A series of social experiments has shown that women in relationships find other men not as attractive as they would if they were single. When they observed the behavior of a man they were not dating, they remembered the negative qualities in the men. The study, which was published in the International Association for Relationship Research’s journal Personal Relationships, found that this was not true when compared to their single counterparts.

Researchers conducted a three part experiment in order to figure out if heterosexual women who were dating would be less attracted to another man. Undergraduate college women were shown pictures of attractive men in different scenarios. For example, some images showed a man late to an appointment, while others brought groceries for their grandmother.

When the photos were taken away the women were asked to recall the scenarios they remembered, and what they found was women seemed to have developed a selective memory. In two out of the three experiments, women who were in relationships remembered the negative behaviors exhibited by the attractive men, than they could remember the positives. In the third experiment, heterosexual women recalled the less desirable traits of attractive men more than people they wouldn’t date, such as other women.

The group was then compared to a control group of single women who were more likely to find attractive men, just as they are: attractive. They were not as distracted by the negative behavior as the dating women. Though the study has its limits because women were only tested using photos and homosexual women were not tested for their ability to recall attractive persons based on the association of negative or positive behavior.

Further research needs to be conducted in order to determine if a man’s body language or tone of voice could sway a woman in a relationship any differently than a photo would. According to Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., a professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College, women can be swayed by a man’s nonverbal cues. The theory is consistent with the Pygmalion Effect, which states that our expectations about others can greater influence the expectations placed upon them. The person, will in turn perform more like the person assumes they will perform.

In light of the recent study, women who were in a relationship saw men’s negative behavior associated them negatively enough to not be attracted to them. The reason for the heightened association or clearer perception of the man and being able to see past his physical appearance, needs to be explored more through person-to-person social experiments.

Source: Visserman M, Karremans J, et al. Romantic relationship status biases the processing of an attractive alternative's behavior. Personal Relationships. 2014.