Accurately assessing the sexual interest of others is useful for initiating courtship behaviors that have a chance of being reciprocated, and also potentially critical for survival, particularly for women, where unwanted sexual interest from men can become unwanted sexual advances, sexual assault, and worse. Previous research suggests that men overestimate women’s sexual interest to initiate courtship behaviors even if the probability of their advances being reciprocated is low. This may be because missing a potential mating opportunity is costlier than squandered courtship efforts. However, research on this male sexual overestimation effect has failed to fully appreciate the importance of the motivations and contexts of actors. Here, we primed participants with short-term mating motivations and threat contexts to compare against a control prime condition. We replicated the male sexual overestimation effect in the control and threat prime conditions and found a marginal effect in the short-term mating prime condition. The magnitude of the difference between men’s estimations and women’s self-reports of women’s sexual interest was only significantly different from the control prime in the threat condition. Additionally, we explored some interesting combinations of circumstances. We found that, in a potentially common scenario, where men are primed with short-term mating motives and women are primed with threat, the male sexual overestimation effect replicates and, further, find that this effect disappears when the mindsets of men and women are reversed. We discuss the implications of these findings in the context of understanding what the default psychologies of people during the early stages of courtship are, and the effects these psychologies have on estimations of sexual interest.
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