Ohio State University researchers enlisted nearly 300 university students to complete a questionnaire that asked how often they engaged in 124 different behaviors. Some of the students were connected to a polygraph machine but while the subjects weren't aware of this, the machine wasn't actually working.
For nonsexual behaviors, subjects didn't feel pressured to alter their responses to conform to gender roles. Women attached to the fake polygraph machine were just as likely to admit that, say, they made obscene jokes or lifted weights, as much as women who weren't connected to a lie detector. Men equally admitted that they wrote poetry or sang in the shower, or some other stereotypical female behavior, the researchers said.
But this changed when questions about sex came up. "There is something unique about sexuality that led people to care more about matching the stereotypes for their gender," researcher and psychology professor Terri Fisher said in a statement.
When hooked up to the fake lie detector, men reported fewer sexual partners, while women reported more, the team found.
Fisher's research follows her previous work from 2003, which found that when study participants were hooked up to a lie detector, both men and women reported about the same number of sexual partners.
"Men and women had different answers about their sexual behavior when they thought they had to be truthful," Fisher added. "Sexuality seemed to be the one area where people felt some concern if they didn't meet the stereotypes of a typical man or a typical woman." The study, announced May 28, appears in a recent issue of the journal Sex Roles.