Nice guys finish last - and now we know why

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Smile and the world smiles with you - but you might not get your girl. Yup, a team of Canadian scientists has confirmed what everybody knew - that we all tend to fall for the bad boys.

In a study of over a thousand men and women, the University of British Columbia team found that women were least attracted to smiling, happy men. Instead, they oohed and aahed over those who looked either proud and powerful or moody and ashamed.

Not so the men: no, they were most sexually attracted to women who looked happy, and least attracted to those who appeared proud and confident.

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

Tracey suggests that the reason women prefer proud-looking men has an evolutionary basis: it implies status, competence and an ability to provide for a partner and offspring.

Meanwhile, socio-cultural gender norms - sexual prejudice to you and me - have an effect, too, with smiling associated with a lack of dominance.

"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, are associated with an awareness of social norms and appeasement behaviors, which makes others more likely to trust us. In other words, we all want a partner who knows how to grovel properly.

Team member Alec Beall cautions men, though, not to be too moody - at least not if they're interested in a relationship.

"It is important to remember that this study explored first impressions of sexual attraction to images of the opposite sex," he says.

"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."