Head Games

What Freud never knew

4 Smarter Ways Men Can Woo Women

Research shows why, in romance, nice guys don't always finish last.

It goes without saying that the mating market can be brutal. It is also an arena wherein "dominant" males often seem to be rewarded. A recent study found that men actually tend to inhibit themselves when they believe they are competing against a physically stronger male for the interest of an attractive woman.

Does brawn always win?

According to other research, not as often as you might think. Here are 4 ways men can outsmart their rivals and successfully connect with the women they seek:

  1. Be Nice. Research has found that men who display generosity and kindness tend to be more attractive to women as long-term mates. In one study, researchers asked heterosexual women to rate the appeal of men both with and without information about their helping behaviors. What they found was that, indeed, reports of altruism were associated with a significant increase in the attractiveness of men as potential long-term romantic partners—and for short-term trysts as well. One evolutionary explanation for these findings may be that helping behaviors are attractive because they advertise good genes; they may also signal the likelihood of the provision of non-genetic resources such as paternal investment.
  2. Be Nice to Children. In keeping with the research on altruism, studies also show that women are generally more attracted to dads than cads, at least when it comes to decisions about long-term relationships. An experiment illustrating this finding took place on the patio of a bar, where a male confederate (an undercover researcher) just so happened to run into his “sister,” (a female undercover researcher) and her baby. In one condition, the male confederate paid attention to the baby; in another condition, he ignored the infant. Minutes later (and now alone) the male approached a young woman (unaware of the experiment) who had been sitting near his table and asked her for her phone number. The results were striking: When the confederate had paid attention to the baby in sight of the women, he collected phone numbers from a substantially higher percentage of them than when he ignored the baby in the women's line of sight.
  3. Be Creative. By now, multiple lines of research have demonstrated that qualities such as intelligence, humor, and artistic talent are highly attractive to women. These traits may be a function of “sexual selection"—that is, they ultimately increase mating success. (A classic example would be a peacock's plumage.) Consider the findings of one study in which 300 young women were solicited for their phone number on the street by a young male confederate in one of three conditions: (1) holding a guitar case, (2) holding a gym bag, or (3) holding nothing. Researchers found that the male confederate collected the most phone numbers when he was holding a guitar case. In other words, the findings suggest that musical ability is associated with sexual selection.
  4. Be a Dog Lover. Man's best friend may also be his best wingman, according to a study that tested whether dog ownership might advertise long-term relationship potential to women. Building on the idea that men may have evolved short-term “cad" and long-term "dad" mating strategies, researchers hypothesized that owning a dog would increase the long-term appeal of men—especially, they assumed, for cads, since this would suggest nurturance and relationship commitment that they may not actually have possessed. The investigators asked women to read vignettes which presented four possible partner possibilities—descriptions fitting a "dad" with a dog; a "dad" without a dog; a "cad" with a dog; and a "cad" without. Perhaps not surprisingly, owning a dog and having a “dad” mating strategy was rated higher in long-term attractiveness by female subjects.


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Vinita Mehta, Ph.D., Ed.M., is a clinical psychologist and journalist. She was formerly the Development Producer and Science Editor of PBS's This Emotional Life.


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