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.)


I'm not particularly interested in polls where women participate, especially considering that on any given day, at least 25% of them are probably dealing with a some sort of hormone imbalance. BTW, would any of you ladies like to email me your phone number?


Your statement is a knee-jerk reaction that shows that you are lacking original thought; you could probably stand to loose some weight, as well.
Would you like to get together for a drink sometime?

Joe K.

This is clearly the fault of George Bush and the war in Iraq.


I read an interview with Mystery in Salon Magazine a few days ago. When the conversation turned to "negging," he soft-pedaled the concept. His description sounded a lot more like what we call "teasing," which I think is pretty acceptable behaviour.

But his explanation felt a little false; if it's just teasing, then why go to the trouble of giving the practise an irritating made-up word, unless you're striving for a greater degree of expertise or technique than your subject warrants? And if it's more than teasing, why not be honest about it? It sounds a bit like pseudoscientic sexual self-help for sad, sad guys who can't approach women on any other level. Sex is fun, and lots of sex can be lots of fun, but there's a whole lot more to women than a few mind games and a workout in bed.

The other thing I wonder about is the universality of Mystery's claims. He pretty much says that it's possible to get any woman in bed (or maybe he doesn't, but that's what it sounds like), but has anyone looked at his sampling methods? If he goes to bars and restaurants, then he's going after a particular demographic, and I'll bet that Mystery and others like him concentrate on women of a certain age range, income level and class. I'd like to see a reality show with a group of pick-up artists set loose on a retirement complex. The more I think about it, the more awesome I know it would be.



"This is clearly the fault of George Bush and the war in Iraq."

Matthew J. Marshall

Thanks for posting a link to the A.J. Jacobs piece! He is one of my favorite authors (behind the "Steves" of course) and seems to get less press than deserved. Keep up the great blog!

david marrs

just proves what i have stated all along...women LIKE being treated badly. I cant imagine ever telling a loved one they are ugly! After my divorce I truelly felt that if i had treated my wife as an underling rather than my equal we would have stayed together. crazy? I see proof for it everyday.


I think the women that let themselves be wooed by insults probably deserve them. They're the ones rewarding the behavior.


While I am ambivalent towards the totality of techniques described in books like The Game, I have seen enough of the material to know that A.J. Jacobs characterization of negging as an attempt to “lower her self-esteem, thus making her more vulnerable to your advances” is a vast oversimplification.

A more thorough examination of the material suggests that negging is more about curbing the hyperbolically over-zealous initial approaches used by many men. Negging is less about making the woman feel bad than it is about making the man appear less desperate.

Bob Stern

This reminds me of a column that George Will wrote a while back demonstrating that a Hummer was more environmentally-friendly than a Prius. Very clever but doesn't pass the "laugh test".

David, NJ

I don't find it that hard to believe. After all, what is playground teasing but playful insults?


I work at a battered women's shelter and this conversation makes me sick.


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

Fact: Women are very poor judges of what men consider worth bedding.


As a 22-year old woman, if a guy comes up to me in a bar and insults me, of course I won't talk to him. But if he comes up to me and engages in witty banter that happens to involve a tease or two, it tells me that he's a fun, confident guy who I might want to get to know a little better. But that doesn't mean that I'm insecure, and it *definitely* doesn't mean I'll go home with him!


Gosh, I am taken aback by this. I guess I have lived under a rock for far too long. I would suppose, at least from the positive feedbacks you are getting here, that this "negging" works (where did they get that word?).

However, I would think that it would depend on what your objective might be. Is the purpose to meet some woman in a bar and make a pass just so you have company in bed that night, or is to build a long term future relationship.

Frankly, if I got a woman in this way, I don't think I would want any long term relationship with her. If her self-esteem could be cracked so easily, perhaps she has some other issues that more than likely would doom any permanent relationship.

Ethically or morally, I think it is wrong to belittle or tear down another person in order to gain an advantage or establish a relationship. Would it not be better to start a meeting based on common trust and encouragement?



"I think the women that let themselves be wooed by insults probably deserve them. They're the ones rewarding the behavior."
Agreed, a self-loathing woman would let such an insult result to an encounter between the sheets. But either it's her own fault or behavior she's used too and can't escape these losers that enter her life. Most of these women are likely a domestic/child abuse victim, as their predator uses such tactics even before they lay a hand on them. It's only a matter of time before these men express these insults in a violent manner.
Also another idea is that some women fall for these guys, only to beat them at their own game and not call them the next morning or ever, and go on with their content happy men-less lives.
It sad to see that even though we are living in modern times that some people are still living in the stone age where clubbing women and dragging them to their cave to spread their seed for survival. That a woman has her "womanly duties" only to serve and pleasure a man. C'mon it didn't last that long and it never will.
I just hope that nice guys don't follow such stupid suggestions. Because the beautiful, intelligent and self-respecting woman that hears such an insult will wittingly respond with rejection, so bad it will make this man tuck his tail between his legs and hopefully go home so he won't be a nuisance to other women.
Nice guys just have to be themselves and be patient. Nice girls aren't always out clubbing or hanging out at coffee shops. They're your neighbor, the check-out clerk, the nurse, you just have to open your eyes and you'll see.
I'm thankful I'm no longer in the dating pool, for I've been in love with a man that treats me as an equal, but loves me like a queen and I love him as my king. I've witnessed the emotional turmoil this emotional game can play as it has happened to my mother. I watched as my step-dad barraged her as if she was just some foolish stupid poor woman when in reality she was smart and making ALL the money in the household. That has kept me away from ANY man that likes to belittle women just for the sake of sex.
So thanks to the swine out've taught me to avoid you. And nice guys are better in bed!



Wow. That's the kind of date where you excuse yourself politely, and then climb out the restaurant's bathroom window. What a psycho.


Or perhaps he's so driven her away by the insulting behavior ('negging'), that it occurs to him, that it might be in his best interest to make sure she's not spending time with a guy who is treating her nicely ('mate retention behavior').

Really - that Mystery guy turns my stomach, and the Strauss book was both horrifying and fascinating, but neither of these two would be someone I'd want to be around.


I think "negging" would work for two reasons

1. as someone earlier in the post commented, women dont necessarily know what they want. And if they do, they dont want to admit to themselves or anyone else taht is "the chase." "Negging, ultimately gives women the idea that this guy won't want to go home/ date them unless they make him realize that they are indeed better than he thought they were when he came up and "negged" them.
2. All women like the thrill of the chase. So do men. Therefore i think its totally illogical to say that women who succumb to this method arn't worth taking home or dating. They are the same as all of us. If they are different then you wouldnt be able to tell that by testing this method on them.

Overall however i think that whoever said that its not an insult thing its a confidence thing is right. Confident people act like they dont want anything so girls what to make them realize they want them.


lost sider

I think the idea of insults for a male or a female is more often in the context of teasing/playfulness and showing confidence. They're a lot of room for interpretation of what's insulting, what flat out mean, and what's a kind of teasing.

I certainly could use some technique help and that's just to get a date, not bed a girl from the bar tonight.