The Appeal of “Bad Boys”

If there is one thing that men, especially nerdy, geekier men – men more prone to be Nice Guys and White Knights – will complain about when it comes to their dating problems, it’s that women don’t like “nice” men. No, frustrating the millions of men who heard “I wish I could meet a nice guy like you”1 and took it too much to heart is the way that the “bad boy” seems to win women’s hearts and loins.

There is no dating cliche older or more lingering than the appeal of the “bad boy”. One of the most defining characteristics of known rake Lord Byron is that he was famously “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.

Narcissistic. Drug abuser. Self-destructive.Unable to keep it in his pants. Perpetually running out of money. All he needed was to be in a band to get “bad boyfriend” yahtzee.

It’s a subject that I have talked about before: the idea that all women love assholes and that this is programmed into them genetically; after all, assholes are often more “alpha” than the Nice Guys who complain about them, therefore it is their inevitable destiny to fall for them… usually on their backs. Therefore the key to being more attractive is to be “bad”.

It’s a short-sighted solution that builds on a collection of mistaken assumptions reinforced by confirmation bias and poor understanding of human sexuality and evolutionary psychology… but it’s not entirely wrong.

In fact, the appeal of the “bad boy” is something that psychologists and sociologists have been interested in for quite some time. And it seems as though they may have found some interesting answers.

I Told You I’m A Psycho…

It is unquestionable that men and women with certain negative traits personality traits seem to be more popular. We all remember the Queen Bee at the top of the high-school pecking order; the most popular girl in school, enforcing her will through manipulation and cruelty. Similarly, it seemed as though the douchiest of jocks were inevitably the Big Men on Campus. We can’t stand them… so why do assholes seem so popular?

Well, it turns out that three personality traits known as the “dark triad” are actually associated with being able to enhance a person’s physical attractiveness.

Although admittedly it sounds a lot like the McGuffin that Gannondorf steals in every installment of Legend of Zelda.

The so-called “Dark Triad” consists of three separate but overlapping personality traits – perceived as having similar underlying commonalities:

  1. Narcissism – defined as an overly developed sense of self-worth and entitlement matched with intense egotism
  2. Machiavellianism – defined by the person’s reliance on manipulation to get what he or she desires without regard to others as well as a cynical dismissal of morality as “for other people”.
  3. Psychopathy – a loaded term; it doesn’t refer to a violent maniac, but to someone defined by reckless thrill-seeking, selfishness, lack of remorse and affect and a certain level of superficial charm

Scientists have known for a while that narcissism – for example – actually has direct correlation with initial popularity. In fact, a study conducted in 2010 by Mitja Back and Boris Egloff of Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz found that – upon first meeting them – people thought that narcissistic individuals were “flashier”, “more confident” and more immediately likable.
What made things interesting is a new study, conducted in 2012 by Nick Holtzman and Michael Strube of Washington University in St. Louis found that individuals whose personality types conformed to the dark triad were perceived as being physically more attractive than people who didn’t have darker personality aspects.

Which explains why every woman on Tumblr seems to have the screaming thigh-sweats for Loki.

To test this idea, Holtzman and Strube invited 111 college students to participate in a study. The students – more women than men – were photographed in their usual clothes, then given grey, featureless sweatsuits to change into. Anyone wearing make-up was asked to remove it while anyone with long hair was asked to pull it into a ponytail. The idea was to take as neutral and natural a photo of the participants as possible as a control. Students were asked to answer a questionaire and rate themselves on a personality scale. To help counterbalance any errors introduced by self-reporting, Strube and Holtzman alsointerviewed acquaintances of the subjects about their personalities. From these results, the subjects were rated and scored with relation to dark triad personality types.

The photos of the subjects – both the dressed up and neutral shots –  were then shown to strangers, who were asked to rate them in terms of physical attractiveness. Those who scored higher on the dark triad were consistently found to be more attractive by strangers than those who rated lower… but only when they were dressed up. When all of the subjects were wearing the sweat-suits and showing their more natural look, the influence of the dark triad personality type disappeared.

Heeeeyooooo… I got my haaaaaalo….

As it turns out, those individuals who ranked higher on the dark triad scale were better at making a better presenting themselves and knowing how to make themselves look better. Just as with the earlier narcissism study, those with darker personality traits were better able to cultivate their sense of style. They tend to wear edgier, more stylish clothes that make them stand out more2, wear a more fashionable hair style, have more confident body language and smiled more.

In short: they know how to make a better first impression than other people do. By knowing how to display themselves to their best advantage, they made themselves look better. By doing so, they take advantage of a phenomenon known as the “halo effect”: because they are perceived as being more physically attractive, we automatically assume that they’re also better people – kinder, smarter, more trustworthy, etc.

…and that’s how you know this is someone you can trust!

As a result: the more psychopathic or narcissistic you are, the better you are at conning people into thinking you’re actually a good person.
Y’know. Deep down.

Possibly very deep down.

So clearly the key to success in dating is to learn to become a functioning sociopath, right?

Also, There Are Downsides…

One thing that the Black-Etjoff study found is that the those people with dark triad personalities may make for great initial impressions but lousy long-term ones. In fact, their personal popularity tends to drop the more people get to know the real person behind the flash and smoke.

Y’see, the dark triad personality types are pre-disposed to short-term goals and thinking; they focus on immediate goals (“How do I get her in bed?”) and less on long term ones (“How do I get her to go out with me again?”) which hinders them in the long term… including financially. They’re much more likely to go for the immediate (and smaller) reward than for planning for a future (and bigger) one. They’re prone to stealing partners from others and are more likely to have substance-abuse issues and are known for having lowered standards – sometimes drastically – for sexual partners. The dark triad also has a correlation with excessive agression towards others, bullying behavior and racist attitudes.

It’s almost impossible to keep the charade up for very long; inevitably people will start seeing the man behind the mask and start realizing that he’s actually pretty damn repulsive.
This makes it rather difficult to maintain relationships for very long. Even if you’re willing to sacrifice the long term relationship on the altar of more frequent, no-commitment sex, people talk and social circles are smaller than you’d think. It doesn’t take very long for a reputation for being an asshole to spread and effectively limit your available dating pool.  Similarly, this is not behavior that ages well; time and gravity make fools of us all eventually and what can seem charmingly rakish at 20 quickly becomes boorish at 3o and just embarrassing at 40.

Finding Your Creamy Bastard Center

It’s like I’ve said before: it’s not a question of bad behavior or that being “bad” is inherently attractive to women, it’s that traits that women find attractive are frequently found in assholes and narcissists.

This, in case you haven’t been paying attention, means that you can cultivate these traits to your own advantage without the negative aspects that come with them.

A person’s physical attractiveness isn’t binary; it can be affected by something as minor as overhead lighting vs. indirect lighting. Simple changes in posture can alter people’s perception of a person’s attractiveness. Even people who are considered conventionally beautiful often benefit from some external help.

Never underestimate the power of foundation and blush.

The people with high dark triad scores knew how to make a better first impression by crafting their look to their best advantage.

You can do this too.

Find Your Archetype:

Start by figuring out what your sexy stereotype is. Are you a rocker or a business tycoon? Do you aspire to be a modern dandy like Andre 3000 or are you more of a Mod? Find a base line look that’s congruent with your identity and use this as the foundation for everything else.

Cultivate Your Style:

Be willing to stand out and make a statement. Cultivate a style in line with your archetype and make it your own. This means that you have to be willing to take some risks and break out of clothes that – while psychologically comfortable – cause you to blend in with the herd. You may feel like you’re playing dress-up at first, but the more you try, the more natural you will find that it becomes.

Make Sure Your Clothes Fit Right:

Seriously, I can’t emphasize this enough. Clothes that are too baggy or too small make you look bad. Period.

Use Confident Body Language:

Narcissists, psychopaths and Machiavellians aren’t shrinking violets; they stand up tall and take up space. They want people know that they’re there. Everything about them screams “confidence” – their body language most of all. Even if you’re not feeling confident, adopting confident body language – standing up straight, letting your limbs relax, moving deliberately and with purpose – will help you fake it. Even more importantly, using more confident body language will make you feel more confident… and confidence is sexy.


For fuck’s sake, smile. A big, genuine smile that reaches your eyes. A friendly smile makes you much more attractive than a blank affect or trying to look “serious”. Part of George Clooney’s appeal is that grin – equal parts friendliness and mischief that promises stories you’ll be telling for years to come.

“Bad boys” may be attractive at the first glance, but only because they know how to sell themselves up front. They have to; they have no long game and they know it. The more skilled you become at creating an immediate positive impression in others the more of a leg up that you’ll have over those bad boys. You’ll soon find that you’re having levels of success that they could only dream of.

Not only will you have the style to make that great first impression… but you’ll have the substance to back it up.

  1. And ignored the silent “…who I would be interested in fucking.” []
  2. known as peacocking in PUA circles []