Although in the dating world the phrase “nice guys finish last” has become something of a truism, according to a study published in Sex Roles, the majority of women prefer “nice guys” to “macho men.”
The study was conducted by Geoffrey C. Urbaniak and Peter R. Kilmann of the University of Carolina and published in 2003.
The study was composed of two separate experiments.
In the first experiment, Urbaniak and Kilmann recruited 48 female college students between the ages of 18 and 23. These students were given a script to read that described two contestants on a hypothetical dating show.
In the script, the two contestants were asked “What is your definition of a “Real Man?” And are you one yourself?” One of these contestants, named Todd, responded in one of three ways.
In one way, the nice condition, Todd described a real man as being someone “in touch with his feelings and those of his partner” and someone who was “kind and attentive.”
In the second way, the middle condition, Todd described a real man as someone who “knows what he wants and he knows how to get it.”
In the third way, the jerk condition, Todd described a real man as “someone who knows who he is, but keeps other people guessing” and someone that “doesn’t go in for all that touchy-feely stuff.”
The second contestant, named Michael, was asked the same question and responded the same way in every script. He described a real man as someone who is relaxed, confident, solid, and “keeps a positive attitude at all times.”
After reading the script, the female students were asked who they thought the participant in the hypothetical dating game should choose and “whom they would choose for themselves.”
“Nice Todd was chosen most frequently (relative to Michael), followed by Middle Todd, and, finally, Jerk Todd.”
Nice Todd was also rated as being more intelligent and considerate than the other Todds. Surprisingly, Nice Todd was not rated as being any less exciting or humorous than Middle Todd or Jerk Todd.
The second experiment replicated the first, except it included pictures of the dating contestants in addition to the script. Not only was Todd’s niceness manipulated in the second experiment, but his physical attractiveness was too. As in the first experiment, the same picture was used for Michael in every script.
“Physical attractiveness appeared to have an additive effect. That is, the target man was chosen even more frequently when he was generally nice and more attractive, but the overall pattern favored niceness.”
Furthermore, being nice was associated with being a desirable marriage partner, steady boyfriend, and platonic friend. For students that were presented with a script that contained Michael and an attractive Jerk Todd, “the majority of women rejected the insensitive man even when he was more physically attractive than his counterpart.”
In terms of being a causal sexual partner, though, physical attractiveness appeared to be more important than niceness.
Although women may prefer to be in a relationship with someone who is nice, the Jerk Todds of the world may still have more success in obtaining sexual and romantic partners.
“If these men pursue women more aggressively than do nice guys, they may end up with more overall dating successes (especially sexual success) through sheer determination. They may be more able to ‘talk women into’ dating them, even if those women would ideally prefer to date nicer men,” explained Urbaniak and Kilmann.
In addition, although most women may prefer nice guys to jerks, simply being nice may not insure “finishing first.”
“Women are likely to reject even men who are nice if they do not meet other expectations, such as sharing similar interests or having other exciting/interesting personal qualities. Niceness by itself may not be enough in a real dating context, and the overall ‘package’ presented by these men may be lacking in some way for which their niceness cannot fully compensate.”
Urbaniak, G.C. & Kilmann, P.R. (2003). Physical attractiveness and the “nice guy paradox”: Do nice guys really finish last? Sex Roles, Vol 49, No 9/10: 413-426.