It's happened to the best of us: you're at a bar or a party and you spy some dude giving you the eye...or what you think is the eye. Then you go over to talk to him and it turns out he's gay and liked your shirt, or he was looking at the girl behind you, or he just had an eyelash that was bothering him. Well. a new study shows that both men and women confuse nonverbal sexual cues with friendliness, and nonverbal cues for chumminess with a come-on. According to a report from Indiana University, "men who viewed images of friendly women misidentified 12 percent of the images as sexually interested, while women mistook 8.7 percent of the friendly images for sexual interest." On the flip side, "When viewing images of sexually interested women, men mistakenly called 37.8 percent of the images 'friendly' while women mistook 31.9 percent of the sexual interest cues for friendliness."
Although it's no surprise that men are slightly more clueless then women when it comes to interpreting nonverbal cues, study leader Coreen Farris tells Science Daily, "The data doesn't support the idea that all men are bad at this or that all women are great at this...It's a small difference."
Where it does make a difference though, is in the small number of men who mistake friendliness for sexual interest and then use that "friendliness" as an excuse for sexual coercion. According to Science Daily, "studies such as this should help establish a better understanding and a baseline for young men's perceptions of sexual intent and contribute to efforts aimed at preventing sexual aggression."