Brain and Body

What Draws Women to Bad Boys? Hint: It’s Not the Cool Factor

October 14, 2015 | Reece Alvarez

Man and woman riding a motorcycle
Photo credit: Judepics/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Researchers have found that there may be some truth to the perception that women are attracted to “bad boys,” but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

According to a study from The University of Texas at San Antonio, when it comes to procreation, nice guys really do finish last.

Kristina Durante, an assistant professor of marketing at the university, set out to answer the question of why women choose bold and dangerous “bad boy” types as opposed to reliable, stable partners.

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From her research, Durante found that the hormones associated with ovulation influence women's perceptions of men as potential fathers.

"Previous research has shown in the week near ovulation women become attracted to sexy, rebellious and handsome men like George Clooney or James Bond," she said. "But until now it was unclear why women would ever think it's wise to pursue long-term relationships with these kinds of men."

As part of the research, women participants viewed online dating profiles of either a sexy man or a reliable man during periods of both high and low fertility. They were then asked to indicate how helpful they thought the man would be in regards to tasks like caring for a baby, shopping for food, cooking, and contributing to household chores.

The study found that, near ovulation, women thought that the sexy man would contribute more to these domestic duties.

"Under the hormonal influence of ovulation, women delude themselves into thinking that the sexy bad boys will become devoted partners and better dads," Durante said. "When looking at the sexy cad through ovulation goggles, Mr. Wrong looked exactly like Mr. Right."

In another study, women interacted directly with male actors who played the roles of “sexy cad” and “reliable dad” once during ovulation and again at low fertility. Again, ovulating women thought that the sexy cad — but not the reliable dad — would contribute more to childcare, but only if she were his partner.

"When asked about what kind of father the sexy bad boy would make if he were to have children with another woman, women were quick to point out the bad boy's shortcomings," Durante said. "But when it came to their own child, ovulating women believed that the charismatic and adventurous cad would be a great father to their kids."

"While this psychological distortion could be setting some women up to choose partners who are better suited to be short-term mates, missing a mating opportunity with a sexy cad might be too costly for some women to pass up. After all, you never know if he could be the 'one.'"


Based on materials provided by the University of Texas at San Antonio College of Business.

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