Prefer girls to bad boys or men

Why some of us seek dominant partners

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Are you attracted to a romantic partner who is commanding, powerful, assertive, and taking over? Or do you prefer someone who is less dominant? Your answer will likely depend on your gender and your personality. Women may prefer dominant "bad boys" (and some men prefer "bad girls"). Different women have very different reasons for looking for a dominant partner, as do other women who are looking for the opposite.

There are several ways that a person can be dominant, but researchers look at social dominance as traits such as authority, control, and taking on a leadership role.1,2,3 However, such traits are usually not associated with kind, caring people. Dominant people tend to be more self-centered and insensitive to the feelings of others, not qualities most of us seek in a romantic partner.4In order for dominant individuals to be considered desirable partners, they must combine this commanding personality with other traits that show a willingness to be generous and helpful.5 Women want a partner who is competitive with others but who treats them well.6

Evolutionary psychologists claim that women prefer dominant partners because such men are superior to genes. It has been shown that women prefer more dominant men when they are at the most fertile point of their menstrual cycle, while most men do not seek dominant women in a similar way.7

New research by Gilda Giebel and colleagues goes beyond these evolutionary explanations, which focus solely on gender differences, and examines how our individual personality traits affect preference for dominant partners.8 The researchers speculated that when a passive but nice partner is viewed as "boring," people who particularly reject boredom in their lives are most likely to seek dominant partners. They predicted high income people Sensation seekers— "the search for diverse, novel, complex and intense sensations and experiences and the willingness to take risks for such experiences "9- would particularly likely prefer dominant partners. They also wondered how anxiety, especially for women, could influence these preferences.

In a survey, 172 German adults (60 percent women, 63 percent students) completed personality questionnaires and then measured their own preference for a dominant partner. Participants rated how much they liked statements like: “A very nice man / woman is often boring.” “I like it when the man / woman takes on a leadership role in our relationship.” “I feel confident Men / women attracted. ”To assess sensationalism, participants took a well-known measurement of this trait that spanned four sub-scales:

  • Looking for thrills and adventure. The tendency towards “fearless” behavior such as skydiving and mountaineering.
  • Disinhibition. Impulsive behaviors such as using drugs and alcohol or having unsafe sex.
  • Seek experience. Look for less risky but exciting new experiences, such as travel or artistic experiences.
  • Boredom susceptibility. A tendency to get bored easily and need constant stimulation from other people or activities.

The results showed that sensation seekers of both genders were particularly likely to prefer a dominant partner. Certain Boredom susceptibility and Disinhibition were correlated with a preference for dominant partners - thrill not. This suggests that those who get bored easily and engage in impulsive behaviors may choose more dominant romantic partners. Such partners can provide the excitement that stimulates them.

The researchers also looked at participants' general levels of anxiety. In particular, the researchers hypothesized that women were highly anxious because of might prefer dominant partners protection that they offer rather than because they are sexy or exciting.

Their results showed that there were two types of women who preferred dominant partners - those who showed boredom, disinhibition, and anxiety. These traits are completely uncorrelated with each other, which proves that these two types of women may have different motivations for finding dominant partners. Anxious women seem to prefer dominant partners because they offer protection and securityDespite being disinhibited, easily bored women seem to prefer dominant partners because they are exciting.

However, not all anxious women preferred dominant partners. Anxious women were more likely to get high scores seeking experience The researchers found that anxious women have two different ways to deal with their fear: Some seek a dominant man for protection. Others, especially those looking for new and exciting experiences, may try to compensate for their fear by pursuing a more demanding, cosmopolitan, and non-conformist lifestyle that includes new experiences such as travel and artistic activities. These womenavoid a dominant partner who may be trying to control them and limit their ability to pursue these experiences. (Of course, there can be other explanations for this surprising pattern of results.)

The stereotype that women seek dominant "bad guys" may be true, but the real picture is complicated - and men certainly seek "bad girls" when they are disinhibited and easily bored, just like some women can be dominant partners look for when they have the same easily bored personality type. Other women may seek dominant partners because they are anxious and want protection from their partner - although other anxious women prefer the opposite and want less dominant partners who allow them to gain new experiences.

Gwendolyn Seidman, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Psychology at Albright College. Follow her on Twitter and Close Encounters.


1 Bryan, A.D., Webster, G.D. & Mahaffey, A.L. (2011). The Great, the Rich, and the Powerful: Physical, Financial, and Social Dimensions of Dominance in Mating and Attraction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 365–382.

2 Sadalla, E.K., Kenrick, D. T. & Vershure, B. (1987). Dominance and heterosexual attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52, 730–738.

3 J.K. Snyder, L.A. Kirkpatrick & H.C. Barrett (2008). The Dominance Dilemma: Do Women Really Prefer Dominant Partners? Personal relationships, 15, 425–444.

4 Moeller, S.K., Lee, E.A.E. & Robinson, M.D. (2011). You never think about my feelings: Interpersonal dominance as a predictor of the accuracy of the emotion decoding. Emotion, 11, 816–824.

5 L.A. Jensen-Campbell, W. G. Graziano & S. G. West (1995). Dominance, Prosocial Orientation, and Feminine Preference: Do Nice Boys Really Finish Last? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 427–440.

6 Lukaszewski, A. W. & Roney, J. R. (2010). Kind towards whom? Partner preferences for personality traits are goal-specific. Evolution and human behavior, 31, 29–38.

7 S. W. Gangestad, J. A. Simpson, A. J. Cousins, C. E. Garver-Apgar & P. ​​N. Christensen (2004). Women's preferences for male behavior changes change over the course of the menstrual cycle. Psychological Science, 15, 203–206.

8 G. Giebel, J. Moran, A. Schawohl & R. Weierstall (2015). The thrill of loving a dominant partner: relationships between the preference for a dominant partner, the search for sensations, and the fear of traits. Personal relationships. doi: 10.1111 / pere.12079. Published online before printing.

9 Zuckerman, M. (2000). Sensational search. In A. E. Kazdin (ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology (Volume 7, pp. 225-227). Washington, DC and New York, NY: American Psychological Association / Oxford University Press.