The Chemical Cause Women’s love of bad boys also has a lot to do with one word: testosterone. Of course, it’s more complicated than that.
Evolutionary biology tells us that all of our behavior evolved to help us attract a mate. In essence, men are prancing around trying to prove to women that they will produce strong children and protect them. Meanwhile, women are busy trying to attract men who will—you guessed it—produce strong children and be protective.
So, how does a woman make this determination? Often it’s by unconsciously registering displays of high testosterone.
In a study conducted by the Kinsey Institute on masculinity and attractiveness, women’s brains showed a higher response to photos of masculine men (defined as men with high testosterone levels). And if women were at their most fertile, just before ovulation, their responses were even higher.
Physical traits like a strong, wide jaw and a prominent brow are indicative of high testosterone levels in a man. Risk taking also indicates high testosterone levels. In fact, 80 percent of skydivers are men. Taking risks is something men do to show ambition to possible mates. One study on risks conducted by social psychologists at Florida State University found that if you show a man with high testosterone even just a picture of an attractive woman, he’s more likely to take risks.
Competitiveness is also indicative of high testosterone. When men with high testosterone lose a game, their testosterone level actually gets higher. If a man with high testosterone loses a woman, his levels go up; he gets more competitive and he wants her more.
Thus, that high-testosterone man might take the risk to do something “bad,” like bust into a party he wasn’t invited to and despite all social conventions, tell a woman that he wants her. All of his behavior will tell her that he has high testosterone, that he will produce strong children, and a little primal sensor in her brain will go “ding.” Suddenly, she wants the bad boy.
But there is a silver lining for the nice, low-testosterone male. In the Kinsey study, it was shown that ovulating women tend to choose the high-testosterone man in hopes of producing stronger offspring. But at other times in their cycle, women actually prefer the more feminine features of the lower testosterone men.
When women were shown photographs of men in the Kinsey study, the part of their brains that lit up was the part involved in decision-making. Women were weighing the pros and cons of high and low testosterone. High-testosterone men may produce stronger children, but they’re also more prone to cheat and take less care of them. And when women are not in the throes of their fertility, they can more clearly see that the low-testosterone man’s tendency to be kind and gentle makes him an ideal partner for the long term.
So while the high-testosterone man might be triggering a primal part of a woman’s brain and making her sex drive go “zing,” the low-testosterone man will trigger her more evolved brain for security and trust.
It could indeed be said that nice guys don’t finish last; they just have to wait for women to follow their reason rather than their instinct.