March 24, 2010 -- What does it take to make a young man literally "throw caution to the wind" and risk life and limb in a daring task? The mere presence of a good looking woman.
That startling conclusion, which most people have probably believed ever since Adam cast his eyes upon a naked Eve, is no longer just common sense. It's now science.
That's right, two psychologists in Australia have shown that when an attractive woman is on the scene, levels of testosterone - the principal male sex hormone that makes men different from women - soar. Richard Ronay and William von Hippel of the University of Queensland published their findings in the journal, Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Their research, they say in the conclusion of their study, "provides evidence for an effect that has existed in art, mythology, and literature for thousands of years: Beautiful women lead men to throw caution to the wind." That's probably part of our evolutionary heritage, the scientists argue. Male birds aren't the only ones who preen in front of a potential mate.
Ronay and Hippel recruited 96 male skateboarders, ranging in age from 18 to 35, in Brisbane, Australia, for their experiment. The participants, who were paid $20 each, were divided into two groups and asked to try both easy and difficult tricks on their skateboards.
Skateboarders More Daring in Front of Attractive Women
A male judge rated all the tricks by one group, but the second group performed first before a male judge, and then before a female judge.
No photos were supplied with the study, but the female must have been, in skateboarder parlance, a fox. According to the study, 20 "independent male raters" looked at a photo of the 18-year-old female and rated her on a scale of 1 (very unattractive) to 7 (very attractive.)
"The mean attractiveness rating was 5.58 which was significantly higher than the scale midpoint of 4," the study notes, and the "attractiveness ratings were corroborated by many informal comments and phone number requests from the skateboarders."
When the observer was a male, the participants went through their routines rather ... routinely. But when the observer was the attractive young lady, everything changed.
The skateboarders attempted more daring tricks, and they succeeded more often.
Male Subjects More Willing to Tempt Fate for Women
They also aborted fewer tricks, suggesting that they were more willing to tempt fate, even if their timing was a little off or something wasn't quite right.
And, oh yes. They crashed more often.
"Saliva samples were collected by passive drool at the conclusion of the experiment," the study says. Subsequent analysis in a lab confirmed what the experimenters had expected - the level of testosterone was significantly higher among the young men who performed in front of the young woman than among the men who performed only for a male judge.
Does that prove their point? Not entirely, the researchers conclude. It's possible that the fact that they performed better in front of the woman and were willing to live closer to the edge raised their testosterone, not the mere presence of the woman. That's unlikely, they say, but more research is needed to answer this and other lingering questions.
How attractive does the woman have to be to cause a man to "throw caution to the wind?" Would any woman cause that, or does she really have to be a fox? Maybe the male judge caused their testosterone to decrease, contributing to a less than spectacular performance.
Those questions will persist until someone gets to the bottom of all of this. In the meantime, perhaps the poets can continue to address the issue, as they have for thousands of years.
They've probably been right all along.
Nothing changes a man more than a good woman. He will be more daring, he will succeed more often, and he may have more "crash landings."