Chicks Dig Altruists

November 18, 2016

altruismNew research featured at Scientific American finds that altruists – guys who do good deeds for others – get laid more. This is somewhat surprising because until recently, research on altruism has focused on cooperation as a means of group and kin survival, not a sexually selected trait. In fact, in contemporary culture the opposite is claimed to be true: Nice guys finish last and chicks dig jerks.

“There is some evidence that personality traits associated with being a “jerk” such as low agreeableness and contentiousness, high extroversion and openness to experience, alongside narcissism, Machiavellianism (being manipulative), and psychopathy (callousness, lying, thrill-seeking) may indeed be linked to increased sexual behavior, particularly with respect to short-term mating.”

Why would women choose psychopaths for casual sex? Because they don’t know the men they’re hooking up with. Your average “dark triad” player type is often an extrovert who is good at manipulating others and can be extremely charming.

“What is especially troubling about this first set (the original “Dark Triad”) is that they are often socially adept, and can make very good first impressions.  For example, they do better on job interviews than normal people, advantaged by their lack of anxiety about the opinions of others, and greater willingness to show off their strengths to strangers while playing it smooth and comfortable.”

From a female point of view, mating with such a man is very costly. In addition to his being selfish and disregarding the feelings of others, he also potentially contributes his psychopathic traits to offspring. Many women in relationships with abusive men recall how everything seemed so wonderful at first. That’s why jerks have more short-term success, before wise women bail.

Another reason that narcissists have more partners is because they’re rarely off the market. They avoid commitment and are much more likely to cheat on a partner when they do form relationships. While other men settle into long-term relationships, dark triad types continually hunt for new prey.

An altruist is someone who behaves in a way that benefits other individuals at a cost to themselves. For an act to be altruistic, it must involve self-sacrifice. This has presented a puzzle for evolutionary scientists – why did human beings evolve to cooperate in ways that incur costs for one party and benefits for the other?

It turns out that men may be inspired to altruistic acts because they know women select for kindness and cooperation in mating. Behaving altruistically is a form of display to the females of the species. So the behavior is not entirely selfless after all – me might call it “doing well by doing good.”

In one study, Is self-sacrificial competitive altruism primarily a male activity? groups of three competed to behave altruistically. The altruists were looked up to as performing more important tasks and were liked better. However, the effect was only present in groups of two men and one woman. Groups with two women and one man were not nearly as altruistic.

“Competition between males and “showing off” are key factors in triggering self-sacrificial altruistic behavior.”

As with other female attraction cues, it is the relative position of the male among, i.e. above, his peers that triggers attraction.

In another study, Altruists Attract, researchers found that men demonstrate more altruism towards more attractive members of the opposite sex. In doing so, they raised their own perceived attractiveness. The cost of this “selfless” behavior is therefore offset by mating success. A small price to pay – everybody wins!  🙂

In a study published just this past summer, Altruism Predicts Mating Successresearchers found support for this theory:

“In order for non-kin altruism to evolve, altruists must receive fitness benefits for their actions that outweigh the costs. Several researchers have suggested that altruism is a costly signal of desirable qualities, such that it could have evolved by sexual selection.

Participants who scored higher on a self-report altruism measure:

  • reported they were more desirable to the opposite sex
  • reported having more sex partners
  • reported having more casual sex partners
  • reported having sex more often within relationships

Furthermore, these patterns persisted, even when controlling for narcissism, Big Five personality traits, and socially desirable responding. These results suggest that altruists have higher mating success than non-altruists and support the hypothesis that altruism is a sexually selected costly signal of difficult-to-observe qualities.”

The researchers were able to demonstrate that this behavior, evolved during ancestral times, “holds up in contemporary North American society.” The effect was more pronounced for men than for women. Meanwhile, the dark triad traits were not related to sexual success.

“Conversely, personality traits (some of which comprise the “jerk” traits described earlier) did not relate meaningfully to sexual histories.”

It’s not clear how women prioritize altruism compared to other traits like athleticism and physical attractiveness. But it appears that altruism deserves a place in the master list of what women want.