Data Mine: From Persuasion to Impotence

Bargaining techniques and making bad decisions: why smart women don't want sugar daddies and how to avoid erectile dysfunction.

By Matthew Hutson, Robin Nixon, Jett Stone, published July 1, 2008 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

Persuasion: Know Your Audience

Matching non-verbal cues to your crowd.

Many pickup artists advocate a set repertoire of behaviors for sealing deals, but one style does not work on every victim. Research suggests that when deploying gestures and other nonverbal cues, successful persuasion will depend on matching your signals to your target's personality. When there's a fit, the message just feels right.

Joseph Cesario at Michigan State University and Tory Higgins at Columbia showed two videotapes of a teacher arguing for an after-school program. Each contained identical words, but in one, the actor leaned forward, spoke quickly, and used animated gestures. In the other, he leaned back, used pushing gestures to represent slowing down, and spoke more slowly. The researchers found that those who are generally highly focused on their hopes and aspirations are more persuaded by an enthusiastic presenter. But the guarded approach worked better with prevention-focused people, who couch goals in terms of security and obligations.

What if you don't know your audience? Match your act to your topic. "If you're trying to get people to let you build a nuclear-power plant in their backyard, talk in a cautious way," Cesario says. "Otherwise, it's not going to fit with their mind-set." —Matthew Hutson

Intelligence: When Stupidity Attacks

Mental shortcuts can lead even brainiacs astray.

Evolution has armed us with a bounty of mental tricks useful for efficient problem-solving, but none of them works in all cases. Cognitive shortcuts often take us to the wrong answer, quickly. Research shows that several of them are just as likely to trip up smart people as they are everyone else, at least when the Einsteins aren't on the lookout.

Keith Stanovich at the University of Toronto and Richard West at James Madison University gave college students a host of problems to solve, such as weighing the risks of a particular vaccine, to assess tendencies for faulty thinking. The students with the highest SAT scores often chose as irrationally as those with dimmer wits; both groups, for example, judged harmful actions as worse than equally harmful inactions.

For some tasks, such as choosing the bigger fraction, intellectuals do come up with more correct answers. Other problems require suppression of gut responses, such as the sunk-cost bias, where you continue to fund an inefficient project so as not to "waste" the money you've already put into it. For many such problems, the clever tend to decide as stupidly as their thickheaded colleagues. Unless, that is, people are aware of the bias and know to look out for it; then intelligence provides a good defense.

The best real-world decision makers, Stanovich says, are not those with high IQs, but people with good thinking habits, such as the tendency to consider a problem from multiple angles. —Robin Nixon

Diagnosis: Soft Serve

Therapy for Erectile dysfunction

Despite the many ads for Viagra, the little blue pill isn't always a silver bullet for erectile dysfunction (ED), the inability to sustain an erection firm enough for sexual intercourse. Sexual functioning is a complex biopsychosocial process, and a survey of existing research highlights the importance of the softer sciences in treating impotence.

A study conducted by the Cochrane Review suggests physical interventions get significantly better results below the belt when used in conjunction with group psychotherapy (not simultaneously, of course). Impotence may seem like an especially shameful topic of conversation outside the bedroom, but opening up about insecurities can actually help a guy hold his head up high. —Jett Stone

Straightening Out Your Sex Life

  • Realize you're not alone. Impotence affects 15 to 30 million American men and can occur at any age, although it's most common in men over 65.
  • Stay healthy. High blood-sugar levels, hypertension, alcohol and drug abuse, and smoking are common triggers of ED, so avoid bad habits and check with a doctor about the side effects of prescriptions.
  • Weigh your options. Locate a specialist to recommend interventions such as vacuum pump devices, localized injections, and implants. In more extreme cases, doctors may recommend surgery on arteries or veins.
  • Talk it out. Group therapy may relieve causes of ED such as stress, anxiety, guilt, and depression.

Money Ain't a Thing

High rollers won't win sharp-witted women.

Guys, if you're hoping to gain the ladies' attention by flashing wads of cash, be aware that the bright ones might not care. A study shows that the more intelligent the woman, the less swayed she is by her date's wallet size.

Christine Stanik, a University of Michigan researcher studying mate preferences and romantic relationships, asked female college students a variety of questions: Do you expect a diamond ring? Are you going to take your husband's last name? Should you be responsible for childcare? She and her collaborators found that the higher a woman's verbal IQ, the less likely she is to conform to strict gender roles, including seeking out a male breadwinner.

Smarter women have confidence in their own earning potentials, Stanik says, so they seek men who don't mind changing diapers and washing dishes: "If you know you want a career and kids, you're going to have to find a mate willing to invest in those kids in a very different way than just bringing home money." Those more intellectually endowed also say they plan to settle down later, indicating that they're placing marriage on the back burner to advance their own careers. So cheer up, guys! You can catch a clever companion without a wad of dough.—Jett Stone