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David Fryburg M.D.
David Fryburg M.D.

Want More Dates? Try Kindness

Research suggests that kindness is the key to romance.

Envision Kindness
Source: Envision Kindness

When I was a teenager, the idea that being good-looking was the key to getting dates suggested that I was going to have difficulty. Like many, part of this misconception was driven by the stereotype from movies and advertisements that suggested one had to be very physically attractive to be successful in romance.

That was a simpler time. Today’s dating apps only amplify this issue, delivering hundreds of miniature, two-dimensional likenesses in one sitting. Overloaded with first-impression images that put appearance front and center, it is easy to see how many wonderful people could be missed.

It is true that physical appearance is an important factor [1] in romantic and sexual relationships, particularly for initial attraction. Humans are wired to respond to certain physical features, including facial symmetry and the relationship between parts of the face known as the Golden Rule [2] [3]. This innate neuropsychological response is influenced by people’s prior experiences, their associations, and by cultural definitions of attractiveness.

Nice Guys Don't Finish Last

The strong effect of external appearance [4]—perhaps coupled with the appeal of the “bad boy” image—has contributed to the long-cited myth that “nice guys finish last” in romance. Yet that turns out to be wrong. Research shows that for both men and women, being nice markedly increases the appeal of a potential romantic partner. In fact, evolution may have dictated it to be so.

Evolutionary biologists study behaviors in different organisms to understand the benefit(s) of conserving certain behaviors, especially for reproductive fitness. As survival of the species is critical, maintaining the ability to reproduce is huge. External attractiveness is an obvious and potent way to communicate fitness, like a male peacock does for the peahen [5]. The larger the plumage, the greater the fitness.

One behavior of keen interest to evolutionary biologists is altruism. Altruism is kindness or goodness that includes some sacrifice or cost to the giver [6] [7]. As it relates to reproductive fitness, altruists could be perceived as desirable reproductive partners, since they will be more nurturing and provide for kin, enhancing the chances of successful continuation of that gene pool or species.

Choosing a Kind Partner

Like physical attractiveness, people are wired to choose kindness when selecting a romantic partner, especially for long-term relationships [8] [9]. The impact of being nice is strongest in how heterosexual women view men. For both genders, however, being kind is a consistent influencer both for selecting someone for a long-term relationship as well as increasing the number of dates.

In one study, when offered a dating game choice among three descriptions of a man named Todd, one that is kind and caring, another neutral, and the third “a jerk” (bad boy type), women overwhelmingly chose the kind version. In the same experiment, women preferred kind Todd for marriage, as a steady boyfriend, a platonic friend, as well as a sexual partner—but not as a “one-night stand" [10].

Kindness also makes people look more physically attractive [11]. For women and men looking at a photo of the opposite sex [12], changing one descriptor to indicate altruistic behavior had a large positive impact on ratings of overall attractiveness [13].

Finally, when being watched by a female, heterosexual males are more generous than if being watched by another male or no one at all. This suggests that men instinctively know that women are looking for this quality and want to please them by displaying it [14]. (It should be noted that all of the research that I was able to find focused on heterosexual relationships.)

On a practical level, if I were using a web-based dating app, with humble honesty I would be sure it was obvious that I like to volunteer or help others [15]. Maybe the shirt I am wearing in the photo would read “Habitat For Humanity” or whatever other organization I was volunteering for.

And if you are not yet volunteering—give it a try. Beyond getting dates (and helping others), it can change your own life in a really positive way.

Originally published at

Facebook image: WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock


[1] Walster and colleagues: Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior. J. Personality and Social Psychology vol 4, page 508 1966

[2] Gunes, H and Piccardi, M: Assessing facial beauty through proportion analysis by image processing and supervised learning. Int J Human Computer Studies 64:1184 2006 and

[3] Some explanations include the golden ratio (height to width of face) as well as how symmetrical the face is. Advertisers clearly exploit that effect to promote products (which unfortunately has its own repercussions about beauty standards, etc.).

[4] In addition to physical attractiveness, visible displays of affluence, athletic ability, and forceful or confident personality may all contribute to this assessment.


[6] It all comes down to willingness to give with varying degrees of what will be returned. Absolutely pure altruism—nothing in return and possibly with substantial cost, is demonstrated by many parents.

[7] Or at least no immediate benefit. There are different subtypes of altruism, including kin selection (an organism sacrifices only for family) or reciprocal altruism in which one member gives to another with an expectation that the receiver will reciprocate in some way and at some time in the future. Self-sacrificing or generosity are other applicable terms.

[8] D. Ehrlebracht and colleagues: British J of Psychology vol. 109 p 517 2018 “The synergistic effect of prosociality and physical attractiveness on mate desirability”

[9] P. Barclay: British J. of Psychology vol. 101 p. 123 2010 “Altruism as a courtship display: Some effects of third-party generosity on audience perceptions”

[10] Geoffrey C. Urbaniak and Peter R. Kilmann Sex Roles, Vol. 49, p 413 2003

[11] Jensen-Campbell and colleagues. J. Personality and Social Psychology vol. 68. P427 1995. Dominance, prosocial orientation and female preferences: do nice guys really finish last?

[12] All of the research I have been able to identify has only been for heterosexual relationships

[13] D. Moore and colleagues. BMC Evolutionary Biology vol. 13 p.182 2013. Selflessness is sexy: reported helping behavior increases desirability of men and women as long-term sexual partners

[14] As above, only data are from heterosexual studies. From A. Tognetti and colleagues: Sci Reports (Nature) vol 6 (29819) 2016. Men increase contributions to a public good when under sexual competition

[15] Especially for the men reading this—be honest—as you will otherwise be found out quickly!

About the Author
David Fryburg M.D.

David Fryburg, M.D., is a physician, a scientist, a self-described nerd, and the co-founder of Envision Kindness, a nonprofit organization.