The rev of the motorcycle instantly distracts me from the salad I was eating. I look up to find the source of this unwelcome distraction. The massive beast of a motorcycle pulls up in front of the restaurant. I watch him step off the Harley, his leather boots kicking up a bit of dust on the sidewalk. He casually flips his dirty blonde hair and puts on his Ray-bans. I continue to watch, mesmerized as he lights his cigarette and takes a long drag. “Very James Dean,” I thought.
My date clears his throat bringing me back to reality. He pushes up his horn-rimmed glasses, shooting me a vilifying look. I could feel the heat rising to my cheeks. I was embarrassed and felt like a child caught telling a lie. I won’t deny it, I wanted Mr. Rebel-Without-a-Cause who just walked in to meet his equally beautiful date. Yes, I definitely wanted him more than Mr. Nice and Safe here. Suffice to say, my own date did not turn out well after that. Maybe it was my momentary lapse in judgment. Maybe the nice guy just wasn’t my type. The minute I let the bad boy distract me, I knew the date was done.
Conventional wisdom dictates that we should stay away from things that are not good for us. Yet, our basic instincts seem to betray us when it comes to that brooding, aloof, handsome bad boy. Do women really fall for the bad boy? Do nice guys always finish last?
So, I did my research and it turns out it’s not as simple as it seems. We’re not attracted to the “badness” of the bad boy. Instead, women seem to be attracted to specific characteristics that define what a bad boy is. There’s a lot of scientific studies and research that could help us understand why these characteristics seem to appeal to us.
Without further ado, here are the five characteristics that science says draws us to those wickedly delicious men:
1. Protective - According to a study called “Formidable and Dominant” when women feel vulnerable (driven by the fear of crime), they prefer men with a strong physical appearance. Described as formidable and dominant, these bad boys are perceived as able to offer physical protection. Big muscles don’t necessarily equate to being protective, it is more the tough-guy attitude that can make a woman feel secure.
2. Dark Personality - The study entitled “People With Dark Personalities Tend to Create a Physically Attractive Veneer” talks about the “dark triad” which enhances the physical appearance. These are three negative traits that make people physically appealing: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism. Basically, the narcissist will have a sense of entitlement and a grandiose view of themselves. They also tend to put more effort into their appearance with flashy clothing or by building up their muscle mass, which adds to the attractiveness of people who possess this trait. The Machiavellian personality is callous, insincere, manipulative, and prone to exploiting others. Studies reveal that Machiavellians are more promiscuous. The psychopath displays antisocial and impulsive behavior. They are found to exhibit superficial charm and a sexually exploitative interpersonal stance.
While these may be novel traits that attract women at the first encounter, the attention it will get is short-term. Honestly, nobody loves a callous, narcissistic, psychopath in their lives in the long run. Not surprisingly, scientific research shows that people who possess these traits don’t like long-term, committed relationships and don’t do well in them either.
3. Impulsive Risk-taker - The Scientific American published a study called Evolution & Human Behavior which shows that for heterosexual people, pathological personalities lead to better success at finding mates. It demonstrated that those who are neurotic, impetuous, and reckless tend to attract short-term partners. The result of the study provides the first solid evidence that some personality disorders could be sexually selected evolutionary strategies. “These strategies are supposed to be ancestral,” said head researcher Fernando Guitierrez of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona. “Some of them, such as impulsivity-boldness, probably predate humanity itself.”
4. Confident - According to the study entitled The Role of Overconfidence in Romantic Desirability and Competition published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the self-assured bad boy who oozes confidence intrigues women while simultaneously deterring other men from competing for their attention. According to the research, the traits that people highly value in a partner -- such as intelligence, kindness, and competence -- are not directly visible and need to be inferred from relevant behavior. People then “interpret confidence as reflecting genuine ability, assuming that confident people have qualities that warrant their confidence.” So whether they truly possess these desirable qualities or they’re the fake-it-til-you-make-it type doesn’t really matter when it comes to first impressions, believing in themselves and being confident provides a significant advantage as a romantic prospect.
5. Dominant - A study called Ovulation and Perceived Paternal Investment published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology connects women’s ovulation cycles with the need to pursue relationships with men who are “attractive, dominant and charming” or the prototypical sexy cad. According to the study, ovulating women perceive these sexy cads as good would-be fathers for their children.
The five characteristics we see here are not all positive, yet women find them attractive. Evolutionary biology may be the best explanation for why we find bad boys compelling. We are hardwired, on an unconscious evolutionary level, to look for men with hypermasculine traits to pass on these seemingly positive traits to our children.
Here’s a bit of good news for guys who can’t pull off being the bad boy and for women who should be avoiding bad boys in the first place. According to a study by Gregory Louis Carter of the University of Durham, women have dueling desires. The respondents of the study demonstrate an attraction to men with darker personalities for the short-term. On the other hand, they express wanting to build a long-term relationship with loving partners. In short, women may fall for the bad boy, but we really want to end up with the good guy.