In several lab experiments, undergraduate students completed the new computer-based word-association task assessing how much they associate physical attractiveness with an ideal partner. As words flashed on the screen, the participants had to pick those they associated with positive feelings. Depending on how strongly the participant felt about physical attractiveness, words associated with sexiness that popped up during an “I like” trial were selected quicker.

The researchers then compared these results with participants’ responses to direct questions about important characteristics in a partner. The two responses differed: No matter if students thought they really needed a hot partner or not, they ended up responding the same to the word test…

“If a person tells me, for example, that she doesn’t care about how attractive a guy is, our research suggests that her claim isn’t worth all that much,” study researcher Paul Eastwick, of Texas A&M University, said in a statement. “Instead, it would actually be more useful to measure her reaction times on this new task,” he said, referring to the word-association.