Dissecting the Modern American Male

The Predictably Irrational Behaviour Of The Modern American Male – Part One

I present to you, dear readers, the first part of a three part series based on the writings of Dan Ariely, the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight

Prof. Ariely’s work in decision making and behavioral economics focuses on how people predictably and repeatedly make the wrong decisions in many aspects of their lives.  He is the author of three highly recommended books on the subject, each one a best seller in its own right.

These three posts each address a specific topic in male-female relations, each through the lens of “predictable irrationality”.  Prof. Ariely graciously agreed to help with these posts and his insights are incorporated throughout.

Part 1 – Why do men date “bimbos”?

Ask any single guy on the street to describe his ideal woman and you will invariably get the same answer:  Sophisticated, intelligent, beautiful, good sense of humor and so on.

Yet frequently these guys gravitate toward women who are physically attractive but lacking in other departments.   It is as if there is a tradeoff between beauty and brains and for many men, beauty trumps brains.  In other words, the second some hot dumb girl walks into the room, men forget that there are other ingredients besides beauty that are necessary to maintain a legitimate relationship.

It seems to makes no sense why a perfectly decent and sensible guy would want to date someone so vacuous, when subconsciously he probably knows that the “bimbo” isn’t going to maintain his interest in the long run.  To the single women out there, this seems like completely irrational behavior, yet it happens over and over (and over) again.

But why?

There are three factors that possibly explain this irrational behavior.

First, let’s look at these women that are socially defined as “bimbos”, meaning physically attractive but vacuous.  We can assume that these types of women are sending a signal of sexuality, or readiness for sex, to men.  These men, in turn, are not necessarily placing a high value on being vacuous; rather they are placing a high value on sexuality.  In other words, when guys receive an overtly sexual signal from a woman, they start thinking with their loins and not with their heads or hearts.

Secondly, let’s look at the guys.  For any male, having a hot piece of arm candy traipse around the quad with you sends a signal to other men about your virility.  Sometimes this is motivated by competition, sometimes by a need to prove manliness, sometimes to cover up insecurity.  Whatever the reason, guys place a premium on showing off their conquests.

Seems pretty obvious so far, right?

But there is a third, more subtle and significantly more interesting, factor.  In a fascinating paper called “If I’m Not Hot, Are You Hot or Not? Physical-Attractiveness Evaluations and Dating Preferences as a Function of One’s Own Attractiveness” (Psychological Science. Vol. 19, No. 7, 2008), Prof Ariely and his peers examine how a person’s perception of their own physical attractiveness affects their selection of romantic partners.  Furthermore, they ask the question:  When less attractive people accept less attractive mates, are they deluding themselves into thinking that their mates are hotter than they actually are?

I won’t get into a full review of the article, but the authors reach a very interesting conclusion:

“… People of different attractiveness levels do not wear different lenses when judging others’ attractiveness, but instead differ in the importance they place on various desirable attributes in their romantic partners…

…Analysis revealed that participants’ own attractiveness was significantly correlated with their standardized weights for physical attractiveness, but negatively correlated with their standardized weights for sense of humor. Overall, these results suggest that more attractive people and less attractive people consider different criteria in date selection: Less attractive people tend to place less weight on physical attractiveness and greater weight on non-attractiveness-related attributes such as sense of humor.” (I have added emphasis)

So how is this relevant?

The paper shows how hotter guys have a tendency to prefer hotter girls, but more interestingly, they are also more superficial and put a higher premium on looks than on other qualities.  In other words, guys who are more attractive have a higher tendency to date “bimbos” than average looking guys.

So just because a guy is average looking and doesn’t model for Abercrombie, doesn’t mean you should write him off.  In fact, average looking guys are more interested in other qualities, like intelligence, sense of humor, and a good heart, and therefore are probably more interested in finding a serious life partner than just finding some hot girl to flaunt to their boys.

 Image via Mikimoto Angel

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=802647435 Brenda Lavigne

    I really like this article, I can’t wait for the next part :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000989560191 Camille Eisenhauer

    This is why dressing modestly really is a lot better (for me at least.) When a guy sees me, I would rather him think of me as a person than an object.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=764708325 Hazel Hill

      Personally, I look for a man who can see me as a person no matter what I’m wearing (found one) actually the only men who see scantily clad women as objects are ones who show high rates of hostile sexism (the potential serial killers you’d do best to avoid)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=630180338 Lívia Vasconcellos

    “So just because a guy is average looking and doesn’t model for Abercrombie, doesn’t mean you should write him off.”

    We’re not, and I don’t understand why you would take this wonderful, and very insightful arguments to end and say that “only” the atractive guys do this dating “bimbos”. When in reality, all of them want the bimbos, or least give the preference first, and for a long time before they go ahead and say “fiiine I’ll settle for this ok girl, and secretly still try to get a hotter girl”.

    The picture of modern family quote, still remains as accurate as ever.
    And I remain as confused as ever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=630180338 Lívia Vasconcellos

    still, I loved the fact that you’re tackling on this issue.
    And that is written by a man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=22416550 Alli Treman

    I like this article, but what about intelligent and pretty girls? If given the choice between an intelligent girl and a less intelligent one, will most guys pick the intelligent one? And if so, does the intelligence level of the guy play any role in the choice? Do women generally follow the same criteria in their choosing, or not? If it’s different (if women generally place something other than physical attractiveness as the most important thing) how does that affect dating for lesbians? Okay, so I have a lot of questions! Hopefully some of them will be addressed in the next part.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=536765690 Annie Whatsername

      …or they are more likely to be addressed in other psych paper which will probably focus on these things in their future research.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=764708325 Hazel Hill

    Says the average looking guy.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000237364554 Laura Slade

      Ha ha! Nailed it!

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