How does social power affect the way potential sex partners are perceived?

University of South Carolina
Columbia, South Carolina
DOI: 10.18258/9254
Raised of $4,400 Goal
Funded on 2/10/19
Successfully Funded
  • $4,400
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 2/10/19

About This Project

This project examines how social power affects our perceptions of potential sex partners. The goal is to determine whether a heightened sense of power impacts sexual attraction and if high/low power causes individuals to be more/less likely to believe others are interested in having sex with them. I also ask whether the effects of power differ for females and males and if relationship status (single/partnered) impacts our perceptions of potential sex partners.

Ask the Scientists

Join The Discussion

What is the context of this research?

Existing research confirms that our perceptions of situations and people can be shaped by our sense of power (1,2,3). Also, having power in one context can color perceptions in other areas of life (4,5). An elevated sense of power has been associated with being focused on rewards (6), seeing others in utilitarian terms (7), and can cause individuals to be more assertive (8). The effects of power on perceptions specifically related to sex is an under researched area. In Study 1 of this project, research subjects will be primed to experience a sense of high or low power and will rate the attractiveness of facial images to determine whether power impacts perceived attractiveness. In Study 2, subjects will rate whether a hypothetical person is interested in having sex with them.

What is the significance of this project?

This project will test whether an elevated sense of power makes people more prone to think others are interested in them sexually and how power impacts attraction to potential sex partners. Particularly in light of self-reported differences in personal sense of power by gender, knowing the effects of social power on sex-related perceptions will help to better understand different sexual behaviors and preferences of men and women, as well as more problematic issues such as workplace sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advance in other contexts. Improving our understanding in these areas is especially important in light of research findings demonstrating a tendency among males to misinterpret the sexual intentions of others (14,15).

What are the goals of the project?

This project aims to improve our understanding of the impacts of power on perceptions of potential sex partners. This will be accomplished by experimentally examining the effects of power on the way people rate the attractiveness of potential partners (Study 1) and whether or not they believe potential partners are interested in having sex with them (Study 2). In both studies, a semantic priming procedure (7) will be utilized to induce an elevated or lowered sense of power in research participants, with participants randomly assigned to a low, neutral, or high power condition. Study 1 participants will complete a facial attractiveness rating task. Study 2 participants will complete the Sexual Intent Scale (9).


Please wait...

The project budget includes three items. The first is a subscription fee ($300) for data collection software and secure web survey deployment service.

The second budget item ($3600) is an amount used to recruit and compensate volunteers. Participants will be recruited via Amazon's MTurk service and will receive $2 for completing a survey. In addition to the $2 compensation paid directly to each research participant, there is a fee paid to Amazon. This results in a cost effective $3 per research participant. The project consists of two studies and the goal is to recruit 600 participants for each study (1200 x $3 = $3600).

The final item ($500) covers administrative costs for the project, including fundraising costs and transaction fees associated with

All donations will receive a match

Endorsed by

This research is of high relevance in the "#metoo" era, casting light on predictors of sexual (mis)behavior among a diverse set of age groups. Sexual behavior isn't merely individual, but instead follows socially constructed pathways and tends to resemble societal expectations. Moreover, power and sexuality have long been connected, though the nature of the connections is unclear. This research will play a critical role in uncovering the linkages between these factors.
Joseph Padgett is an established sexuality researcher with several publications in top sexuality journals. This research will advance our knowledge of power relations and how they relate to sexual practices and ideas, making an important contribution to the science of sexuality.

Project Timeline

The early phase of this project is currently underway. Programming of the data collection instruments and a pilot test using a college student sample have been conducted. Data collection for Study 1 will begin immediately upon funding and last for one month, at which point data collection for Study 2 will begin. Analysis will begin immediately following data collection and be complete by May 2019.

Dec 27, 2018

Project Launched

Feb 15, 2019

Data Collection for Study 1

Mar 15, 2019

Data Collection for Study 2

Apr 30, 2019

Completion of initial data analysis

May 31, 2019

Results compiled/submitted for publication in peer-reviewed journal

Meet the Team

Joseph Padgett
Joseph Padgett


University of South Carolina, Department of Sociology
View Profile

Joseph Padgett

I am a Ph.D. candidate and instructor in the Department of Sociology at University of South Carolina. Using both survey and experimental methods, I apply a sociological approach to studying the way our relationships and social contexts affect our perceptions and behaviors. My current projects focus on predictors of sexual enjoyment, diversity of sexual practice, and the impact of social power and relationship status on the way people perceive potential sex partners.

My previous research has examined predictors of college student engagement in hookup, date, and relationship sex; partner meeting context and risk-taking behavior during sexual encounters; and variance in college student date and hookup sexual encounters.

My work has been published in Journal of Sex Research, Journal of Social & Personal Relationships, and the Handbook of Contemporary Feminism. More information about my previous and ongoing research is available on my web page.

Additional Information

The University of South Carolina Office of Research will provide support to this project in the form of a dollar-for-dollar match up to 50% of the overall project goal. This means that if at least $2200 is raised in donations, fundraising will be successful and the project will move forward as planned.

Project Backers

  • 13Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $4,400Total Donations
  • $184.17Average Donation
Please wait...