The Science of Insulting Women

Picking up women has been getting plenty of press these days, leading up to this week’s premiere of the VH1 reality show The Pick-Up Artist. The show follows eight “socially inept” men through an eight-week boot camp on seduction techniques, led by a self-proclaimed Lothario called “Mystery.” The headliner (whose real name is Erik Von Markovik) initially found fame after being profiled in Neil Strauss‘s 2005 book The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, and went on to co-write his own book, How to Get Beautiful Women Into Bed: The Mystery Method.

Under particular discussion is a pickup technique that Mystery advocates known as “negging” — a move that involves interjecting an insult during an initial conversation with a woman. The motivation behind the insult is, as Esquire’s A.J. Jacobs puts it, to “lower her self-esteem, thus making her more vulnerable to your advances.” While this tactic has provoked considerable ire, by all accounts from Strauss and his skirt-chasing Svengali, it seems to work.

Meanwhile, the psychologists Steve Stewart-Williams and William F. McKibbin have been researching the topic of men insulting women, publishing a study called “Why Do Men Insult Their Intimate Partners?” in the July Journal of Personality and Individual Differences.

Their first set of data consisted of a survey of 245 men with a mean age of 25.8, all of whom had been in heterosexual relationships for a mean length of 43.1 months. Each man was asked to record how often he insulted his female partner in the course of a month, choosing from a list of 47 insults divided into four categories: “derogating physical attractiveness” (e.g. “You’re ugly”); “derogating value as partner/mental capacity” (e.g. “You make my life miserable” or “You’re stupid”); “derogating value as a person” (e.g. “You’re useless”); and “accusations of sexual infidelity.”

These men were also asked to record how often they performed any of 104 acts labeled “mate retention behaviors” during that same month, including “direct guarding” (e.g., secretly following a partner when she goes out alone) and “public signals of possession.”

A second set of data came from 372 women who were asked to detail the number and type of insults they received from their partners, as well as the males’ mate-retention behavior rates.

The results showed that men who piled on the insults (particularly those in the “derogating value as partner/mental capacity” group) were far more likely to engage in mate retention behaviors, suggesting that “men’s partner-directed insults may be deployed as part of a broader strategy of mate retention.”

Next, maybe Stewart-Williams and McKibbin will turn their attention to the relationship-initiation phase and gather data on “negging.” Or maybe they’ll tackle a question that many would surely like to know: if it’s successful for men, does it work for women as well?

(Hat tip: The British Psychological Society Blog.)

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  1. RealWoman says:

    Fact: No woman worth keeping or bedding for that matter wants to be insulted within the first 10 seconds of conversation.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1
  2. RealWoman says:

    Fact: No woman worth keeping or bedding for that matter wants to be insulted within the first 10 seconds of conversation.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2
  3. Steve Curtis says:

    I’ve no doubt it would work for women as well as men. I’d be curious to see a more in-depth discussion of the evolutionary psychology of gaining or keeping a mate by lowering their self-esteem. More proof that “nice” people are at a disadvantage. Hahaha.

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  4. Steve Curtis says:

    I’ve no doubt it would work for women as well as men. I’d be curious to see a more in-depth discussion of the evolutionary psychology of gaining or keeping a mate by lowering their self-esteem. More proof that “nice” people are at a disadvantage. Hahaha.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Basho says:

    Sad, but probably accurate.

    I expect that what is really going on is that people have a notion about how much effort is needed to keep a relationship (or even just a conversation) going, and if one partner seems uninterested in carrying very much of that effort (as by making diminishing comments), the other partner will often willingly take up the extra burden. And then, because we reliably confuse what we spend time and effort on with what is important and with what we like, the weight-bearing partner ends up being hooked.

    A confident and healthy person generally won’t put up with such nonsense for too long, and in the here-now, probably fewer women than men have managed to reach adulthood confident and healthy.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Basho says:

    Sad, but probably accurate.

    I expect that what is really going on is that people have a notion about how much effort is needed to keep a relationship (or even just a conversation) going, and if one partner seems uninterested in carrying very much of that effort (as by making diminishing comments), the other partner will often willingly take up the extra burden. And then, because we reliably confuse what we spend time and effort on with what is important and with what we like, the weight-bearing partner ends up being hooked.

    A confident and healthy person generally won’t put up with such nonsense for too long, and in the here-now, probably fewer women than men have managed to reach adulthood confident and healthy.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Jamie says:

    This is no different than a captor physically impairing their hostage to prevent them from fleeing or fighting. A cut achilles and a broken spirit accomplish the same thing.

    On a related note, is physical abuse seen as a strategy for “mate retention”?

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
  8. Jamie says:

    This is no different than a captor physically impairing their hostage to prevent them from fleeing or fighting. A cut achilles and a broken spirit accomplish the same thing.

    On a related note, is physical abuse seen as a strategy for “mate retention”?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0