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Are You Trustworthy and Kind? That’s Hot

In my last post, I described clinical studies upending the myth that nice men are at a disadvantage when dating. Research finds that women value kindness in men even more than good looks—though they do appreciate a handsome face.

Do men share these values when seeking female partners? Research indicates that they do—though not quite as much.

An article in Evolutionary Biology called “Selflessness is Sexy” describes research finding that both men and women seeking long-term relationships were more attracted to people whose interests were altruistic rather than neutral.

In the study, researchers asked heterosexual individuals to rate the attractiveness of members of the opposite sex. Participants viewed pictures of individuals alongside lists of their interests. For example, some women would see a picture of a man named Daniel that noted that one of his interests was being an unpaid mentor for disruptive children. Other women saw a card that was identical except for one detail—instead of saying Daniel helped kids it said he really likes the science-fiction show Torchwood.

When asked to consider these individuals as long-term partners, both men and women found the individuals who engaged in altruistic endeavors as significantly more attractive. However, the halo effect didn’t work when the participants were asked to consider short-term relationships. Engaging in altruistic behavior only boosted men’s desirability slightly, and it didn’t help women at all.

An article in the British Journal of Psychology describes research examining the impact of another pro-social behavior on attractiveness: trustworthiness.

In the study, heterosexual university students were asked to rate the desirability of opposite-sex individuals for either short or long-term relationships. They viewed video clips of the individuals and learned how they behaved in an economic game designed to measure trustworthiness.

Obviously attractiveness (as measured by a prior survey) and trustworthiness both boosted an individual’s desirability, especially in the context of long-term relationships. What intrigued researchers was the size of the attractiveness boost that individuals got when they were trustworthy—and vice versa. Both were greater than the sum of their parts. To the researchers, this news was mixed:  “Ironically, according to folk wisdom, possessing a good character may compensate for a lack of physical attractiveness. Unfortunately however, while our results show that pro-sociality can indeed increase individuals’ desirability as a romantic partner, they also suggest that this is especially true for those who are already physically attractive in the first place,” they write.

Life is not completely fair, but you knew that already. Still, the research is clear that if you’re looking for a long-term relationship, it pays to be a good egg.


Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her questions here.