Men Are More Attractive When They Take Risks*

So, you want to impress the cute brunette at the bar—what do you do? Drag race, or play with fire? Assuming your personality isn’t an asset, the correct answer would be the second one.

According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, women are attracted to men who engage in risky behaviour—but only if said risky behaviour would have been relevant to our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

Researchers had over two hundred undergraduates (including 143 women, average ages of 22) look at 101 pairs of behaviours, one high risk, one low risk, and say which would make a man a more attractive partner for an average young woman. Subjects then repeated the task, but this time saying whether the behaviours would be attractive in a woman.

Some of the behaviours included risks relevant to hunter-gatherer ancestors (e.g., the low risk activity of rock climbing at a gym versus the high risk one of rock climbing in the country). According to the researchers, hunter-gatherer risks all related to “situations where death, disease or injury could be found in drowning, weather extremes, falling, foods, other species, members of different clans, physical conflict with other people, and simple psychoactive substances available for more than 1000 years.”

Other behaviours had to do with modern risks. What is modern risky behaviour? It pertains to identity theft, plagiarism, electricity, the internet, chemicals, phones, drugs, and piracy (the media kind).

Both male and female participants agreed that sex appeal was boosted by engaging in risky behaviours relevant to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. That said, this effect was way more significant for men. On the other hand, both male and female participants agreed that risky modern behaviours diminished sex appeal (which supports the idea that people who text and drive are ugly).

So, what gives? Researchers suggest that men have to constantly compete with other males for mates, since men are fertile all the time and women are only fertile at punctuated times during only a portion of their lifetime. As a result, women are selective, and men have to advertise their genetic fitness by risk-taking. Of course, what they tested was the effect, not the explanation, so leave it at this: take some risks that’ll make your thick-browed ancestors proud. The ladies are watching.

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