The truth about male decision-making

By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, August 31, 2008

I am looking at the results of a recent highly scientific study titled "Bikinis Instigate Generalized Impatience in Intertemporal Choice." After men were allowed to fondle lingerie and look at a video of hundreds of breathtakingly sexy women stampeding through a jungle in skimpy swimsuits, the study found, the men's judgment became impaired. Once aroused, they were less likely to cut shrewd deals in simple business negotiations.

Now, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that these results are about as scientifically surprising as proving that when a person falls down, he goes boom.

This was my view, too, until I called my friend Gina Barreca, the feminist scholar. Unlike me, Gina has a real education, advanced degrees and an actual work ethic. So, unlike me, Gina read the whole study, including the fine print and earlier papers from the same researchers.

Gina: Okay, this is fascinating!

Gene: It is? Couldn't you have predicted this result?

Gina: Of course I could have predicted it. Gooba the cave-

woman could have predicted it, and she probably did. She sat around with the other female Neanderthals, giggling and bragging: "Watch. Me bend over. Me make Oog stupid."

Gene: So... ?

Gina: So it's not the conclusion that's interesting; it's the methodology.

Gene: Well, in one test, men were offered a small amount of money immediately or an opportunity for a larger amount if they waited. In another, two men try to outthink each other in a game of financial chicken. In each case, after guys got besotted by bikini bobble, they made careless, impulsive, unwise choices compared with the control groups, plus or minus the standard deviation.

Gina: Zzzzzz.

Gene: You said the methodology was interesting!

Gina: You might as well have been explaining the rules for icing the puck. No, you missed the headline. It was in the fine print. The scientists also discovered that the more highly sexed a man is, the more susceptible he will be to the bikini effect.

Gene: Stands to reason.

Gina: I'm not finished. What's really interesting is how the scientists measured which man was more highly sexed than the other. They did it by comparing the length of each man's pointer finger to the length of his ring finger.

Gene: What?

Gina: Apparently, this is valid science! A male with a comparatively longer ring finger was exposed to less estrogen in the womb, so, as an adult, he is more of a ticking testosterone bomb. These are the guys who most often lose their business acumen when confronted with a coquettishly elevated thigh.

Gene: My ring finger is a lot longer than my pointer.

Gina: I'm not surprised. I have personally observed your behavior in the presence of visible panty lines. My point is that the only reason this finger-ratio disclosure was not on Page 1 of The Washington Post and did not lead the nightly news on every network is that the media are still run by men. No one understood the raw power this information delivers to women. Or they understood it quite well and wished to withhold it.

Gene: What do you mean?

Gina: We're now armed with critical information! In a bar, men will think we're scoping out whether they're wearing wedding rings, but instead we'll be figuring out which of them can be most quickly induced to buy us a house.

Gene: I feel like a traitor to my sex.

Gina: You're thinking like a man. You should start thinking strategically, like a woman. Have you seen the bikinis-running-through-the-jungle video that they used in the experiment?

Gene: No.

Gina: Go watch it. I'll wait here.

(Two minutes pass.)

Gene: WOW!!

Gina: Now e-mail the video to your editor. Then call him up, and use your newfound knowledge.

(The link is e-mailed. The call is made.)

Gene: Are you watching it?

Tom the Butcher: Yeah. Whoa.

Gene: Can I have a raise?

Tom: Sure, whatever.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com. Chat with him online Tuesdays at noon.

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