Happy guys finish last, says new study on sexual attractiveness

Women find happy guys significantly less sexually attractive than swaggering or brooding men, according to a new University of British Columbia study that helps to explain the enduring allure of "bad boys" and other iconic gender types.

The study – which may cause men to smile less on dates, and inspire online daters to update their profile photos – finds dramatic gender differences in how men and women rank the sexual attractiveness of non-verbal expressions of commonly displayed emotions, including happiness, pride, and shame.

Very few studies have explored the relationship between emotions and attraction, and this is the first to report a significant gender difference in the attractiveness of smiles. The study, published online today in the American Psychological Association journal Emotion, is also the first to investigate the attractiveness of displays of pride and shame.

"While showing a happy face is considered essential to friendly social interactions, including those involving – few studies have actually examined whether a smile is, in fact, attractive," says Prof. Jessica Tracy of UBC's Dept. of Psychology. "This study finds that men and women respond very differently to displays of emotion, including smiles."

In a series of studies, more than 1,000 adult participants rated the sexual attractiveness of hundreds of images of the opposite sex engaged in universal displays of happiness (broad smiles), pride (raised heads, puffed-up chests) and shame (lowered heads, averted eyes).

The study found that women were least attracted to smiling, happy men, preferring those who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed. In contrast, male participants were most sexually attracted to women who looked happy, and least attracted to women who appeared proud and confident.

"It is important to remember that this study explored first-impressions of sexual attraction to images of the opposite sex," says Alec Beall, a UBC psychology graduate student and study co-author. "We were not asking participants if they thought these targets would make a good boyfriend or wife – we wanted their gut reactions on carnal, sexual attraction." He says previous studies have found positive emotional traits and a nice personality to be highly desirable in a relationship partners.

Tracy and Beall say that other studies suggest that what people find attractive has been shaped by centuries of evolutionary and cultural forces. For example, evolutionary theories suggest females are attracted to male displays of pride because they imply status, competence and an ability to provide for a partner and offspring.

According to Beall, the pride expression accentuates typically masculine physical features, such as upper body size and muscularity. "Previous research has shown that these features are among the most attractive male physical characteristics, as judged by women," he says.

The researchers say more work is needed to understand the differing responses to happiness, but suggest the phenomenon can also be understood according to principles of evolutionary psychology, as well as socio-cultural gender norms.

For example, past research has associated smiling with a lack of dominance, which is consistent with traditional gender norms of the "submissive and vulnerable" woman, but inconsistent with "strong, silent" man, the researchers say. "Previous research has also suggested that happiness is a particularly feminine-appearing expression," Beall adds.

"Generally, the results appear to reflect some very traditional gender norms and cultural values that have emerged, developed and been reinforced through history, at least in Western cultures," Tracy says. "These include norms and values that many would consider old-fashioned and perhaps hoped that we've moved beyond."

Displays of shame, Tracy says, have been associated with an awareness of social norms and appeasement behaviors, which elicits trust in others. This may explain shame's surprising attractiveness to both genders, she says, given that both men and women prefer a partner they can trust.

While this study focused on sexual attraction between heterosexual men and women in North America, the researchers say future studies will be required to explore the relationship between emotions and sexual attractiveness among homosexuals and non-Western cultures.

Overall, the researchers found that men ranked women more attractive than ranked .

Citation: Happy guys finish last, says new study on sexual attractiveness (2011, May 24) retrieved 26 May 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2011-05-happy-guys-finish-sexual.html
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May 24, 2011
And all this time I thought women liked men to 'finish last'.
I wish they'd make up their minds!.

May 24, 2011
that other studies suggest that what people find attractive has been shaped by centuries of evolutionary and cultural forces.

Generally, the results appear to reflect some very traditional gender norms and cultural values that have emerged, developed and been reinforced through history, at least in Western cultures,

Quite clearly the evolutionary story really has zero impact here. It's the cultural development that is the important part. What exactly does evolution[molecules to man] have to do with this?
I know a number of you will be jumping on the lame definition of evolution that allows anything and everything to change and then make that out to be evolution. Go ahead and flame the question.

May 24, 2011
Would be interesting to see if this IS cultural. Same study in Eastern Culture (china, japan) or Africa, or even in Europe? I'm assuming this was done in Canada with just Canadians.

May 24, 2011
It's called "warped culture" and "warped morality".

It's just like the prison wives thing on Tabboo.

Only a warped person would actually want a relationship with a known violent criminal.

I realize that an extreme example, but studying extremes can be useful for studying the entire concept.

As for a significant fraction of "normal" women, it's about the same concept, just not quite as extreme.

When they don't have a guy, they want an adulterer and a rebel. Then when they get him, they complain about everything he does, even though they SEARCHED for a guy like that in the first place.

May 24, 2011
What women feel and what they think are often two totally different things. Some say they are more "in tune" with their instincts and emotions. I think they might simply be flooded with them; in much less control than men. I wonder if not having as much automatic cognitive interference with emotions is advantageous when nurturing a child. ?????

May 24, 2011
In today's world almost nobody is actually living consciously - i.e. 99% of people are simply bundles of conditioned reflexes (Deeppak Chopra). Essentially, there is little to no autonomous or original behavior these days. Women, play their part of securing a reasonable mate for procreation - their definition of which is set by their conditioning; money, power, status, etc... Women use powerful manipulation tactics to get what they want (or, think they need). Any man displaying pride or power is an obvious target as women are adept at playing their vanity. The sadness, hurt or insecurity of a shameful man is an easy target for a woman on the prey. In either scenario - pride or shame women identify with they emotional set point and it becomes leverage for manipulation. A happy man, seen as content and self-reliant, is a much more difficult target. Sensing this barrier they gravitate towards men who will fall head first into their web. The average woman who is completely unc

May 24, 2011
The average woman who is completely unconscious and has no conception of self-love - would never be able to last with a truly happy man because he would see right through her.

May 25, 2011
I take happiness over attractiveness any day.

May 26, 2011
Pictures of smiling guys are not attractive to me because the smile suggests to my hindbrain that he has a sweetheart (or two or three) already,...

:) Believe it or not, there is more that makes men happy than women. I know. Hard to believe, right? haha

But, why the "or two or three?" Are you trying to say men have difficulties with monogamy? haha

Srsly, though, it's quite a logical jump from smile to philanderer. I also don't understand that from a sexual selection standpoint.

May 28, 2011
I think I understand it:

1. When a guy is happy, women don't like him.
2. That makes him sad and moody, so women are now attracted to him.
3. When the chicks are back he's happy, but then women don't want him anymore.

Repeat steps 2 and 3.

May 29, 2011
Gibberish02 makes an important point, namely that her hindbrain suspects that a happy guy probably already has a sweatheart, so stay away. (Is she the only female in this thread?) So this would be a valuable trait: If a women keeps her man happy, then other women are more likely to stay away from him, and he is more likely to stay true.

May 30, 2011
So, evolutionarily speaking, the men that were incapable of cheating due to their perceived happiness, stayed home and provided for their offspring instead of making more. It makes sense that that would be advantageous.

May 31, 2011
I agree, given those assumptions. This would also be consistent with the study's finding that men prefer happy women: since a man is more likely to be happy with a happy girlfriend than a gloomy one, then the guy with the happy sweatheart will be less sexually attractive to other women.
But even if we've found a little Darwinian logic in this dating/mating game, the real world gets a lot more complicated, especially after the third drink.

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