Q: Men do a lot of dumb stuff to seem more attractive to women, especially risky stuff. Does that actually work?
A: Yes, it does work to a degree – women like men who take some risks. But some risks are more attractive than others.
It has been previously shown in research that men are more prone to taking risks than women.
This is particularly true when men are in their teens and twenties.
This actually contributes to higher male death rates. Not so attractive.
Evolutionary theory would suggest that men are prone to take risks because it gives them an advantage – males across all species have ways to show that they are stronger, faster, and more dominant in order to attract females.
But is risk-taking really attractive to human females? And do they care what kind of risks are taken?
These questions were asked by three researchers in 2006 and published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology.
First, the researchers asked the question, what risk taking is attractive to the opposite sex?
They recruited over 200 men and women to fill out a survey on risk-taking and attractiveness.
Some were recruited by a laboratory in Germany, some were recruited among University of Michigan students.
The beginning of the survey began with a prompt, instructing participants to imagine that they are single, and they meet someone whom they start casually dating. Then, they find out that their partner engages in a certain risky activity.
The survey contained a list of 40 risky activities, and participants rated each activity on whether they would find it attractive or unattractive if they found out their partner engaged in this activity.
The risky activities fell into a number of categories:
- Recreational risk (e.g., bungee jumping)
- Ethical risk (e.g., cheating on an exam)
- Gambling risk (e.g., gambling a week’s income at a casino)
- Investing risk (e.g., investing in a risky stock)
- Health risk (e.g., regularly eating high cholesterol foods)
- Social risk (e.g., defending an unpopular opinion that he/she believes in)
In the US sample, men and women differed on how attractive the various risk categories were (in the German sample, men and women scored basically the same).
Categories of risk and attractiveness
- Recreational risk: ONLY American women found this attractive (nobody else).
- Ethical risk: Everyone saw this as unattractive.
- Gambling risk: Everyone saw this as unattractive.
- Investing risk: Everyone saw this as neutral.
- Health risk: Everyone saw this as unattractive.
- Social risk: Everyone saw this as attractive.
The researchers wanted to extend this research to see if men could accurately guess what women found to be attractive risk-taking (and vice-versa).
Once again, they gathered surveys in both Germany and at the University of Michigan for a second study.
The second study was identical to the first one: participants were asked to imagine that they were in a new dating relationship. Only this time, they were asked how attractive certain risk-taking would be to their opposite sex PARTNER.
Basically, if YOU did this activity, do you think women would find it attractive?
The researcher found that men tended to overestimate how attractive risk-taking would be to their partners, but not by much.
Finally, the researchers wanted to see whether these effects could be seen in real life. Did risk-taking actually make a difference in actual partners?
In this study, 25 young heterosexual couples were invited to complete questionnaires regarding their relationships.
They were chosen because they’d been together for two years and cohabitating and/or married.
They answered questions regarding what risky activities they found to be attractive, what risky activities they themselves engaged in, and other questions about their relationship.
The researchers had two competing hypotheses about women and risk-taking attractiveness.
- One, maybe women prefer men who bravely engage in activities that the women themselves find scary. In other words, if a woman is afraid of heights, maybe she’s more attracted to a man who bravely jumps off cliffs for recreation. This would suggest that “opposites attract” – women look for men who counter their own perceived deficiencies.
- Two, maybe it’s the opposite. Women and men who prefer the same kinds of risks pair up together. In this case, women and men who both like bungee jumping will end up together. In this case, “birds of a feather flock together.”
Once again, recreational and social risks were seen as more attractive. However, there was much more to it than that.
The researchers found correlations in the partners’ behaviors.
In other words, the “birds of a feather” hypothesis was mostly right.
Women are attracted to men who like to take the same kinds of risks that they themselves take.
Furthermore, it was important to take note of the perception of risk and attractiveness.
Women who saw recreational risk as more dangerous, also found it less attractive in their partners. Same thing with gambling risk.
So even though women, for instance, found bungee jumping attractive in their partners, they were more likely to think it was attractive if they didn’t think it was too dangerous.
If they perceived it as actually dangerous, it became less cute.
What can we learn here?
The findings here might seem complicated, so I’ll break it down.
Many women do find certain types of risk-taking to be attractive. This includes social risk, like defending an unpopular opinion, and recreational risk, like bungee jumping.
Women find some types of risk-taking to be either neutral (investing) or unattractive (eating unhealthy food, gambling, being unethical).
However, the last study found that risk-taking is more attractive when it’s seen as not actually that dangerous.
In other words, women thought that playing extreme sports and defending unpopular opinions were attractive, but only because they’re seen as not actually that dangerous.
Women who saw those things as dangerous found them less attractive.
Also, birds of a feather flock together. Women who like taking certain risks are attracted to men who take the same kinds of risks.
For instance, women who like extreme sports are going to like men who like extreme sports.
So a big takeaway here is that women aren’t actually attracted to men who do actually dangerous things.
MEN: BE SAFE. You’re not impressing anybody with stupid risky behaviors.
Women like bold, daring, and adventurous activities – not dangerous ones.
Think about this the next time you say the words: “Hold my beer.”
Wilke, A., Hutchinson, J. M. C., Todd, P. M., & Kruger, D. J. (2006). Is risk taking used as a cue in mate choice? Evolutionary Psychology, 4, 367-393. Link: https://www.indiana.edu/~abcwest/pmwiki/pdf/wilke.evolpsy.2006.pdf