To what extent are we willing to play fast and loose with the truth about ourselves to seduce potential sexual partners?

Researchers observed that participants tended to under-report the number of their previous sexual partners when talking to an attractive stranger

New research has shown that exposure to cerebral stimuli encourages maneuvers to initiate sexual relations that may not be completely honest. 

You are at a party, chatting to someone you find attractive. At a certain point you begin to wonder if he or she is being entirely truthful. Did he/she really travel to all of those faraway places? Is his/her job really so interesting? 

Misrepresentation of reality, and even downright lying, in a bid to be more seductive is more common than you might think. A new study conducted by  researchers at the University of Rochester (United States) and the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya (Israel) has shed a bit more light on this phenomenon.

Published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, the research focused on 634 heterosexual students (328 women and 306 men) with an average of 25 years. These participants took part in four distinct experiments. The overall goal was to see if stimulation of areas in the brain that favor sexual arousal would push them to modify their behavior. In the course of the four experiments, psychologists exposed the study group to sexual stimuli and the control group to neutral stimuli.

Initially, unacquainted pairs of participants were asked to resolve a dilemma faced by a fictitious individual named Tal who was having difficulty deciding whether to accept a tempting job offer abroad or to turn it down so as to remain close to friends and family. The participants were instructed to support and justify one of two alternative positions on Tal's dilemma.

The results showed that participants who had been exposed to sexual stimuli were more likely to agree with an opposing opinion expressed by a member of the opposite sex. The authors of the study interpret this behavior as an impression management strategy that aims to get closer to the other person.

Lying about the number of sexual partners 

For the second experiment, participants filled out a questionnaire about their preferences with regard to sexual partners: for example, they were asked if it would bother them to date someone who was messy, or if they liked cuddling after sex. Thereafter they were shown responses to the same questions purportedly filled out by another participant who was in fact a member of the research team, and asked to create a profile to send to this person ahead of an online chat. The researchers observed that even subliminal sexual stimuli led participants to conform with the preferences expressed by a potential sexual partner. 

The two final experiments focused on participants' answers to questions about the number of their past sexual partners. Initially, participants were invited to discuss their history with an attractive researcher. Thereafter they were required to fill out an anonymous questionnaire that requested the same information. Here again, researchers found that both men and women who had been exposed to sexual stimuli tended to under-report the number of their previous sexual partners when talking to an attractive stranger.

The authors of the study concluded: "The desire to impress a potential partner is particularly intense when it comes to preferences that are at the heart of establishing an intimate bond. Such attitude changes might be viewed as a subtle exaggeration, or as a harmless move to impress or be closer to a potential partner."