Conventional dating wisdom says nice guys might be good partners in the long run, but they’re less likely to get the heart pounding at first sight. The advice for men—on internet forums, within glossy magazines, and spread among friends—is that “niceness” is a quality that bores, rather than attracts, women.
But that perception is way off, says a new research study conducted by the University of Worcester faculty and published this week in the journal Evolutionary Biology. The study found that women actually consider certain kinds of niceness more attractive than sheer physical appeal, when it comes down to it.
Researchers asked 202 women to look at dozens of photographs of men’s faces—some conventionally handsome, some not—and read various hypothetical scenarios about the strangers. For instance: one scenario pitted a not-handsome man who gives a sandwich to a homeless person against a handsome man who avoids the homeless person and walks away; another scenario was the exact same, but with the handsome man giving the sandwich. Then, the women were asked to rate how attractive they found each man, both for a one-night stand or a long-term relationship.
Of all the fictional men, those who “displayed high levels of altruism were rated significantly more desirable overall,” researchers Daniel Farrelly, Paul Clemson, and Melissa Guthrie found.
In addition, while handsome, non-altruistic men were more appealing for brief affairs, not-handsome, altruistic men were more desired for committed relationships—a finding agony aunts and advice columnists everywhere might find familiar.
The most desirable men, of course, turned out to be the ones who were both handsome and altruistic. But if you can’t have it all, you might as well focus on improving the characteristic you can actually control. Simply being kind, Farrelly and his colleagues confirm, is much more valuable than simply being attractive.