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I read a recent article, suggesting that

the nicest guys in a society are selected last by females.

The article continues to identify the cause as a lack of aggressive nature and competitiveness, with these being ostensibly desirable traits. This is a common sentiment that is often expressed in popular media, yet rarely sourced. I was wondering if there were any psychology studies exploring this topic, or any further explanation to shed light on this topic.

Is male prosocial activity and perceived niceness associated with sexual outcomes?

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Could you edit in a citation or hyperlink for this article? – Nick Stauner Jun 20 '14 at 6:22
I can tell you that there are many books but are not scientific. I've studied the topic by myself for some years, but I'm not a professionist. I would suggest you to read PUA books after reading some on cognitive psychology. – Revious Jun 20 '14 at 8:43
That sort of gross generalisation over vague categories identifies the source as journalistic (at best), not scientific. There is of course a bunch of research on social dominance and sexual selection, but nobody would conclude from that that the nicest guys are selected last. – jona Jun 20 '14 at 9:21
However this this theory does not appear to be on a completely false premise. This may be evolutionary during early humanity where being 'nice' would have little benefits whilst aggression would be considered a desirable trait. Whilst journalistic views on this arise from exaggerations- there might be science behind this! – Monacraft Jun 21 '14 at 8:12
It has been repeatedly shown that women find dominant, aggressive men more erotic than wimps. But it has also been repeatedly shown that women do chose nice, supportive partners for long term relationships, instead of machos. So what is an advantage in on area is obviously a disadvantage in another. Just look at the married men in your sourroundings. I'd guess most of them are just regular nice guys. Also, selection is not a one-sides process. Men select, too. So maybe the bitch and the macho select each other, while the nice guy and the nice girl select each other. That's what I observe. – what Jun 21 '14 at 13:08

1 Answer 1

The question of whether "nice guys finish last", also known as the nice guy stereotype, is often studied in an economic or resource-allocation context as a more general case. According to the Competitive Altruism Hypothesis (e.g., Hardy and Van Vugt, 2006) altruistic or prosocial behavior helps the actor to accumulate social status, which in turn confers material benefits such as increased access to resources. In their words,

Individuals may behave altruistically for reputation reasons because selective benefits (associated with status) accrue to the generous.

Prosocial behavior and attraction

For the general case of resource allocation, reputation and status are plausible mechanisms for deriving benefits from prosocial and altruistic behavior, and covering this literature at length is probably beyond the scope of the question. Luckily, the question has also been tested specifically with respect to attraction, which is related but not identical to sexual behavior. In a 1995 study, Jensen-Campbell, Graziano and West reported the following results:

In Study 1, prosocial men were rated as more physically and sexually attractive, socially desirable, and desirable as dates than were nonprosocial men. Dominant men were no more attractive than low-dominance men, and male dominance did not interact with male prosocial orientation in eliciting attraction from women. In Study 2, prosocial orientation was manipulated to avoid "personalism," but still affected attraction. Across all measures attraction was an interactive function of dominance and prosocial tendencies. Dominance alone did not increase any form of attraction measured. In Study 3, male prosocial tendencies and dominance interacted to affect women's attraction to men.

Their study has a number of limitations which are worth noting before accepting this at face value, notably that it used attraction rating rather than some form of measure of actual sexual behavior. It therefore remains conceivable that nice guys finish last in real settings because more dominant men can, well, dominate less dominant men out of the 'competition' (attraction vs. sexual behavior problem). The study was also relatively statistically underpowered, which increases the chance of false positives. It is also worth considering that human sexual behavior is almost certainly more complex than can be captured by a single continuum.

A later study found that perceived niceness was a significant factor in women's expressed desire for long-term relationships, whereas physical attractiveness was a significant factor in expressed desire for more casual sex (Urbaniak and Kilmann, 2003). While these findings broadly concur with the Jensen-Campbell study and with the more general Competitive Altruism Hypothesis (nice guys finish first given enough time to accrue status), the study ultimately suffers from the same limitations.

Concluding remarks

It does not seem reasonable to make the unqualified claim that "nice guys finish last," but nor does it seem sound to claim that "nice guys finish first." What we can say is that nice guys do not always finish last, and not-nice guys do not always finish first, but rather, male niceness has different effects over time and contexts. Perceived niceness and prosocial behavior does appear to make a man more attractive on average, but it remains an empirical question whether this increased attractiveness really translates into successfully attracting women.


Hardy, C. L., & Van Vugt, M. (2006). Nice guys finish first: The competitive altruism hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 32(10), 1402-1413.

Jensen-Campbell, L. A., Graziano, W. G., & West, S. G. (1995). Dominance, prosocial orientation, and female preferences: Do nice guys really finish last?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68(3), 427.

Urbaniak, G. C., & Kilmann, P. R. (2003). Physical attractiveness and the “nice guy paradox”: Do nice guys really finish last?. Sex Roles, 49(9-10), 413-426.

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