Sexual exploitability: observable cues and their link to sexual attraction
Cari D. Goetz⁎, Judith A. Easton, David M.G. Lewis, David M. Buss
The University of Texas at Austin
Initial receipt 10 May 2011; final revision received 12 December 2011
Although antiexploitation adaptations, such as cheater-detection mechanisms, have been well explored, comparatively little research has
focused on identifying adaptations for exploitation. The present study had two purposes: (1) to identify observable cues that afford
information about which women are sexually exploitable and (2) to test the hypothesis that men find cues to sexual exploitability sexually
attractive, an adaptation that functions to motivate pursuit of accessible women. Male participants rated photographs of women who
displayed varying levels of hypothesized cues to exploitability. We identified 22 cues indicative of sexual exploitability. Nineteen of these
cues were correlated significantly with sexual attractiveness, supporting the central hypothesis. Results suggest that sexual attraction to
exploitability cues functions to motivate men to employ exploitative strategies towards accessible targets, and contribute foundational
knowledge to the diverse classes of cues that afford information about which women are and are not sexually exploitable.
© 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Sexual attractiveness; Exploitability
Exploitative resource acquisition strategies are a class of
strategies designed to facilitate resource accrual by taking
advantage of other organisms through deception, coercion, or
force (Buss & Duntley, 2008). Much of the work examining
the domain of exploitability focuses on antiexploitation
adaptations, such as cheater-detection mechanisms and
mechanisms devoted to reactions to being exploited (e.g.,
Cosmides & Tooby, 2005; Fehr, Fischbacher, & Gachter,
2002; Price, Cosmides, & Tooby, 2002), rather than on the
design of adaptations that produce exploitative strategies.
Ancestrally, mate acquisition was one domain in which
exploitative strategies could have been an effective means to
achieve successful mating outcomes, particularly if the
desired outcome was a short-term sexual relationship. Cues
of ease of exploitability are one source of information to
which mechanisms for exploitation should be sensitive (Buss
& Duntley, 2008). We examined three classes of cues that, if
detectable by men, could have enabled them to assess a
woman's vulnerability to sexual exploitation. In addition to
examining cues diagnostic of sexual exploitability, we
investigated the hypothesis that men would find women
displaying cues of sexual exploitability to be sexually
attractive, but not attractive as long-term mates, which
provides motivational impetus for pursuing women with an
increased probability of sexual access.
1.1. Sexual exploitability
Short-term mate acquisition is one domain in which
exploitative strategies would have been adaptive for males.
Because ancestral males and females differed in their
minimum obligatory parental investment (Trivers, 1972),
the calculus for determining whether to engage in a sexual
relationship and how much investment to place in a
relationship differs between the sexes. The sexual conflict
fueled by these differences in mating goals and preferences
would have created two general contexts in which an
exploitative strategy, rather than a cooperative one, could
have been adaptive. First, in situations in which a female did
not want to have sex but a man did, a strategy using some
form of exploitation could have been a way to achieve his
goal. Second, a man might adopt an exploitative strategy
when he sought casual sex, but the woman sought a high-
investment relationship (Buss, 2003).
Research on forms of sexual exploitation such as rape and
sexual coercion suggests that selection could have favored
Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417 –426
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (C.D. Goetz).
1090-5138/$ –see front matter © 2012 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
rape in contexts that lowered the potential costs associated
with using these strategies. Circumstances such as warfare or
when women were separated from protective kin could have
resulted in lower costs of engaging in exploitative strategies
(Figueredo et al., 2001; Gottschall, 2004; Lalumière, Harris,
Quincey, & Rice, 2005; Thornhill & Palmer, 2000). This
suggests that the assessment of a woman's immediate
vulnerability may be central to the activation of psycholog-
ical mechanisms related to sexual exploitation.
We have thus far broadly referred to “exploitative
strategies”without differentiating between potential types
of exploitation. We propose that tactics for sexual
exploitation fall under four somewhat distinct, although
perhaps overlapping, classes: sexual seduction, verbal or
nonverbal pressure, deception, and sexual assault. Sexual
seduction is the act of charming or convincing someone into
having sex. Seduction differs from courtship, which may
include long-term commitment and investment as goals.
Pressure involves relentless persistence, threats, or coercion
to induce an individual into having sex. Deception is
dishonesty about intentions, likelihood of further commit-
ment, or personal characteristics such as those sought by
members of the opposite sex—a phenomenon well
documented in human mating (Haselton, Buss, Oubaid, &
Angleitner, 2005). Sexual assault involves using physical
force, or the threat of physical force, to force sexual
intercourse. Although some cues to sexual exploitability
may be uniquely diagnostic of susceptibility to one type of
exploitation (e.g., cues to being less physically formidable
might make a woman more vulnerable to sexual assault but
not deception), others may be indicative of multiple types of
sexual exploitability (e.g., lower intelligence may make a
woman more susceptible to seduction and deception).
Assessing these strategies discretely enabled us to determine
cues associated with vulnerability to different types of
exploitative strategies that vary in their nature (e.g.,
psychologically exploitative vs. physically exploitative)
and severity (e.g., sexual seduction vs. sexual assault).
Although each exploitative strategy may have distinct
characteristics, during any given attempt to exploit a
woman, a man may employ multiple tactics from different
classes of strategies (e.g., an attempt at sexual seduction
may also involve the use of deception). Thus, we included
all four in the current study to capture a wide array of cues
and to better understand which cues are indicative of
vulnerability to which strategies.
1.2. Cues to sexual exploitability
1.2.1. Psychological cues
Male adaptations to detect cues to sexual exploitability
may be designed to pick up on several classes of cues.
First, men may be sensitive to different psychological traits
indicating that a woman is sexually exploitable. One
category of psychological cues is traits that suggest that a
woman is mentally or emotionally manipulable and could
potentially be persuaded to engage in sexual intercourse.
Low self-esteem and low assertiveness are associated with
having experienced sexual coercion (Greene & Navarro,
1998; Testa & Dermen, 1999). Women low in assertive-
ness and self-esteem may be particular targets of
exploitation because they will be less likely to resist
exploitative tactics. Cues indicative of immaturity and
naiveté also fall into this category. They suggest that a
woman has less experience interacting with men, making
her more susceptible to exploitation. Low cognitive ability
is another cue indicating greater exploitability because it
signals ease of manipulability or deceivability. Thus,
sensitivity to such cues may be one design feature of
male tactics for sexual exploitation.
Another category of psychological cues are those that
indicate flirtatiousness, promiscuity, and more permissive
sexual attitudes. These characteristics may indicate greater
ease of sexual exploitation by (1) causing women to put
themselves in situations where they are at a greater risk of
sexual exploitation and (2) providing men with opportunities
to approach women under the guise of responding to the
women's flirtatiousness, thereby facilitating a later attempt at
exploitation. Women with unrestricted sociosexuality (indi-
cating a positive orientation towards short-term mating)
report a greater likelihood of being approached by a male
with sexual intentions (Sakaguchi & Hasegawa, 2006b).
Furthermore, more promiscuous women and women with
multiple sexual partners report being more likely to have
been sexually victimized (Greene & Navarro, 1998; Testa &
Dermen, 1999). Research suggests that men can identify
women's sociosexual orientation through brief interactions
(Stillman & Maner, 2009), and other work has identified a
variety of nonverbal cues indicative of flirtatiousness
(Moore, 1985, 2002). Being able to identify these traits
could serve a dual purpose. These traits may signal that a
woman is more prone to engaging in sexual behavior by
choice, and by indicating greater ease of sexual access, they
also may inadvertently signal greater sexual exploitability.
A third category of psychological traits consists of cues
that indicate recklessness or risk taking. This includes
personality characteristics such as impulsivity, attention
seeking, and being prone to take risks. Although displaying
these characteristics may not indicate a woman is currently
exploitable, they indicate a greater likelihood she will
eventually be in dangerous situations, such as being alone
or intoxicated. Drinking alcohol, one form of risky behavior,
is positively correlated with sexual victimization (e.g., Testa
& Dermen, 1999). In the modern environment, drinking
alcohol and engaging in party culture may result in being
perceived as reckless and exploitable.
1.2.2. Incapacitation cues
Cues suggesting current incapacitation represent another set
of cues to sexual exploitability. Intoxication, fatigue, or other
forms of cognitive impairment could make a woman less able
to resist tactics of sexual exploitation. Other conditions related
418 C.D. Goetz et al. / Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417–426
to her current level of physical protection, such as being alone
or isolated, compared to being with “bodyguards”such as
friends, family members, or a mate, may also provide
information about her current sexual exploitability.
1.2.3. Physical cues
Finally, physical traits may indicate a lack of formida-
bility to resist sexual exploitation. Characteristics such as a
shorter gait, slower walking speed, and low energy are
associated with being rated as easier to attack (Gunns,
Johnston, & Hudson, 2002). Women with a shorter gait
and slower walking speed are also rated as more likely to
be targets of sexual advances (Sakaguchi & Hasegawa,
2006a). Static cues, such as being short or small, may also
In sum, cues to sexual exploitability are conceptualized
into three broad classes: (1) psychological cues indicating a
woman is mentally or emotionally manipulable or is flirtatious
or promiscuous, or revealing a risk-taking proclivity; (2)
incapacitation cues indicating a woman is temporarily or
currently in a state in which she could be exploited; and (3)
physical cues indicating a lack of formidability to resist
sexually exploitative tactics.
1.3. Sexual attraction to exploitability
Exploitative tactics typically require motivational impetus
to fuel their enactment. We hypothesized that the emotion of
sexual attraction functions as one such mechanism. Further-
more, we hypothesized that cues in the classes described
above would render a woman attractive as a short-term mate,
motivating an exploitative strategy. Traditionally, re-
searchers have characterized signs of fertility, health, and
other markers of mate quality as indicators of attractiveness
(e.g., Fink & Penton-Voak, 2002; Gangestad & Scheyd,
2005; Singh, 1993; Sugiyama, 2005). Recognition of cues to
exploitability serves a different function. They are hypoth-
esized to be associated with sexual attractiveness because
they indicate a woman could be exploited for a short-term
sexual opportunity. By making a woman more exploitable,
these characteristics might also make her less attractive as a
long-term mate because a man would be risking investment
in a mate who could be sexually exploited by other men. We
hypothesized that cues to exploitability would be uniquely
related to short-term mate attractiveness and inversely
correlated with long-term mate attractiveness.
Although the hypothesized link between sexual exploit-
ability cues and sexual attractiveness has yet to be explored
directly, some circumstantial evidence exists. When asked
to rate women's facial attractiveness (without differentiat-
ing between long-term and short-term mate attractiveness),
both men and women found faces with cues to unrestricted
sociosexuality more attractive (Boothroyd, Jones, Burt,
DeBruine, & Perrett, 2008). However, when asked
specifically about long-term mate attractiveness, men
found women with facial cues related to unrestricted
sociosexuality less desirable as long-term mates (Campbell
et al., 2009). This suggests that more permissive attitudes
towards short-term mating enhance women's attractiveness
in short-term mating contexts. These cues may be seen as
more attractive because they signal that a woman is more
likely to voluntarily engage in sexual behavior and hence
be more sexually accessible, or because they indicate ease
of sexual exploitability.
Previous research also suggests that cues to emotional and
psychological manipulability may be linked with sexual
attractiveness. Cross-culturally, men prefer younger women
as mates because they are higher in reproductive value and
fertility than older women (Buss, 1989). Youth may also
enhance sexual attractiveness because it is a cue to
immaturity and naiveté, suggesting a higher probability of
payoff for an exploitative strategy. Intelligence is another
trait valued in long-term mates; however, men's preference
for intelligent mates is relaxed when men are asked about
strictly sexual relationships (Kenrick, Groth, Trost, &
Sadalla, 1993; Kenrick, Sadalla, Groth, & Trost, 1990).
Rather than simply lowering their standards for intelligence
in short-term mates, men may prefer (consciously or
unconsciously) less intelligent mates in this context because
they are more exploitable and therefore more sexually
attractive. We suggest that this logic applies to other cues to
sexual exploitability—any recurrently observable cue that
indicates a man will be more successful when attempting to
implement an exploitative sexual strategy will increase
perceptions of a woman's sexual attractiveness to motivate
him to attempt to use that strategy.
1.4. Current study
We conducted the present study in four steps to identify
cues to sexual exploitability and to test the hypothesis that
cues to sexual exploitability are indicators of sexual
attractiveness. First, we used an act nomination procedure
to generate previously undocumented potential cues to
sexual exploitability. The research team then assembled
digital photographs of women displaying varying levels of
these cues. The photographs were coded to identify which,
and to what degree, cues were displayed in each image.
Finally, male participants rated the attractiveness and
exploitability of the women in the photographs.
Participants were students enrolled in an introductory
psychology course and received partial course credit for their
participation. Seventy-six males participated, ranging in age
from 18 to 47 (M=19.59±3.76). To avoid fatigue effects,
participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups.
One group viewed a randomized set of 36 photographed
women (out of the total of 110), and the other two groups
419C.D. Goetz et al. / Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417–426
Correlations between hypothesized cues to sexual exploitability and mate attractiveness
Positively correlated cues Seduce Pressure Deceive Assault Overall
“Easy”.81⁎⁎⁎ .73⁎⁎⁎ .72⁎⁎⁎ .48⁎⁎⁎ .75⁎⁎⁎
Immature .69⁎⁎⁎ .63⁎⁎⁎ .68⁎⁎⁎ .56⁎⁎⁎ .69⁎⁎⁎
Intoxicated .69⁎⁎⁎ .66⁎⁎⁎ .62⁎⁎⁎ .51⁎⁎⁎ .67⁎⁎⁎
Reckless .70⁎⁎⁎ .59⁎⁎⁎ .63⁎⁎⁎ .38⁎⁎⁎ .62⁎⁎⁎
Promiscuous .72⁎⁎⁎ .58⁎⁎⁎ .62⁎⁎⁎ .33⁎⁎⁎ .61⁎⁎⁎
Partying .68⁎⁎⁎ .56⁎⁎⁎ .54⁎⁎⁎ .35⁎⁎⁎ .58⁎⁎⁎
Flirty .60⁎⁎⁎ .52⁎⁎⁎ .48⁎⁎⁎ .30⁎⁎ .52⁎⁎⁎
Promiscuous friends .53⁎⁎⁎ .43⁎⁎⁎ .47⁎⁎⁎ .18 .44⁎⁎⁎
Attention seeking .52⁎⁎⁎ .33⁎⁎⁎ .41⁎⁎⁎ .17 .39⁎⁎⁎
Young .17 .31⁎⁎ .31⁎⁎ .36⁎⁎⁎ .31⁎⁎
Sleepy .25⁎⁎⁎ .32⁎⁎⁎ .27⁎⁎⁎ .29⁎⁎⁎ .30⁎⁎⁎
Come hither look .35⁎⁎⁎ .23⁎.27⁎⁎ .09 .26⁎⁎
Revealing clothing .35⁎⁎⁎ .25⁎.29⁎⁎ .07 .26⁎⁎
Touching breast .15 .26⁎⁎ .14 .38⁎⁎⁎ .24⁎
Open posture .38⁎⁎⁎ .22⁎⁎ .22⁎⁎ −.02 .22⁎⁎
Alone .18 .17 .11 .13 .16
Ring (wedding/engagement) .23⁎.14 .14 .09 .16
Tight clothing .27⁎⁎ .14 .18 −.04 .15
Friendly .11 .20⁎.11 .11 .14
Punk .17 .11 .21⁎.01 .14
Materialistic .24⁎.09 .15 −.04 .13
Touching body .09 .11 .07 .16 .11
Tattoos .06 .08 .12 .13 .11
Tucking hair .13 .10 .05 .10 .10
At a wedding .15 .04 .00 .15 .09
Over-shoulder look .06 .06 .05 .09 .07
Fat .08 .10 .09 −.09 .06
Touching face/hair .11 .09 .09 −.08 .06
Short −.06 .06 .01 .15 .04
Lip lick/bite .02 .04 .01 .01 .02
Touching thigh .02 −.01 .03 .01 .01
Touching knee .03 .05 −.04 −.02 .01
Lying back .03 .00 .02 −.04 .01
Laughing −.01 −.04 .03 .03 .00
Negatively correlated cues Seduce Pressure Deceive Assault Overall
Intelligent −.63⁎⁎⁎ −.54⁎⁎⁎ −.59⁎⁎⁎ −.31⁎⁎⁎ −.56⁎⁎⁎
Shy −.53⁎⁎⁎ −.35⁎⁎⁎ −.42⁎⁎⁎ −.11 −.39⁎⁎⁎
Age −.23⁎−.39⁎⁎⁎ −.36⁎⁎⁎ −.39⁎⁎⁎ −.36⁎⁎⁎
Old −.18 −.34⁎⁎⁎ −.32⁎⁎ −.39⁎⁎⁎ −.33⁎⁎
Passed out −.26⁎⁎ −.25⁎⁎ −.24⁎−.24⁎−.27⁎⁎
Flushed face −.30⁎⁎ −.28⁎⁎ −.26⁎−.14 −.26⁎⁎
Anxious −.30⁎⁎ −.28⁎⁎ −.23⁎−.03 −.23⁎
Sucking on a straw −.21⁎−.17 −.19 −.22⁎−.21⁎
Being touched −.21⁎−.20⁎−.21⁎−.10 −.20⁎
Standing near men −.16 −.19⁎−.11 −.11 −.15
Sad −.18 −.19 −.11 −.03 −.14
Prostitute −.12 −.11 −.11 −.12 −.12
Piercings −.15 −.07 −.16 −.02 −.11
Skinny −.12 −.15 −.13 .04 −.10
Tall .01 −.11 −.07 −.22 −.10
Canted neck −.12 −.08 −.16 −.01 −.10
Flushed neck −.13 −.08 −.10 −.05 −.10
Dancing −.11 −.09 −.13 −.01 −.09
Touching others −.15 −.09 −.14 .05 −.09
Distressed −.13 −.13 −.06 .04 −.08
Open legs −.10 −.09 −.09 −.02 −.08
Asleep .00 −.10 −.08 −.09 −.07
Crying .00 −.01 −.11 −.06 −.05
Raised arms −.01 −.05 −.04 −.09 −.05
Mostly with men .00 −.07 .00 −.05 −.03
Ear piercing −.11 .03 −.04 .07 −.02
420 C.D. Goetz et al. / Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417–426
each viewed a randomized set of 37. Each group constituted
approximately one third of the total participant sample.
2.2.1. Cue Selection
We determined hypothesized cues based on a literature
search and an act nomination procedure (Buss & Craik,
1983). The act nomination procedure is useful because it can
provide novel information by pooling the collective insights
of large samples of observers—insights that may not yet
have been explored in the literature and that researchers may
not have been able to theoretically generate themselves a
priori. An initial set of 194 (103 male, 91 female, age range
18–52, M=21.63±5.96) participants nominated specific
actions, cues, body postures, attitudes, and personality
characteristics in three categories: indicators of sexual
exploitability, indicators of sexual interest toward one
person, and indicators of general sexual availability or
openness to sexual activity. Because the study's goals
included examining aspects of sexual attractiveness other
than just sexual exploitability, we retained cues from all
categories in the final list. After combining similar cues and
eliminating cues not assessable from a photograph (e.g.,
feminine voice), these cues were added to a list of cues
generated via literature search. This list totaled 88 cues.
2.2.2. Photograph selection
Researchers collected photographs from publically avail-
able sources on the Internet (i.e., sites that did not require a
password or login). We used a search engine to find images of
women displaying varying levels of the hypothesized cues.
The researchers independently gathered photos and together
selected images of 110 women displaying varying levels of
the cues of interest. Photographs were coded to determine the
degree to which each woman displayed each of the 88 cues.
Two of the researchers independently coded cues that could
be objectively observed as present or absent (e.g., tattoos,
being touched by others). There were no discrepancies
between the two researchers' judgments of these 33 cues.
Four raters blind to the study's hypotheses rated the other 55
cues. The raters were asked, “How much do each of the
following characteristics describe the individual in the
picture?”Raters responded using a 1 (not at all)to7
(extremely) rating scale. Following a procedure similar to
Vazire and colleagues' (2008) for eliminating cues with low
reliability, we calculated the average intraclass correlation
coefficient (ICC) for each cue to ensure agreement among the
raters. Twenty-five cues had an average measures ICC less
than .70 and were eliminated, leaving 30 cues with an average
measures ICC ranging from .70 to .90 (mean=.79). To
calculate the rating means, rater's responses were averaged
for each of these 30 traits. If one rater indicated he or she
could not provide a rating for a particular photograph, the
average was computed from the three other raters. If two or
more raters could not provide a rating, that photograph was
excluded from analyses for that particular trait. These 30
cues, along with the 33 cues coded as present or absent by the
researchers, resulted in the final assessment of 63 cues in our
set of images.
2.2.3. Participant measures
Participants (N=76) responded to seven questions asses-
sing each woman's perceived mate attractiveness and
exploitability. The three mate attractiveness questions
assessed the women's overall attractiveness (“How attractive
is this woman overall?”), short-term mate attractiveness
[“How attractive would this woman be to a man as a short-
term mate (e.g., one-night stand, casual sex, etc.)?”], and
long-term mate attractiveness [“How attractive would this
woman be to a man as a long-term mate (e.g., committed
romantic relationship, wife, etc.)?”]. The four exploitability
questions asked about the four proposed sexual exploitation
tactics. Participants were first asked, “How easy would it be
for a man to seduce this woman into engaging into sexual
intercourse?”The next two questions used the same verbiage,
but the word “seduce”was replaced with “pressure”in the
second exploitability question and with “deceive”in the third.
The fourth question read, “How easy would it be for a man to
sexually assault this woman?”Participants responded to all
questions using a 1 (not at all)to5(extremely) rating scale.
We phrased questions in the third person rather than first
person to avoid underreporting due to the sensitive and taboo
nature of the questions being asked. Participants also
completed a brief demographics questionnaire.
A research assistant assigned the participant to a computer
terminal with a prepared slideshow of the photographs. The
research assistant instructed the participant on how to advance
through the slideshow of images and record his responses on a
Negatively correlated cues Seduce Pressure Deceive Assault Overall
Confident .12 .02 .02 −.22⁎−.01
Smiling .01 −.05 .02 −.01 −.01
Finger on lips .00 .00 .04 −.05 .00
Note. Of the 315 correlations presented in Table 1, 66 correlations were significant beyond the .001 level, where b1 would be expected by chance alone; 89 were
significant beyond the .01 level, where 4 would be expected by chance alone; and 111 were significant beyond the .05 level, where 16 would be expected by
⁎⁎⁎pb.001; ⁎⁎pb.01; ⁎pb.05.
Table 1 (continued)
421C.D. Goetz et al. / Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417–426
provided grid, and thenleft the room to allow the participant to
privately record his responses. To avoid fatigue effects, after
25 min, the research assistant reentered the room with the
demographics questionnaire and instructed the participant to
complete it before viewing the remaining images. Participants
were thanked and debriefed upon completion.
To ensure that there were no systematic differences in
attractiveness or exploitability ratings based on which of the
three groups of pictures was viewed, we conducted a one-
way analysis of variance to compare means between the
three groups for each measure of mate attractiveness and
exploitability. There were no significant group differences
for any of the dependent measures except for the questions
about seducing (Group 1: M=3.09±.46; Group 2: M=3.18±
.39; Group 3: M=2.89±.38; F
=4.73, pb.05) and
pressuring into sex (Group 1: M=2.95±.46; Group 2:
M=2.87±.39; Group 3: M=2.66±.43, F
Because there was no reason to believe that these differences
would affect interpretation of the study's results and because
the majority of our measures were void of between-group
differences, we proceeded with analyses as planned.
To determine which cues were diagnostic of exploit-
ability, Pearson correlation coefficients were calculated
between the rating means for each cue and the mean of
participant responses for each exploitability measure for
each picture (Table 1). Because the exploitability measures
were highly correlated with one another (M=.90, range:
.79–.97), a measure of overall exploitability was calculated
by averaging the means of the four exploitability measures
for each picture and correlating those averages with the cue
ratings means. The participant means were also correlated
with the dichotomous cues coded by the researchers.
Overall attractiveness was strongly correlated with long-
term mate attractiveness [r(108)=.91, pb.01] and short-
term mate attractiveness [r(108)=.95, pb.01], but not with
most measures of exploitability [seduce: r(108)=.15,
p=.12; pressure: r(108)=.09, p=.36; deceive: r(108)=.09,
p=.36; assault: r(108)=.41, pb.01]. Because the goal was
to independently isolate each cue's relationship with
Correlations between hypothesized cues to sexual exploitability and mate
Positively correlated cues Short-term mate Long-term mate
Immature .62⁎⁎⁎ −.62⁎⁎⁎
Intoxicated .49⁎⁎⁎ −.40⁎⁎⁎
Reckless .58⁎⁎⁎ −.69⁎⁎⁎
Promiscuous .63⁎⁎⁎ −.64⁎⁎⁎
Partying .51⁎⁎⁎ −.46⁎⁎⁎
Flirty .54⁎⁎⁎ −.37⁎⁎⁎
Promiscuous friends .54⁎⁎⁎ −.49⁎⁎⁎
Attention seeking .49⁎⁎⁎ −.56⁎⁎⁎
Young .25⁎⁎ −.12
Come hither look .29⁎⁎ −.26⁎⁎
Revealing clothing .47⁎⁎⁎ −.48⁎⁎⁎
Touching breast .00 .06
Open body posture .39⁎⁎⁎ −.29⁎⁎
Alone .09 −.07
Ring (wedding/engagement) .10 .01
Tight clothing .36⁎⁎⁎ −.33⁎⁎
Friendly .08 .30⁎⁎
Touching body −.05 .15
Tattoos −.01 .02
Tucking hair .14 −.13
At a wedding .15 −.07
Over-shoulder look .15 −.09
Fat −.11 .02
Touching face/hair .06 −.03
Short .07 .07
Lip lick/bite −.02 −.09
Touching thigh −.07 .08
Touching knee .07 .18
Lying back −.07 −.06
Laughing .14 −.24⁎
Negatively correlated cues Short-term mate Long-term mate
Intelligent −.60⁎⁎⁎ .67⁎⁎⁎
Shy −.48⁎⁎⁎ .51⁎⁎⁎
Age −.27⁎⁎ .12
Old −.22⁎⁎ .11
Passed out −.12 .20⁎
Flushed face −.15 .06
Anxious −.18 −.05
Sucking on a straw −.26⁎⁎ .07
Being touched −.21⁎.03
Standing near men .00 −.05
Sad −.17 −.14
Prostitute −.10 .18
Piercings −.18 .26⁎⁎
Skinny .10 −.10
Tall −.08 .00
Canted neck −.18 .12
Flushed neck −.16 .10
Dancing −.04 .12
Touching others −.12 −.09
Distressed −.05 −.23⁎
Open legs −.12 .16
Asleep .00 −.07
Crying .14 .01
Raised arms −.07 .02
Mostly with men .08 −.10
Negatively correlated cues Short-term mate Long-term mate
Ear piercings −.02 .01
Confident .17 −.04
Smiling .12 −.23
Finger on lips −.01 −.02
Note. Of the 126 correlations presented in Table 2, 27 correlations were
significant beyond the .001 level, where b1 would be expected by chance
alone; 38 were significant beyond the .01 level, where 2 would be expected
by chance alone; and 45 were significant beyond the .05 level, where 7
would be expected by chance alone.
⁎⁎⁎pb.001; ⁎⁎pb.01; ⁎pb.05.
Table 2 (continued)
422 C.D. Goetz et al. / Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417–426
exploitability and mate attractiveness, we partialed out
participants' ratings of overall attractiveness when calcu-
lating the correlations. Because each correlation between
the specific cues and the exploitability and attractiveness
ratings represents a test of an independent prediction and
because the number of significant correlations far exceeds
what would be expected by chance alone (see Notes,
Tables 1 and 2) and were predicted a priori, we report the
data without applying a statistical correction.
Fourteen cues were significantly positively correlated
with at least three of the four measures of exploitability and
with overall exploitability: attention seeking, come hither
look, “easy,”flirty, immature, intoxicated, open body
posture, partying, promiscuous, promiscuous friends, reck-
less, revealing clothing, sleepy, and young. To test the
prediction that cues positively correlated with exploitability
would be positively correlated with short-term mate
attractiveness but not correlated with, or negatively corre-
lated with, long-term mate attractiveness, we correlated each
cue with participants' measures of mate attractiveness.
All 14 of these cues conformed to the pattern of also being
positively correlated with short-term mate attractiveness while
being either negatively or not significantly correlated with
long-term mate attractiveness (Table 2). The following cues
-1.00 -0.80 -0.60 -0.40 -0.20 0.00 0.20 0.40 0.60 0.80 1.00
Come Hither Look
Corr w/ ST
Corr w/ LT
Fig. 1. Cues significantly correlated with exploitability.
423C.D. Goetz et al. / Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417–426
were significantly negatively correlated with at least three of
the four measures of exploitability and with overall exploit-
ability: age, anxious, being touched, flushed face, intelligent,
old, passed out, and shy. Only three of these did not conform to
the predicted pattern: flushed face and anxious were not
significantly correlated with either short-term or long-term
mate attractiveness, and passed out was not significantly
correlated with short-term mate attractiveness but was
positively correlated with long-term mate attractiveness.
In summary, 22 cues were significantly correlated with
three of the four measures of exploitability as well as
overall exploitability. Nineteen of these 22 cues also
supported the central hypothesis: that cues correlated with
exploitability would be linked with perceptions of sexual
attractiveness (Fig. 1).
We investigated cues from three broad categories to
determine which were diagnostic of sexual exploitability.
Cues from two of these categories, psychological traits and
cues to incapacitation, were strongly correlated with sexual
exploitability. Specifically, psychological traits indicative of
ease of mental or emotional manipulation (e.g., intelligence,
immaturity), flirtatiousness and promiscuity (e.g., promiscu-
ous, flirty, having promiscuous friends, wearing revealing
clothing), and recklessness (e.g., reckless, partying) were
significantly linked with perceptions of exploitability. Cues to
currently being incapacitated, such as sleepy and intoxicated,
were also correlated with perceptions of sexual exploitability.
These findings suggest that men are sensitive to cues in a
variety of domains when assessing the sexual exploitability of
women. Past research on the psychology of male sexual
aggressors has focused on the effect of individual differences
and situational contexts on likelihood of committing sexual
aggression (e.g., Abbey, Jaques-Tiura, LeBreton, 2011;
Malamuth, 1996). This research instead expands our knowl-
edge of victim-related cues that may activate mechanisms for
exploitation. Focusing on the function of exploitative tactics
reveals new cues in several domains that predict perceptions of
sexual exploitability. Our results highlight the utility of
examining cues that, from a man's perspective, suggest an
exploitative strategy may be successful.
Although cues indicating physical weakness were pre-
dicted to indicate sexual exploitability, none of those cues
were significantly correlated with the measures of exploit-
ability. It is possible that the strength difference between men
and women is so large (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009) that size and
strength differences among women are irrelevant when
assessing their exploitability. Gunns et al. (2002) found that
weight was a predictor of ease-of-attack for male targets, but
not for female targets, suggesting that female size, contrary to
our initial expectation, may not be a cue to exploitability. It is
also possible that the current methodology did not present or
ask about cues related to physical formidability in a way that
effectively captured their importance. Video or in-person
interactions may be required for men to perceive these cues
and relate them to exploitability. In-person interactions may
be particularly important if it is relative difference in
formidability that matters. Additionally, we only included
the physical cues of tall, short, skinny, and fat. Other cues,
such as low levels of muscularity, athleticism, and physical
formidability, may be more strongly associated with
perceptions of sexual exploitability.
The second purpose of this study was to test the
hypothesis that cues to exploitability represent previously
unexamined indicators of sexual attractiveness. Nineteen of
the 22 cues correlated with sexual exploitability were also
correlated with women's sexual attractiveness, strongly
supporting this hypothesis. Furthermore, many of the cues
that were not correlated with exploitability also did not
correlate with short-term mate attractiveness. This suggests
that the correlations with short-term mate attractiveness were
not driven by men simply relaxing their preferences when
evaluating women as short-term mates. The present findings
contribute novel insights to the burgeoning literature on the
science of attraction and attractiveness (Sugiyama, 2005;
Swami & Furnham, 2008). In addition, these findings
provide circumstantial support for one hypothesized function
of the emotion of sexual attraction—to motivate men to
pursue women for exploitative, short-term mating opportu-
nities when there are cues suggesting that exploitative
strategies are likely to be effective.
4.1. Limitations and future directions
Although our sample was limited to university students,
we expect the ability to detect cues to sexual exploitability to
be universally present. Future research should include men
from different age groups and socioeconomic backgrounds.
One benefit from using a young, university-attending sample
is that these men may be particularly sensitive to cues to
exploitability because (1) they are frequently in contact with
younger women who exhibit more of these cues because of
their youthful appearance and (2) they have lower status and
fewer resources and may experience more difficulty attract-
ing a high-quality mate through nonexploitative means.
The use of photographs provided consistent stimuli to
examine cues to exploitability; however, some cues may not
be assessable in a photograph. This may explain why some
of our hypothesized cues to exploitability were not correlated
with measures of sexual exploitability. Many behavioral
cues (e.g., touching body, touching others, crying) may be
more salient in in vivo social interactions. Future research
could profit from using dynamic stimuli or live interactions
to further expand knowledge about exploitability cues and to
assess their relationship with sexual attractiveness.
Also needed is research that directly examines sexual
attraction as a motivator for pursuing exploitable women.
Investigating men's approach likelihood or arousal level when
exposed to women displaying cues to exploitability will shed
424 C.D. Goetz et al. / Evolution and Human Behavior 33 (2012) 417–426
light on the behavioral output that results from this attraction.
Furthermore, it is possible that the experience of sexual
attraction overrides the guilt or remorse men would feel from
using a set of tactics that, while beneficial from a fitness
perspective, are morally reprehensible, some of which are
criminal (e.g., rape). Future work also could profitably
examine men's conscious awareness of the relationship
between perception of cues to exploitability and the sexual
attraction they experience, as well as the potentially
conflicting emotions they experience when presented with
the opportunity to engage in a sexually exploitative strategy.
Generally, a cue's correlations with the four measures of
exploitability were very similar. However, for some cues, the
correlations with perceptions of ease of sexual assault
differed from the other three exploitability measures—most
were weaker than correlations with the other three measures.
Perhaps cues to sexual exploitability are better characterized
dichotomously—cues that suggest that a woman can be
sexually assaulted versus cues that suggest that she could
be sexually exploited in another way. This distinction may be
driven by individual differences in men's likelihood of
implementing these strategies. Only certain men may be
motivated to implement strategies that require violence, such
as sexual assault (Lalumière et al., 2005; Malamuth, 1996).
Future research could fruitfully examine which men in which
social circumstances adopt which exploitative tactics.
Indeed, some tactics might be deployed in a hierarchical
fashion, with increasingly cost-inflicting tactics being used
only if milder forms of sexual exploitation fail.
This study provides a first step towards understanding the
psychological mechanisms underlying men's sexually ex-
ploitative strategies. By examining the specific design
features of mechanisms for sexual exploitation, this research
reveals particular cues that activate these mechanisms,
allowing the prediction of which cues put women at risk
for sexual exploitation. The link between cues to exploit-
ability and sexual attractiveness paves the way for future
studies of sexual attraction as a mechanism motivating men's
tactics of sexual exploitation.
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