He’s dark, he’s mysterious. He’s handsome, he’s standoffish. And… he seems like a bit of an arsehole.
She’s quiet, reserved, shy. She works hard, she keeps her head down and she respects authority.
…Okay, so maybe we’re milking these clichés just a little bit. But from Johnny Depp to James Dean, good girls have had a penchant for bad since time immemorial. And science knows why.
…It’s because they’re more attractive.
The dark triad
Research from Washington University has shown that bad boys can be characterised as possessing the so-called dark triad of personality traits:
- Psychopathy, including callousness, impulsivity, risk-taking behaviour and thrill seeking
- Narcissism, including a sense of entitlement, dominance and grandiose self-perception
- Machiavellianism, acting in ways that are deceitful, exploitative and manipulative
Narcissism drives people to possess finer clothes and to work harder on having great hair. This results in some seriously good-lookin’ lads. Psychopathy leads to a level of superficial charm and a sexually exploitative stance on interpersonal relationships. Machiavellianism is conducive to an understanding of how to manipulate one’s social situation to one’s advantage. Bad boys also seek shorter-term relationship and one-night stands more often than do non-bad boys. This would appear to work for them: bad boys demonstrably have more sexual partners than non-bad boys.
Men possessing the dark triad of personality traits are consistently rated as more confident, interesting and likeable by women. This, in turn, bolsters bad boys’ attractiveness because people generally ascribe unrelated but nonetheless positive personality characteristics to people whom they already like. If someone is hot, we also often assume that they must also be kind, intelligent, funny. When factors such as socioeconomic factors and education level are omitted in order to reduce bias, numerous studies have shown that women are more attracted to bad boys than they are to non-bad boys — in the short term, at least. So what’s really going on here?
A study conducted in 2016 at Barcelona’s Hospital Clinic found that bad boys are considered captivating because,
Whilst they are selfish, rule-breaking and imprudent, they are also brave, temerarious and independent.
According to evolutionary psychology, men who display self-reliance and the ability to get through dangerous situations safely signal high genetic quality because they demonstrate that they can live perilously without coming to harm. Women would therefore wish for their offspring to inherit such traits so as to fortify their chances of survival. Furthermore, research from the University of Texas has found this effect to become even more heightened during ovulation.
“Where have all the good men gone?”
The evolutionary psychology of bad boys lends itself to an intriguing question: if bad boys are more attractive, why aren’t they everywhere?
The truth is, a bad boy’s appeal wears off relatively quickly. This makes sense when you remember that bad boys more commonly seek out short-term relationships over finding something more profound and meaningful. Bad boys are also hot because they bring with some a certain mystique — but that mystique cannot last if you get to know him. Furthermore, the dark triad also entails negative personality traits, such as selfishness, coldness and arrogance. These are pretty much the antithesis of what a good girl values. A bad boy can only maintain his selfish and hedonistic lifestyle if he keeps anonymous and leads something of an itinerant lifestyle.
Over time, as a good girl gets jaded with her bad boy, she may begin to reevaluate what she’s really looking for. Whilst the bad boy does have a lot going for him — he’s brave, he knows his own mind and he’s rocking ridiculously good hair — the good girl may come to realise that these are not traits exclusively possessed by bad boys.
Good boys — you’re not doomed
Scientific insight is all well and good, but if you’re a good boy reading this and ready to splash out on a motorbike and some leathers — hold your horses.
Bad boys are a perfect example of the duelling desires that many of us experience when considering what we truly want in a partner. On the one hand, many of us want someone who is committed and loving to build our lives with — but we also long for a bit of excitement, too. It is possible to have both.
Hone your own character. Own everything you do. If she isn’t into you, just ask yourself: was she really worth it — was she really a person you wanted to spend your life with — if she didn’t value you for whom you are and instead just wanted to ride off into the sunset on the back of some arsehole’s Harley, only to be dumped 10 minutes later in favour of his next conquest?If you’re a good girl, then look — we get it. Bad boys are seriously hot. And yeah, they’re great for a fling. It’s natural — nay, scientifically explainable — that you’re attracted to them. But if you’re looking for a long-term relationship, he’s probably not the candidate you need. If you’re looking for a more adventurous lifestyle, you can still have that. Find a man with whom you have unbelievable chemistry and build a life that is not only meaningful but that is also fun for both of you to enjoy and bask in. What could be more exciting than that?