ScienceDaily (Oct. 15, 2008) — Displays of altruism or selflessness towards others can be sexually attractive in a mate. This is one of the findings of a study carried out by biologists and a psychologist at The University of Nottingham. In three studies of more than 1,000 people, Dr Tim Phillips and his fellow researchers discovered that women place significantly greater importance on altruistic traits than anything else. Their findings have been published in the British Journal of Psychology.
Dr Phillips said: “Evolutionary theory predicts competition between individuals and yet we see many examples in nature of individuals disadvantaging themselves to help others. In humans, particularly, we see individuals prepared to put themselves at considerable risk to help individuals they do not know for no obvious reward.”
Participants in the studies were questioned about a range of qualities they look for in a mate, including examples of altruistic behaviour such as ‘donates blood regularly’ and ‘volunteered to help out in a local hospital’. Women placed significantly greater importance on altruistic traits in all three studies.
Yet both sexes may consider altruistic traits when choosing a partner. One hundred and seventy couples were asked to rate how much they preferred altruistic traits in a mate and report their own level of altruistic behaviour.
The strength of preference in one partner was found to correlate with the extent of altruistic behaviour typically displayed in the other, suggesting that altruistic traits may well be a factor both men and women take into account when choosing a partner.