A study exploring women’s responses to compliments in the context of online dating has found that women are rated less favorably when they agree with compliments than when they dismiss praise or respond with, “Thank you.” The findings were published in Sex Roles.
Evidence suggests that harassment on dating apps is alarmingly common, particularly for women. Study authors Maria DelGreco and Amanda Denes suggest that understanding the expectations surrounding online interactions serves as a starting point towards reducing online harassment.
In particular, the researchers were interested in the expectations surrounding women’s responses to compliments. Some researchers have suggested that when women agree with compliments, it upsets the male power dynamic, causing women to be more negatively evaluated and potentially harassed by men. DelGreco and Denes propose that it may also have to do with the violation of expectations.
“Although power may underlie such interactions,” the researchers say, “it is also possible that individuals respond negatively to women’s responses to compliments because their expectation of how compliments should be responded to are violated.”
A study was conducted among 413 undergraduate students — 50.6% were women, 48.9% were men, and 0.5% identified as other. The students were randomly assigned to one of three groups. In all conditions, subjects were shown a fictional message exchange that involved a male complimenting a female’s eyes, and included the female’s response.
In one condition, the exchange involved the female conforming to expectations by simply responding to the compliment with “Thank you!”. In a second condition, the woman defied expectations in a positive way, by turning down the praise with, “Thank you, but I don’t think so.” In the third condition, the woman defied expectations in a negative way, by agreeing with the compliment and displaying self-praise saying, “Thank you, I know! They’re pretty great.” After reading the message exchange, all subjects evaluated the fictional woman across several characteristics.
Results showed that women who agreed with the compliment were rated as less socially attractive, conversationally appropriate, and likable than women who conformed to expectations by accepting the compliment with, “Thank you!”. They were also rated as having more power and higher self-esteem. While researchers had expected women who dismissed the compliment to be rated more favorably, since they were positively defying expectations, women who turned down the compliment were also rated less socially attractive, conversationally appropriate, and likable than those who accepted the compliment. They were additionally rated lower in power and self-esteem.
“The finding that women who respond with agreement are evaluated more poorly is especially problematic in that it suggests that women who are confident and empowered may be the targets of negative interpersonal and online behavior. Such findings may also echo larger gendered power dynamics at play in online dating contexts,” the authors say.
DelGreco and Denes address the limitation that their study relied on a fictional message exchange and that subjects’ reactions to the messages may not coincide with how they would perceive such an exchange in the real world. Still, the researchers say, “Ultimately, the findings suggest that dating double standards continue to exist in online dating contexts and that confident women may be subject to social sanctions.”
The study, “You are not as Cute as you Think you are: Emotional Responses to Expectancy Violations in Heterosexual Online Dating Interactions”, was authored by Maria DelGreco and Amanda Denes.
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