Which Personalities Are Best For Relationships?

March 6, 2012

Just because things have been a little dull around here, and I figured we could use a good debate, I decided to find out what I could about the link between sexual behavior and personality traits. Many questions have been raised at HUS about the uniformity of inclinations towards certain behaviors, or whether they exist on a spectrum of some sort. Specifically, I wondered what kinds of men want “one and done,” and what kinds of women embrace their inner slut.

Prominent evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt is the founder of the International Sexuality Description Project. The ISDP was an anonymous self-report survey of more than 16,000 subjects in 52 countries, studying the link between personality, infidelity and promiscuity.

Short-term mating is likely to have been a recurrent feature of human evolutionary history, occasionally generating substantial reproductive benefits for ancestral members of both sexes. But there are reproductively-relevant costs to short-term mating as well, for ancestral humans as assuredly as for modern humans. For example, short-term mating behaviors—including variants such as promiscuity, infidelity, and the poaching of other people’s long-term partners—represent significant health concerns to individuals, relationships, and societies throughout the world. Short-term mating can lead to relationship dissolution, sexual jealousy and violent retribution by aggrieved partners, and the contraction of sexually-transmitted diseases and infections. 

An important task for personality psychologists is to identify those individual differences most closely associated with short-term mating. Doing so would give scientists a better framework for understanding the etiology of permissive sexual attitudes and risky sexual practices.

First, a definition of the Big 5 personality traits, the model widely used in contemporary psychology to understand the link between personality and behavior:

Extraversion: Energy, positive emotions, approach behavior, impulsivity and the tendency to seek stimulation in the company of others.

Agreeableness:  A tendency to be compassionate and cooperative rather than suspicious and antagonistic towards others.

Conscientiousness: A tendency to show self-discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement; planned rather than spontaneous behavior.

Neuroticism:  A tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily, such as anger, anxiety, depression, or vulnerability.

Openness: Appreciation for art, emotion, adventure, unusual ideas, curiosity, and variety of experience. (Sometimes also referred to as intellect.)

Schmitt was not the first to study these links; there was already a robust body of scholarship looking at specific correlations, but Schmitt’s study was on a scale not attempted before. There were 2,766 Americans in the survey, and 3,976 North Americans in total. A follow-up study was done by Todd Shackleford and published in a 2008 edition of Evolutionary Psychology. It looked at the relationship between personality traits and the tendency toward short-term mating.

Here are the highlights of the findings for North America:

I. Extraversion is a strong predictor of short-term mating behaviors, including promiscuity and infidelity, though results vary slightly by sex.  

Note: Interest in short-term mating looks at the total number of sex partners desired, the willingness to have sex after various time intervals, and whether the subject is currently seeking a short-term mate.

Interest in s.t. mating*XX
Willingness to have sex without commitmentXX
Mate poaching attemptsXX
Succumbed to poaching X


II, III. Low agreeableness and low conscientiousness both predict all forms of short-term mating behavior for both sexes. The strongest link is to infidelity for both traits.  

The strongest personality predictor of short-term mating is impulsive sensation-seeking. Studies have consistently linked sensation-seeking to short-term mating, including men’s patronage of prostitutes. Impulsive sensation seeking is closely associated with the Big Five dimensions of low agreeableness and low conscientiousness.

Interest in s.t. matingXX
Willingness to have sex without commitmentXX
Mate poaching attemptsXX
Succumbed to poaching XX
InfidelityX X


IV. Among North American men, neuroticism was not associated with short-term mating orientation. However, the correlation was significant for females.

Interest in s.t. mating X
Willingness to have sex without commitment X
Mate poaching attempts X
Succumbed to poaching X
Infidelity  X


V. In men, openness predicted lower interest in short-term mating overall. Low levels of openness were correlated with increased infidelity and succumbing to mate poaches.

In women, high openness predicted interest in short-term mating and willingness to have sex without commitment.

What are the implications of these findings?

First, a disclaimer from the researchers:

In this research we have assumed that personality traits lead to short-term mating. An equally plausible alternative is that the causal links between personality and sexuality flow in the opposite direction. That is, short-term mating interests and behaviors may lead to the development of particular personality traits. Engaging in mate poaching, for example, could lead people to become disagreeable just as much as disagreeableness could lead to mate poaching. 

Personality and sexuality also could reinforce one another, serving as a feedback loop that once initiated becomes difficult to disengage. Such could be the origin of adult romantic attachment styles, love styles, and other psychological constructs that involve the confluence of personality traits and romantic relationships.

There were also a couple of findings that were common to all countries studied:

“People who describe themselves as more unfaithful tend to have personality traits linked to a lack of trust and empathy (i.e. low agreeableness; Graziano & Eisenberg, 1997), and they tend to be disorganized and unreliable (i.e. low conscientiousness; Hogan & Ones, 1997).” 

“The personality psychology of adultery is not the same as the personality psychology of more generalized sexual promiscuity. Sexual promiscuity does relate to personality traits, but it most strongly relates to the Big Five personality trait of extraversion. This is true across many world regions of the ISDP.”

Finally, we do not know what percentage of the population displays each of these personality traits, much less the various particular clusters of traits. The cluster most strongly correlated to short-term mating behavior is the personality that is highly extraverted, disagreeable and not conscientious. In short, a person who:

  • is gregarious and highly social, and…
  • lacks concern for others, and…
  • loves to be impulsive and spontaneous, and…
  • isn’t striving to achieve…
Additionally, men should avoid psycho chicks at all costs – they’re promiscuous and they also cheat.
Ladies, here’s a description of the ideal long-term partner:
  1. Introverted
  2. Empathic
  3. Cooperative
  4. Self-disciplined
  5. Organized
  6. Achievement-oriented
  7. Intellectual
  8. Open to new experiences
What’s that? You don’t think that’s exciting enough? Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you. This is a pretty good description of Mr. HUS and I have found him to be an excellent catch. He makes my life interesting. And he doesn’t cheat. I highly recommend this profile.