It is a phenomenon that has baffled mothers, fathers and the classic “nice guys” throughout human history, but perhaps no one expresses the paradox quite as eloquently as acclaimed rapper Earl Simmons, better known to his fans as DMX – “Why do good girls like bad guys? Knowin’ that bad guys tell mad lies…”
Indeed, it is a truly profound question, one for which there is no simple answer. Nevertheless, researchers have uncovered one factor which appears to play a major role in this phenomenon – ovulation! Various studies (e.g. Gangestad, Simpson, Cousins, Garver-Apgar, & Christensen, 2004, cited in Durante, Griskevicius, Simpson, Cantu & Li, 2012; Thornhill & Gangestad, 2008, cited in Durante et al., 2012) have found that ovulating women have an increased desire for the prototypical sexy cads – men who are attractive, dominant and who live on the edge – even though these men may not be interested in a long term relationship. While the idea that ovulating women are attracted to bad boys is well documented, a series of experiments carried out by Durante et al. (2012) examined the reason for this puzzling attraction, especially as these sexy cads would likely prove to be unfaithful and unreliable.
Firstly, the researchers tested whether ovulation leads women to perceive sexy cads as prospective nurturing fathers. This was done by assigning the participants to one of two conditions. In one condition, women were allowed to view a photo of a physically attractive man along with a brief biographical profile describing him as socially dominant, and charismatic. In the other condition, the women were shown a photo of an average looking, reliable man and a brief biographical profile describing him as stable, a good provider, and dependable. Urine samples were taken from the women to track their ovulation. This procedure was carried out at both high and low fertility periods. The results showed that women who were experiencing high fertility perceived the charismatic men as more nurturing future fathers.
In a subsequent experiment, women at high and low fertility windows were allowed to use a videocamera system to interact with men (actually male actors) who demonstrated characteristics of either a sexy cad or a good dad. The sexy cad character displayed social dominance, charisma as well as traits of instability and unreliability. In contrast, the good dad character was socially reserved, lacking adventurousness and charm. However, he was explicit in his intention to have a committed relationship and start a family. After these interactive sessions, each woman was asked which man would make a better father if (1) another woman was his partner, and (2) if she was his partner. In the end, ovulating women thought that the sexy cad would make a better father than the “good dad” character, but only if she (the woman tested) was his partner. Once another woman was involved, the perception of the sexy cad being a good dad was significantly lowered.
Women are said to be more emotional creatures than men, and so they desire a husband who is reliable, trustworthy and cares deeply for their feelings. However many women miss the opportunity to meet Mr. Right because they cannot see past his physical traits. In each of the studies carried out, the men who were overlooked were the ones who were actually the ‘good guys.’
Clear evidence is given that ovulating women tend to perceive men who are sexy, charismatic and socially dominant as better prospective fathers. Durante et al. (2012) concluded that ovulating women desire such mates because they believe sexy cads will provide genetic benefits to future offspring. This explains why women will sometimes give in to the charming wiles of a womanizer, as hormonal fluctuations interfere with logical thinking.
So, what have we learnt from these experiments? If you’re a female, think twice before you go after that sexy stud - your body could be playing tricks on you. If you’re the nice guy waiting in the wings… well, hang in there. Sure, good girls like bad guys and nice guys finish last – but that may only happen a few days out of the month.
Durante, K. M., Griskevicius, V., Simpson, J. A., Cantu, S. M., & Li, N. P. (2012). Ovulation leads women to perceive sexy cads as good dads. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0028498
Photo courtesy of Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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