Men who report engaging in more physical violence tend to also report having more sex partners, according to new research. The study suggests that physically aggressive behavior continues to benefit the mating success of men.
“The study sought to address whether physically aggressive behavior still has sex appeal, as it likely once did for our ancestors, or whether given societal changes which reward intelligence over brute strength, that people’s intellectual ability might be a better predictor of mating success than aggressive behavior,” said study author Patrick Seffrin, an associate professor at Marywood University.
“Intelligence and violence are negatively correlated in the population so we thought it would be interesting to know how these two individual factors interact in relation to mating success. We also wanted to know whether men and women differed in how aggressive behavior and intelligence interact to affect mating success. Prior research suggests that while intelligence is attractive to both sexes, aggressive behavior in men would be favored by women but not by men who are seeking female partners.”
The researchers analyzed longitudinal data from 5,636 men and 6,787 women who had participated in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, a nationally-representative survey that collected information from 1994 to 2009. As part of the study, participants completed a test of verbal intelligence and also filled out questionnaires regarding violent/criminal behavior and their sex life.
After controlling for physical attractiveness, general health, and other factors, the researchers found that violent behavior was significantly and positively associated with the number of sex partners among men but not women. “Results for men indicated that for a unit increase in violence between waves, there was an 8% increase in the number of sex partners reported from previous waves,” the researchers wrote.
Increasing levels of education were also longitudinally associated with increases in men’s number of sex partners. But this was not the case for verbal intelligence and good grades in high school.
The “findings suggest that women still find physically aggressive behavior sexually appealing and that the sex appeal of intelligence seems to depend on the physical aggressiveness of men,” Seffrin told PsyPost.
“So, despite the status rewards that come along with having high intelligence in a modern industrial society, aggressive men continue to be rewarded with greater mating success when compared to their less aggressive male peers who have comparable levels of intelligence and physical beauty.”
However, the study includes a few caveats.
“We made heteronormative assumptions about study participants, which might not apply to LGBTQ populations. Although we did control statistically for sexual orientation, future research will need to conduct similar analyses on samples of LGBTQ individuals,” Seffrin explained.
“What exactly is sexually appealing about intelligence or aggressive behavior is still in debate. Statistical data thus far have been unable to address the issue, so the question remains in the theoretical realm.”
The study, “Brains, brawn, and beauty: The complementary roles of intelligence and physical aggression in attracting sexual partners“, was authored by Patrick Seffrin and Patricia Ingulli.