how men can improve their testosterone levels — and thereby increase their interest in sex.
But today, I'm more interested in how single women can help a man feel more sexually energized during the early stages of dating.
Recently — on the advice of my pundit friend Reihan Salam — I read a book called Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious* by University of Virginia psychologist Tim Wilson. It's about how our unconscious mind controls, initiates, and shapes many of our behaviors, emotions, and thoughts. In other words, we're often not aware of the psychological processes that are influencing us.
Let me summarize one of the most interesting studies Wilson describes. The researchers who conducted it split their volunteers, all male, into two groups. Both groups were asked to cross a scary footbridge in a large park. The first group was greeted halfway across the bridge by an attractive female assistant who asked them to fill out a questionnaire and also gave each man her phone number in case he wanted to discuss the study further. The second group was greeted by the same assistant — only she didn't greet them on the bridge, but rather once they made it safely across to the other side.
65 percent of the dudes whom she'd greeted while on the scary bridge called to ask her for a date — while only 30 percent of those in the second group, who were sitting on a park bench when she greeted them, did the same.
The researchers theorized that the men in the first group were physiologically aroused when they met the woman — their adrenalin was pumping — and that they'd misattributed their feelings of arousal to the woman rather than the bridge.
Interesting, right? We can become aroused by things we aren't entirely aware of — and we can explain away this arousal by associating it with a person who happens to be nearby.
Which got me thinking: Are there ways that we daters can have more power over our dates — ways that we can trick people into liking us more — by inducing some kind of physiological or hormonal reaction in them? I decided to talk to Wilson about how to do just that.
1. Consider Caffeine
On a first date, might it actually be best to ingest caffeine — which produces feelings of alertness and euphoria — rather than alcohol, which can be a slight depressant?
Maybe, but not necessarily. The key to the bridge study is that participants didn't fully recognize that the assistant was the source of their arousal. Thus, caffeine would work only if people didn't recognize how much their arousal was due to their cup of coffee or Red Bull.
2. Engage in Unusual Activities
I wonder if engaging in unusual activities is best early on in a courtship. Might you misattribute the excitement you feel when, say, using a rented bicycle built for two?
Yes. And recent research by Art Aron at Stony Brook University shows that new activities are good even for those in long-term relationships. For his study, he asked some couples who came into his lab to do things they didn't normally do — like playing the game Twister. Those couples were more likely than those who didn't do unusual things together to rekindle their feelings of love. I would think that any novel activity that is somewhat arousing and energizing would work — going for a hike in a new place, going rock climbing, exploring a new city.
3. Do Things That Are Slightly Scary
Is there a sensible way to introduce a slight amount of danger or fearfulness into a first date, along the lines of the bridge study?
When I was in high school, a popular place to go on first dates was the amusement park. So a roller coaster might work — or a scary movie.
4. Exercise Together
Any thoughts about how to make yourself appear more attractive while flying under the radar?
Some old studies show that people who exercise don't realize how long they will be physiologically aroused. As a result, 10 minutes or so after a workout, they're in a prime position to misattribute that arousal to something else ("I'm in love!"). I think younger people exercise more, however, and might be more savvy about how their bodies react. Nonetheless, it might be worth going for a run with a new guy and, a few minutes after you get back, taking his hand in yours...
*The title of Wilson's book comes from the opening of Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals — which I happen to be reading right now.