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xkcd #513 "Friends" xkcd #513 Friends  by Randall Munroe

You might think this is something men parrot to justify their lack of luck with the ladies, but ask any androphile and we'll tell you there's just something about "bad boys" that drives us wild.

Apparently, there might be some scientific basis for this. ABC News reports on this study published in the European Journal of Personality:

Researchers at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces gave 200 college students personality tests to see how many of what psychologists call "dark triad traits" they possessed. These traits include callousness, impulsive behavior, extroversion, narcissism and various other anti-social traits for which "bad boys" are known.

[...]

"We would traditionally consider these dark triad traits to be adverse personality traits, and we think women would avoid these kinds of men, but what we show is counterintuitive -- that women are attracted to these bad boys and they do pretty well in terms of sheer numbers of sexual partners," Jonason explained. "They're taking quantity over quality as their sexual agenda, being serially monogamous and having multiple partners or one-night stands."

Yet, they say that doesn't translate into success with long-term relationships:

"The manipulative 'It's all about me, so tell 'em anything to get sex' behavior is likely to have more short-term sexual success," Worthington said. "A strategy of building trust and intimacy and commitment is, by nature, going to take longer. Thus, the payoffs are likely to be greater in the short term. However, long-term relationship survival is likely to be strongly disadvantaged in people with dark triad traits."

Unfortunately, the study only covers college students, so there's a possibility people "grow up" and start seeking better traits in their partners. A widespread study would be more convincing.

At any rate, the problem with "nice guys" might be their other traits, as Wikipedia indicates quoting this study published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy:

"Some women offered flattering interpretations of the 'nice guy', characterizing him as committed, caring, and respectful of women. Some women, however, emphasized more negative aspects, considering the 'nice guy' to be boring, lacking confidence, and unattractive."

Is there a negative correlation between how kind one is and one's ability to find a partner? If so, could that be caused by factors other than their kindness?

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    I seriously doubt there's any scientifically valid way of testing this. – GordonM May 21 '11 at 7:36
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    @GordonM EVERYTHING is testable via the scientific method. perhaps we don't know how now, but it is and we will learn it. this even goes for things like multiple universes - it can be tested, we just can not do it - yet. – b0x0rz Jun 6 '11 at 14:30
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    @b0x0rz: do you have a reference/proof to back your claim (that EVERYTHING is testable via the scientific method)? This sounds religious to me :) – dancek Jun 20 '11 at 8:39
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    Just wild guesswork but: Who decides what a nice guy is? I have the impression that guys label themselves nice guys, because nobody (except for "players") would label themselves as the opposite, i.e., jerks. But you can think of yourself as a nice guy and still have strong body odor, or be a bore, or come off as cold and pretentious. We all know people who are, actually, jerks but who don't seem to grasp that not everybody likes them... – Lagerbaer Jul 16 '11 at 0:40
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    There is also the aspect that there's another trait correlated with "bad boys" that "nice guys" lack, and that is confidence. I was told that a guy who always says "Oh, I don't know, what do you want to do?" is not seen as "nice" but as "boring" and "uninvolved". Nice != passive – Lagerbaer Jul 16 '11 at 0:43
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Yes for short term, probably not for long term.

I think you somewhat answered this already, at least for short term mating/relationships (per Jonason). There does seem to be evidence that the "dark triad" personality provides an advantage when it comes to short term mating, but perhaps not for long term relationships.


  • Jonason, et al. The Dark Triad: Facilitating a Short-Term Mating Strategy in Men, European Journal of Personality, 2009 (LINK).

We found that the scores on the Dark Triad traits were positively related to having more sex partners, an unrestricted sociosexuality and a greater preference for short-term mates. We demonstrated that the association between the Dark Triad composite was correlated with short-term mating above and beyond effects of participant’s age, sex and extraversion.

However, from the same report, we have this:

Whereas such a strategy capitalises on quantity at the cost of receiving long-term benefits, individuals who are not high on the Dark Triad traits—the majority of populations—may be better equipped to form cooperative long-term relationships and, to a lesser degree, short-term relationships without deception. This long-term, nonexploitive strategy may represent a slower but more stable approach to reproduction.


  • Jonason, et al., The costs and benefits of the Dark Triad: Implications for mate poaching and mate retention tactics, Personality and Individual Differences, 2010 (LINK).

This study finds that high scorers on the dark triad scale are more likely to "poach" those already in a relationship and/or to be poached by others in a relationship:

...scores on the Dark Triad were correlated with rates of poaching mates from others for new relationships and being poached by others for new relationships. Such associations may explain the higher numbers of sexual partners by high scorers on Dark Triad traits (Jonason et al., 2009). That is, by being willing to poach others away from their relationships and by being willing to leave ongoing relationships for new ones, such opportunistic individuals enjoy access to more novel romantic or sexual partners.

For this to work... there's at least some indication that dark rriad traits are enough to promote infidelity in a previously existing relationship... but we don't know if "nice guys" are the ones having their mates poached. In fact, the same study goes on to say:

Dark Triad individuals tend to have their own mates poached away by others.


  • Alia & Chamorro-Premuzic, The dark side of love and life satisfaction: Associations with intimate relationships, psychopathy and Machiavellianism, Personality and Individual Differences, 2010 (LINK).

This study finds that Machiavellianism (one of the dark triad traits) is negatively correlated with relationship intimacy (which I take to imply a lower long-term relationship satisfaction):

Machiavellianism was negatively associated with life satisfaction and intimacy, which is not surprising when considering that this trait is associated with negative emotions (e.g., McHoskey et al., 1998) and a lack of interpersonal affect in interpersonal relationships


  • Jonason & Kavanagh, The dark side of love: Love styles and the Dark Triad, Personality and Individual Differences, 2010 (LINK.

This last study may suggest, again, that dark triad high-scorers are more apt to choose short term mating strategies vs. long term endeavors.

These individuals may go into relationships of any kind because of their own needs; the other individual may be immaterial or irrelevant. That is, the features of the other person are not the determining factors that lead to relationships emerging for those who are high on the Dark Triad. Instead, these individuals may “use” others to get what they want. We do not contend that these individuals are ambivalent to the attractiveness of their partners, but instead, their short-term mating lifestyle may be expressed in a “whatever I can get” attitude. However, this question does deserve future attention.


  • Wilbur & Cambell, What do women want? An interactionist account of women’s mate preferences, Personality and Individual Differences, 2010 (LINK)

Lastly, this article suggests that women want primarily attractiveness for short-term mates, and both attractiveness and ambition (signaling genetic fitness and a good provider) for dating and long-term relationships:

...attractive targets were preferred as short-term sexual partners...ambitious men were preferred as dating partners [and] attractive men were preferred as dating partners...ambitious men were preferred as long-term romantic partners [and] attractive men were preferred as long-term romantic partners...


  • Gangestad et al., Women's Preferences for Male Behavioral Displays Change Across the Menstrual Cycle, Psychological Science, 2004 (LINK).

This might be the money study/quote right here:

A sample of 237 normally ovulating women viewed 36 or 40 videotaped men who were competing for a potential lunch date and then rated each man's attractiveness as a short-term and a long-term mate. As predicted, women's preference for men who displayed social presence and direct intrasexual competitiveness increased on high-fertility days relative to low-fertility days, but only in a short-term, not a long-term, mating context.

One would need the whole report to know what "social presence" and "intrasexual competitiveness" implies -- I'm reading this as dominating/confidence and attractiveness. Now quite the "dark triad" but perhaps related. At the very least we find that desires for "alpha" signals wane as relationship desires shift from short to long.


Summary: So, from your own sources and some I've provided, I'd put the results like so:

  • Women do prefer "bad boys" for short-term mating choices, despite the intuitively negative desirability of such choices
  • High "dark triad" scorers self report more sex partners than non-high-scorers (so they're obviously finding willing participants)
  • High "dark triad" scorers self-identify as preferring short term mating scenarios
  • At least one of the dark triad components, Machiavellianism, seems to diminish relationship intimacy (which I think decreases long term relationship predicted success, but I could be wrong)
  • Women seem to prefer attractiveness and ambition, period
  • Women's desires changed based on both fertility and whether or not they are seeking short or long-term relationships (short-term seeking and fertility increases desirability of "alpha male" signals)

So, for long term strategies, it doesn't seem that dark triad high-scorers will fare as well. Across the board, attraction and ambition (or money) influence relationship partner choices a lot, and fertility and the type of mate (long vs. short term) will also affect what about a male is attractive.

Hope that doesn't cloud the water too much -- none of these provided quite what I hoped, but I think they are related enough to list as an answer.

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    given the reportedly very high incidence of (1) women giving birth to children other than the person they are married to and (2) women who give birth and depend on the state for support - the answer is a lot closer to unequivocal "no". Meaning that "nice guys" don't simply finish last in short term mate selection, but also in reproductive success. – user5341 Jul 18 '11 at 14:46
  • @DVK: That would have been a fantastic way to go about this, and perhaps even better than trying to read psychological studies ("reality" often speaks much louder than what we think about ourselves). One qualm... you need to control for intended results of short term vs. longer term (reproductive success). In other words, if non-nice-guy sexual adventures weren't intended for reproduction... there still might be some leeway in women's preferences between the two types of relationship. – Hendy Jul 18 '11 at 14:53
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    Dark triad guys spend less time in relationships, so they might be looking for new partners more of the time. The fact that they do have more partners on average doesn't necessarily mean they are more successful. It might mean that there are less single nice guys out there at any given moment. – Ana Feb 14 '12 at 11:49
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    The data do not show that women prefer bad boys, something that could probably be tested by analyzing dating sites. They might do, but it doesn't follow. Especially with people with machiavellism and psychopathy, it might be that these persons are simply very good at faking traits they do not posess. Nobody would think that gullible people have a stronger preference to lose their life savings to a crook, if data would show that they do so more often. – Michael Greinecker May 31 '12 at 21:54
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    The only thing I see this study explaining is that people without a conscience have less trouble deceiving potential sexual partners in order to get sex and are thus more likely to be successful at appearing to be a better partner -- at least until they get bored and leave to look for their next conquest. – Shadur Jan 10 '15 at 17:26

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