The Effects of Paternal Disengagement on Women’s Perceptions of Male Mating Intent

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Previous research demonstrates reliable associations between low paternal investment and daughters’ precocious and risky sexual behavior. However, little is known about the psychological changes that occur in response to paternal disengagement that encourage these patterns. Here, we aim to redress this empirical gap by testing the effects of paternal disengagement on women’s perceptions of male mating intent. In 4 experiments, women who described their fathers’ absence (vs. a comparison state) perceived greater: mating intent in the described actions of a hypothetical dating partner (Study 1), sexual arousal in male target faces (Studies 2 and 3), and mating interest from a male confederate (Study 4). In a mixed-methods study (Study 5), women with greater developmental exposure to harsh-deviant paternal behavior perceived greater sexual intent in men’s actions than women with lesser exposure. Moreover, these perceptual differences predicted unrestricted sociosexuality among women in this sample. An internal meta-analysis (N = 408) across studies provided support for a relationship between paternal disengagement and women’s perceptions of male sexual intent. Together, this research suggests that low paternal investment (including primed paternal disengagement and harsh-deviant fathering) causes changes in daughters’ perceptions of men that may influence their subsequent mating behavior.

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