When it comes to online dating profiles, conventional wisdom deems that photos with kids are a huge no-no, the kind that sends Tinderellas swiping left. But new research suggests that kids can really help men up their game, at least if they want a long-term relationship.
That's right — bring on the little buggers. Women find guys who are adept with kids more attractive, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. Nicolas Guéguen, a professor of social and cognitive psychology at the University of South Brittany, based his findings on a field experiment — outside a local bar. They suggest that for the long haul, women want more than a provider who makes bank; they want a loving father too.
Women were three times more likely to give their phone number when the male volunteer acted affectionately toward the baby.
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Earlier studies have also found that women feel more attracted to men who have an affinity for children, but most of this research involved surveying and showing participants photographs in a laboratory. Guéguen told OZY in an email that he wanted to confirm this allure in a real-world setting. So he recruited three 20-year-old male volunteers, as well as two mothers and their infants. When a single woman sat at a table, a male volunteer took a post at a nearby table. A minute later, a mother arrived with her baby. The male volunteer greeted the mom as his "dear sister." Then he either kissed and stroked the baby while chatting with his "sister" about how her child ate and slept, or simply said "Hi, baby," and asked about her car troubles. After his "sister" left, the male volunteer made his move on the woman he eyed earlier and asked for her number.
After Casanova left, a female volunteer asked the participant to complete a survey. The 49 participants, ages 18 to 25, who agreed to do so rated the male volunteer's attractiveness — overall and as a long-term partner — as well as how fatherly, kind and loving he was on a scale of 1 to 10. Women were three times more likely to give out their numbers when the male volunteer acted affectionately toward the baby, and in these cases, they gave him significantly more positive ratings in every category.
But apparently how a woman treats children has no effect on her attractiveness to men.
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Guéguen noted that he used a small sample size from a bar in Brittany — definitely not representative of all women — although he might go on to replicate the experiment in other countries. The study also doesn't reflect the real-life trade-offs between financial stability and paternal qualities, said David Geary, a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri. For example, Guéguen could have determined how dressing the male volunteer in a suit affected the women's ratings. "Women like nice paternal guys, but there comes a point where he needs to make a certain amount of money," he said.
Still, Guéguen's study makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Since men have what's called a short-term mating strategy — having sex with no long-term cost — they care more about finding a fertile (read: physically attractive) woman; a classic 1995 study found that how a woman treated children had no effect on her attractiveness to men. But women are more sensitive to contextual variables, seeking men with not only the ability to acquire resources, but also a willingness to invest in them and their kids. Plus, "good dad qualities" might also make good partner qualities, said David Buss, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. The result? The entire family fares better. "The better the husband-wife relationship, the better she treats him, the better he treats the children," Geary said.