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People Find Selflessness Attractive, Study Reports

Update Date: Sep 13, 2013 01:51 PM EDT
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Marriage really does make people happier. British researchers discovered that married couples are happier than cohabiting couples. (Photo : Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)

When it comes to finding a partner for life, there are certain characteristics that people look for. Even though people might report that they look for different things in their potential mates, ranging from physical appearance to intelligence, researchers have found that certain traits seem to be attractive to the majority of people. Some of these traits include honesty and loyalty. Now, according to new research done by a team from the University of Nottingham and Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom, altruism or selfless behavior can also be considered a very attractive trait.

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For this study, the research team recruited 32 women and 35 men. The participants were told to rate the opposite sex's level of attractiveness based on many different qualities. The qualities encompassed a wide range of personality traits. The researchers found that for both men and women, a potential mate that partook in altruistic acts was rated more attractive, especially for long-term relationships. Selfless acts were described as volunteering, caring for a sick relative or helping an old neighbor with groceries. The researchers found that when it came to rating attractiveness for a short fling, altruism did not play as huge of a factor any more.

"At first glance, it's difficult to see how natural selection could favor behaviors that involve investing significant time and resources to help others at a cost to oneself. We now know that 'altruistic' helping can actually increase evolutionary fitness in various ways-people might preferentially help their relatives, with whom they share genes, or they might target their helping toward others who are likely to reciprocate in the future," explained Dr. Freya Harrison, the senior author of the report. Harrison is a Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham's Life Sciences Center for Bimolecular Sciences.

The researchers explained that altruistic acts could be viewed as an attractive feature because altruism might indicate that the person will be a good parent since altruism is often understood as a good trait. Furthermore, since altruism is categorized as a good trait, this trait would be passed down to children, which could be seen as desirable as well.

"This study adds to a growing body of research which tries to explain why nice guys [and girls] might not always finish last!" commented the Senior Lecturer in Psychology from Liverpool John Moores University, Dr. David Moore reported by Medical Xpress.

The study, "Selflessness is sexy: reported helping behavior increase desirability of men and women as long-term sexual partners," was published in BMC Evolutionary Biology.

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