Seeing sexual ads while hungry makes men more likely to make impatient financial decisions but decreases the risk of impatient financial choices for women, a new study in Personality and Individual Differences finds.
According to Parental Investment Theory, men and women are attracted to different traits in opposite-sex partners due to divergences in the investment they have to make into an offspring. Because men have relatively low obligatory parental investment, they tend to be highly influenced by female beauty and more likely to “show off” when exposed to sexual cues. Women, whose parental investment is much higher, prioritize wealth and status over sexual appeal in potential partners to ensure they have sufficient resources to raise the child.
Previous research indicates that hungry people are prone to making impatient decisions and opt for immediate rather than delayed benefits. In the present study, researchers sought to test how the combination of hunger and exposure to sexual ads would affect people’s financial decisions.
“One of the reasons we were interested in this topic was the quite ambiguous effects of sex in advertising, as demonstrated in previous research. Moreover, we wanted to explore potentially interactive effects between two basic human drives (in our case linked to hunger and sexual arousal) on people’s financial decisions,” said study author Tobias Otterbring, an associate professor at Aarhus University.
To conduct the experiment, the researchers recruited 265 university students (51% female). All participants were randomly divided into three groups: one experimental and two controls. In the experimental condition, participants were shown sexual ads, while the two control groups viewed neutral ads or no ads at all. After this, all participants were asked to choose between receiving $35 in 20 days or $30 tomorrow. Lastly, participants rated how hungry they were during their participation in the study.
The results indicate that being exposed to sexual ads while being hungry increases the likelihood of making impatient financial decisions for men. For women, the combination of hunger and sexual ads, on the contrary, is linked to greater chances of being patient in one’s financial choices.
“Our findings indicate that men and women (or at least male and female undergraduates, which constituted our sample) make different financial decisions after visual exposure to ads with sexually arousing content, but that such sex differences only seem to apply to hungry rather than satiated individuals. According to our results, satiated men and women do not differ in their financial decisions after viewing sexually arousing ads,” Otterbring told PsyPost.
“However, viewing such ads appears to make hungry men more short-sighted in their financial decision-making, while hungry women instead make more future-focused financial decisions.”
The researchers explain these findings with reference to Parental Investment Theory. According to it, the high metabolic cost of childbearing makes women more cautious in sexual behavior when food is a scarce resource. At the same time, the condition of food shortage makes men more inclined to seek additional opportunities for passing their genes on.
“As with all exploratory research, our findings should be interpreted with appropriate caution. Additionally, since we did not collect data on participants’ sexual orientation and only relied on a sample of undergraduates, it would be interesting to investigate whether hunger and exposure to sex cues will have the same impact on financial decisions in participants with different sexual orientations and different demographic profiles, such as older or less educated individuals,” Otterbring added.
The study, “Sexually Arousing Ads Induce Sex-Specific Financial Decisions in Hungry Individuals”, was authored by Tobias Otterbring and Yael Sela.