Do Women Really Go For “Bad Boys"? Here’s The Science That Settles The Question

Forget waiting by the phone for someone who never calls, science suggests niceness is hot. Olga Rosi/Shutterstock
Elise Andrew 19 May 2016, 19:25

“Nice guys finish last” is one of the most widely believed maxims of dating. Fleshed out, the idea goes something like this: heterosexual women might say they want nice characteristics in a partner, but in reality what they want is the challenge that comes with dating a “bad boy”. This idea is so widespread that some people are even making money off the back of it, selling self-help books and teaching men how to pick up women by insulting them – a practice known as “negging”.

Recently, an article published by Broadly claimed, “Everyone knows [bad boys] … are desirable. Thanks to a recent study, this is now scientifically verifiable.”

The research it refers to is a study published earlier this year, which suggested that some men smoke and drink because this makes them more attractive short-term partners.

Leaving aside the obvious point that the article is conflating “bad” with drinking and smoking (as Girl on the Net writes, “badness” is really a lot more than just smoking 20 a day or drinking like there’s no tomorrow), is it really true that women prefer bad boys (read: insensitive, macho jerks)? Let’s take a look at some reliable scientific evidence.

One way to investigate the issue is to present women with hypothetical men with different personality types and see which ones they prefer. In one such study, participants had to help a fictional character named Susan choose a date from three male contestants, based on their answers to her questions. In one version, the man was nice – he was in touch with his feelings, caring and kind. In another, he was a self-described “real man” who was insensitive and unkind. The third contestant simply gave neutral answers.

So which contestant did participants think Susan should date and who did they prefer to date themselves? Contrary to the stereotype that nice guys finish last, it was actually the nice contestant that was chosen most frequently for both Susan and for participants themselves.

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