Updated 10 October 2013

Do bad boys get all the girls?

Bad boys seem to get the girls – but maybe Mr Nice Guy may have the last laugh yet.


You’ve seen it in dozens of Hollywood high school and college movies. Heck, you may even have experienced it in real life yourself: while they’re forever unaware of the decent guy who would so obviously be good for them – i.e. you – pretty girls always seem to get swept away by the cool, but ever-so-slightly-evil, no-good scoundrels their mothers keep warning them about. Research suggests that in the short run bad boys may indeed get most girls, but ultimately, good-old Mr. Nice Guy may have the last laugh yet.

The Dark Triad

For some time, psychologists have been asking the question of why so many women seem to prefer men who score high in personality tests that evaluate the so-called Dark Triad, a suite of three negative personality traits that includes narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism. Dr Peter Jonason of New Mexico State University and his co-workers have found that a majority of women are particularly attracted to self-obsessed, impulsive, callous, risk-taking, deceitful and manipulative guys. In their studies, men who rated high on the Dark Triad scale tended to have more sexual partners, show a greater desire for short-term romantic relationships and were more likely to poach other people's partners.

In a 2008 survey of 35 000 people from 57 countries, researcher David Schmitt of Bradley University in the USA similarly found that “it is universal across cultures for high Dark Triad scorers to be more active in short–term mating.” Jonason believes that there is “some evidence that these [Dark Triad] traits may represent a successful evolutionary strategy”, representing one way for a male to maximise his reproductive potential by sowing his wild oats with as many females as possible.

Good dating advice?

It would seem that dating coaches around the world have taken these scientific results to heart. According to Arthur Malov, founder of the relationship consulting agency New York Dating Coach, “girls might say they want a nice guy, but what they really want is the cool guy.” He advises single men to steer away from the predictable Mr. Nice Guy image. The same is true for the Australian dating advice company The Modern Man.

The last laugh

But not so fast! Research has also shown that Dark Triad men tend to really struggle to maintain long-term relationships. “Mate retention is a problem faced by those with [Dark Triad] traits,” says Jonason. Furthermore, the tactics they attempt to use to retain a partner tend to be those characteristic of the Dark Triad: narcissism and aggression.

Dr Gayle Brewer, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Central Lancashire in the UK, believes that while women may be attracted to cads for the occasional fling, they usually settle down with more genuinely nice and caring kind of guys. Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA, agrees that the long term-relationships of Dark Triad males are frequently compromised by their antisocial personality traits.

So unless you’re really just interested in an endless repetition of relatively meaningless shags, always remember that nice guys get the girls in the long-run!



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