In Friday's Psychology, Mind and Neuroscience Roundup, I reported on a study of marital relationships indicating that, on average, wives exert more interactional power and dominance than their husbands. The finding ran contrary to the authors' hypothesis that men would exert more power and dominant behavior in spousal interactions. The authors suggested that women are more controlling because they are responsible and concerned with the happiness of their husbands. My suspicion is that, had the finding been that men are more dominant in interactions between spouses, the authors of the study would not have offered such a flattering explanation for the husbands' behavior.
That study reminded me of another in which researchers hypothesized that men and women lie about the number of sex partners they've had when they are surveyed. Previous research found that, compared with heterosexual women, heterosexual men report having had significantly more opposite-sex partners, indicating that gender is a mediating factor in inaccurate self-reporting in these surveys. It was often assumed that men exaggerate the number of partners they've had while women understate the number of partners they have had.
In a clever design using a "fake lie detector," the researchers found that women were significantly more likely than men to lie about the number of sex partners they have had. In fact, there was no evidence of a male tendency to exaggerate in these self-reports. All of the discrepancy could be attributed to inaccurate reporting by women. One of the researchers accounted for the unexpected finding this way:
"Women are more sensitive to social expectations for their sexual behaviour and may be less than honest when asked about their behaviour in some survey conditions," says Fisher, a psychologist. She says women appeared to feel under pressure to meet expectations of being more relationship-orientated and not promiscuous..."We live in a culture that really does expect a different pattern of sexual behaviour from women than it does from men..."
That may be true, but if the finding had been that men are more dishonest than women in their self-reports, I wonder if the explanation for male exaggeration would have looked anything like this: "[Men] are more sensitive to social expectations for their sexual behavior and may be less than honest when asked about their behavior in some survey conditions...We live in a culture that really does expect a different pattern of sexual behaviour from men than it does from women..."
I doubt it.