When women are present or when men are prompted to think about women, they act differently, research shows. Well, duh. But in unexpected ways. A 2008 study in the journal Evolutionary Psychology showed that in the mere presence of women as witnesses, men become more likely to jaywalk and to wait until the last second to dash on to a bus. This reflects, no doubt, the well-known belief among men that jaywalking means you’re a Roman gladiator of irrepressible virility. As I said, pathetic.
Over the past several years, the pattern has been found repeatedly in studies of male behavior published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the British Journal of Psychology and elsewhere.
There is also a darker side to the tendency of men to show off in the presence of women. As a 2012 study by Sarah Ainsworth and Jon Maner of Florida State University found, “inducing mating goals” in men made them more likely in a competitive game to punish the opposing guy with loud blasts of noise. The effect was strongest in men with an “unrestricted sociosexual orientation”—that is, men who are perpetually on the prowl with a propensity to indiscriminate one-night stands.
Sex-related cues like these have been found to make men more prone to take risks while playing blackjack, to discount the future when making economic decisions and to spend on conspicuous luxury items (but not on mundane expenses). Typically, the effects are strongest in single men. By contrast, these studies uniformly report that cues about males have no such effects on women.