3 Unexpected Things Women Find Attractive in Men
When seeking relationships, some traits may trump even good looks and wealth.
Posted Apr 25, 2016
For millennia, men have wondered what women find attractive in the opposite sex. Admittedly, the apparent answers have not always been flattering for either gender, generally finding women to prioritize physical attractiveness and/or wealth. There is indeed some research to support these assertions. That said, other studies reveal that women have a deeper appreciation of traits in men that may not be so readily obvious. Here are three:
Women find men who can tell a good tale especially attractive. Research that involved a series of three studies examined how storytelling ability influences the degree to which women find short-term and long-term romantic partners attractive.
In the first study, participants were given information about a potential partner's storytelling ability; in the second, they read either a well- or poorly-told story that was purportedly written by a potential partner. What did the investigators find? “Results suggested that only women's attractiveness assessments of men as a long-term date increased for good storytellers,” the authors wrote. In other words, good storytelling made potential mates far more attractive as long-term partners. Moreover, the ability to spin a tale well didn't influence how men saw women romantically.
The third study found a possible explanation for why women find good storytellers attractive: The skill appears to raise men's social status as it reflects the ability to influence others and gain resources—which would have been evolutionarily advantageous.
Women find men with a good sense of humor sexy, perhaps because it signals intelligence, creativity, and other "good genes" traits that can pass down to posterity. Consider a study in which researchers assessed 400 university students (200 men and 200 women) for abstract reasoning, verbal intelligence, the ability to produce humor, and mating success. As expected, the results supported the idea that humor is seen as a sign of intelligence, with both general and verbal intelligence predicting the ability to be humorous. This in turn predicts mating success, including one's number of sexual partners across his lifetime. However, the men in this study demonstrated, on average, higher levels of humorousness than others. This suggests that the evolution of humor may have, at least in part, evolved as a sexually selected trait that advertises mental fitness.
Research shows that women prefer generous men, particularly when it comes to long-term relationships. But is altruism more important to women than good looks? A study asked female participants to view photographs of men who varied in their levels of physical attractiveness, which were accompanied by a description of the men behaving altruistically (or not) in different social contexts. The results revealed that women preferred the altruistic men, especially when it came to long-term relationships. Granted, women found men who were both physically attractive and generous most desirable. At the same time, though, the results revealed that behaving altruistically made less attractive men more desirable—but only when it came to long-term relationships (and not short-term hookups). Finally, men who were just altruistic were regarded as more desirable than men who were regarded as just physically attractive.
Find Dr. Mehta's other Psychology Today posts here.
Vinita Mehta, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in Washington, D.C., and an expert on relationships, managing anxiety and stress, and building health and resilience. She provides speaking engagements for your organization and psychotherapy for adults. She has successfully worked with individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, and life transitions, with a growing specialization in recovery from trauma and abuse. She is also the author of the forthcoming book, Paleo Love: How Our Stone Age Bodies Complicate Modern Relationships.
- Donahue, J., & Green, M. (2016). A good story: Men's storytelling ability affects their attractiveness and perceived status. Personal Relationships. DOI: 10.1111/pere.12120
- Farrelly, D., Clemson, P., Guthrie, M. Are Women’s Mate Preferences for Altruism Also Influenced by Physical Attractiveness?Evol Psychol January-March 2016 vol. 14 no. 1 1474704915623698
- Greengross, G. & Miller, G. Humor ability reveals intelligence, predicts mating success, and is higher in males. Intelligence. Volume 39, Issue 4, July–August 2011, Pages 188–192