The revelations of the #MeToo movement seem to have caught many men by surprise. Comedian Aziz Ansari was “surprised and concerned,” believing his encounter with a woman to be “by all indications completely consensual.” Well-known actor Richard Dreyfus was “bewildered to discover” an incident wasn’t consensual, leading him to “reassess every relationship I have ever thought was playful and mutual.”
Although there are numerous explanations for the widespread sexual harassment and assault allegations that have recently come to light across various industries, in our research we have identified one potential contributor related to the psychology of avowed unwitting perpetrators: a cognitive blind spot that makes them oblivious to how trapped their unwanted advances can make their targets feel.
In two studies soon to be published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, we found that romantic suitors generally underestimate the discomfort their unwanted overtures cause those on the receiving end; they believe that their targets feel more comfortable and willing to reject their advances than is actually the case. Interestingly, we have found that this isn’t just a problem for men; we also found that while women reported being targets of unwanted workplace advances more often, when they were the ones pursuing an unrequited romantic relationship they were equally unable to judge the comfort level of their targets.
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