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Why women just love to love a bad boy

Joe O'Shea

Nice guys have always suspected it but the confirmation is finally in -- when it comes to sexual attraction, bad boys always win.

A major study from the University of British Columbia in Canada has confirmed that women find "happy" guys significantly less sexually attractive than swaggering or brooding men.

And the research -- which may cause men to smile less on dates -- finds dramatic gender differences in how men and women rank the sexual attractiveness of non-verbal expressions of commonly displayed emotions, such as happiness, pride or arrogance.

In terms of basic attraction, women are drawn to moody, self-absorbed guys while men tend to look for open, apparently happy and confident women. But not too confident.

The bad news for independently minded ladies is that men are least attracted to women who appear "proud and confident".

The team found that men and women even respond differently to something as simple as a smile.

The study goes some way towards explaining the enduring allure of classic 'bad boys' and other iconic gender types (and why troubled-but-cute characters such as James Dean or Robert Pattinson's vampire in the Twilight movies are so enduringly hot).

Surprisingly, very few studies have explored the relationship between emotions and initial sexual attraction.

And this research is the first to report a significant gender difference in the attractiveness of smiles and also the first to investigate the attractiveness of displays of pride and shame.

"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 of UBC's Department of Psychology.

"This study finds that men and women respond very differently to displays of emotion, including smiles."

In a series of studies, more than 1,000 men and women rated the sexual attractiveness of hundreds of images of the opposite sex engaged in universal displays of happiness (broad smiles), pride (raised heads, puffed-up chests) and shame (lowered heads, averted eyes).

The study found that women were least attracted to smiling men, preferring those who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed.

In contrast, male participants were most sexually attracted to women who looked happy, and least attracted to women who appeared proud and confident.

That would seem to be bad news for strong women, but the research does come with something of a caveat.

"It is important to remember that this study explored first-impressions of sexual attraction to images of the opposite sex," says Alec Beall, a UBC psychology graduate student and co-author of the study.

"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."

The two academics say that other studies suggest that what people find attractive has been shaped by centuries of evolutionary and cultural forces.

For example, evolutionary theories suggest females are attracted to male displays of pride because they imply status, competence and an ability to provide for a partner and offspring.

"Previous research has shown that these features are among the most attractive male physical characteristics, as judged by women," he says.

The researchers say more work is needed to understand the differing responses to happiness, but suggest the phenomenon can also be understood according to evolutionary psychology, as well as socio-cultural gender norms.

For example, past research has associated smiling with a lack of dominance, which is consistent with traditional gender norms of the "submissive and vulnerable" woman, but inconsistent with "strong, silent" man.

"Previous research has also suggested that happiness is a particularly feminine-appearing expression," Beall adds.

"Generally, the results appear to reflect some very traditional gender norms in Western cultures," says Professor Tracy

"These include norms and values that many would consider old-fashioned and perhaps hoped that we've moved beyond."

One overall finding of the study -- and one that might not surprise those who have watched guys operate in a nightclub setting -- is that men tend to have lower standards than women when it comes to ranking attractiveness.

The rules of attraction for guys and gals

As anybody out there on the scene will tell you, the rules of attraction are as complex as they are confusing.

The great cliché is to "just be yourself". But unless you are Colin Farrell or Scarlett Johansson, you have to, initially at least, project an enhanced, sexier, livelier and more charismatic version of who you really are.

Based on the latest University of British Columbia study, the current best practice appears to be:

For Guys

You Are Not Trying To Be Their Friend

Approachable and funny is a good place to start. But when you get to the business end of proceedings, you want to project yourself as sexy, a bit mysterious, even a bit unattainable. Admittedly, it's hard to pull this off. But nobody said this was going to be easy.

There Is A Thin Line

A bit of a swagger is good -- whatever they say out loud, girls love a bit of confidence, a guy who will take them in hand and take control. You can take risks, such as saying: "This place is getting a bit boring, let's find somewhere more fun" and standing up in a decisive manner that brooks no argument. But on the other hand, you don't want to be dragging her all over town. Be decisive but don't be aggressive.

Don't Agree With Everything She Says. And Flirt

If you are not a fan of Glee and she is, don't pretend to be on the couch every Wednesday night singing along with New Directions. Tell her you can't STAND the show. But do it in a playful, funny manner that shows you respect her taste in cheesy TV and are prepared to have a bit of a laugh about it.


The number one thing that any guy can do for a girl is just listen. Don't interrupt, don't fidget with your beer mat or sneak a look at the TV. Just listen. Women cannot get enough of it. Seriously.



You may have had bad experiences, you might suspect that all men really are b*****ds. You could be right.

But if you come across as even slightly angry or bitter, most men will run a mile (and the guys who stay are going to be trouble).

Men are simple creatures, bad at reading body language and usually totally unsure as to how they are coming across. Give them the odd smile and they will be hugely encouraged.

Give The Guy A Chance

A lot of Irish men are terrible at making first impressions, often because they have taken too much Dutch courage on board before making their move. If he asks you out for a date, give him a chance (unless he is coming across as a total no-no). You might be pleasantly surprised. And at the very worst, you are going to a get a free bowl of pasta.

Don't Be Too Confident

As the research from Canada has shown, men react badly to what they perceive as over-confidence. If you have a better job than he does, don't make a big deal about it. If the last guy you went out with was an astronaut or an Olympic gymnast, don't mention it. If you are interested in him, you are going to have to massage his ego a bit. It's not fair, it's just how it is.

Frowning fellas versus grinning gals

The study from the University of British Columbia is clear -- 'smiley' guys are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to initial attraction, while single girls need to turn on the charm and send out some happy vibes. Applying this research to some well known faces, the celeb role models men and women need to study include:

Johnny Depp

Seldom seen smiling (except as Captain Jack Sparrow), Depp likes to project an air of moody mystery.

Steve McQueen

The legendary screen star projected the kind of quiet menace that women, apparently, find irresistible.

Silvio Berlusconi

The Italian politician and stereotypical Alpha Male's mystifying success with young women could be down to his mesmeric confidence.

Roy Keane

Smouldering? He's like a Leeside Mount Etna.

Colin Montgomerie

The Scottish golfer, cruelly dubbed 'Mrs Doubtfire' by US fans who claim he resembles Robin Williams's stern Scottish nanny character, may actually be projecting serious sex appeal. Or extreme grumpiness.


Jennifer Aniston

Her ongoing man problems are a mystery since the former Friend is all about the perkiness.

Amy Huberman

Seldom seen without a million-dollar smile.

Pippa Middleton

That smile! That derriere!

Saoirse Ronan

Talent and a beguiling, girlish smile.

Irish Independent

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