What You Don’t Know About Women and ‘Bad Boys’

women's attractiontobadboysMarriage and family therapist Sarah Schmermund is back to reveal some interesting information about the role hormones play in a woman’s attraction to bad boys. Who knew!?

It’s long been wondered why women prefer ‘bad boys.’ Sure, they might be sexy, handsome, and rebellious, but their lack of interest in being in a relationship means they don’t generally offer the long-term reliability potential women are often looking for in a mate.

Contrary to the popular notion, this bad boy bias isn’t as pervasive as you might think. Previous research has shown that the tendency for women to prefer a bad boy is actually just temporary. Well, temporary in a way that revisits once a month: women become more attracted to the bad boy during ovulation.

Again, given that the general mating drive for a woman is to find a reliable, supportive mate to care for her and their offspring, this begs the question: why would women approaching fertility want to mate with a guy who offers the opposite of that?

You know how sometimes after one-too-many mojitos that guy from marketing (you know, the one with the uni-brow) starts to look way cuter than he usually does (aka the “Beer Goggles” effect)?

This is kind of like that.

Researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio asked women to view online dating profiles of a ‘sexy cad’ (aka bad boy) or a reliable man during periods of high and low fertility. They were asked to guess how much help they could expect from the men in caring for the baby and around the house.  As the women got closer to ovulation, they thought the sexy man would contribute more to these domestic duties.

Turns out, under the hormonal influence of ovulation, women are deluded into thinking that the prototypical bad boys will actually change into devoted partners and better dads.

Like beer goggles from your hormones, ovulation goggles make Mr. Wrong look exactly like Mr. Right.

So, are women just supposed to resign themselves to not dating during ovulation? Thankfully, no. Also similar to beer goggles, which can be counteracted by the intervening of a trusted friend, so, too, can a friend clear the deluded lens of the ovulation goggles.

In another study, researchers had women interact directly with male actors who played the roles of a bad boy and a reliable dad, once during ovulation and again at low fertility. Like before, ovulating women thought that the bad boy, and not the reliable dad, would be a more stable partner and a better father. But, this was only the case if she were his partner. When asked what kind of father the sexy bad boy would be if he were to have children with another woman, women easily pointed out the bad boy’s shortcomings.

So if you’re not sure whether your ovulation goggles are leading you astray, imagine him dating your friend. If he doesn’t seem so stable and faithful with her, chances are he won’t be with you.

Source: Durante, K. M., Griskevicius, V., Simpson, J. A., Cantú, S. M., & Li, N. P. (2012). Ovulation leads women to perceive sexy cads as good dads. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 103(2), 292-305. doi:10.1037/a0028498  

Sarah Schmermund specializes in marriage and family therapy, working with couples, individuals, and families via her private practice in Washington, D.C.

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