(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- Francesca is a smart, accomplished attractive woman in her mid-30s. A professor of art history and archeology at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., she's the last person you'd expect to act like an insecure middle schooler over some boy she likes.
You'd be wrong.
"I obsess. I use the quantity of contact with my partner as an index of my self-esteem for the day," she said, asking that her last name not be used. "It is rather creepy, now that I think about it, but I'll look to see where someone checked in on [the social network site] Foursquare to find a justification for their silence."
She's not alone. Women, it turns out, tend to find men more attractive the less sure they are about how much the men like them.
Uncertainty itself -- not the thrill of the chase -- might rank among the greatest aphrodisiacs, according to a new study by Erin R. Whitchurch and Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard.
Women are apt to find men who might like them more attractive than men who definitely do, according to their paper, He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not ... Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction.
"Uncertainty affects our thoughts in general," Whitchurch, who led the research as part of her dissertation, said. "If you can get a person to think about you, you can make that person think they're attracted to you. Uncertainty is one way to get them to think about you."
The experiment was conducted on female undergraduates, although Whitchurch believes, she said, the findings would hold true for men as well. The female subjects were told that the experiment was testing whether Facebook could be used as a dating site.
One group of women were told that four phony male profiles belonged to men that liked them the most. A second group was told they were liked an average amount. A third group was ambiguously told that they were liked either the most or an average amount by the men.
The results: Women did tend to like the men who found them most attractive. The men who were deemed most attractive of all, however, were the ones who were ambiguous on whether they liked the women a lot or just an average amount.
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