On a daily basis we see the beautiful, successful, desirable people behaving and looking in a particular way on our screens, and so we can be forgiven for thinking that there are certain qualities that are going to make us irresistible to potential dates. But the thing is, if you conform to a particular stereotype in order to be attractive, you're going to attract people who are drawn to that particular stereotype - and the research suggests that really might not be what you want...
Stereotype 1: Men want physically perfect women with skinny bodies and gigantic breasts.
The idea that all men want skinny women is one of the most pernicious myths of our time, promoted by a media obsessed with portraying thinness as good.
It is true that men in the western world, on average, prefer a body weight in women that is too skinny to be healthy. Even so, men prefer heavier women's bodies than most women think, according to psychologist, Viren Swami of Anglia Ruskin University, and all sorts of things come into the body weight men prefer. Older men, and men who are heavier themselves prefer larger ladies. Personality is another big factor. Men with personalities high in the factor "openness to experience", for example, tend to be more unconventional in what they find attractive and "fat admirers" tend to be high in this factor. And men who are hungry prefer bigger women: Research shows that all you have to do is remove a guy's lunch and his liking for fuller figured women in photos increases.
Attitudes matter too, and men who are up for casual sex usually rate skinny women more than guys who are interested in committed relationships. The same goes for the men who like very large breasts.
Swami with his colleague Martin Tovee looked at the breast size preferences of 361 British white men in relation to their attitudes to women. It turns out not all men are obsessed with massive mammaries. Some actually like small ones, although the biggest percentage (32.7%) prefer average sized boobs.
Men who were rated as hostile towards women and those who objectified women were more likely to rate large or very large breasts as most attractive, but the man-type having the strongest association with a penchant for gigantic gazongas were the ones rated as "benevolently sexist", meaning that they idealize women's traditional roles but simultaneously want to limit them to a subservient place in society. These are the guys that tell you you've got a nice arse as they give it a grope and expect you to be flattered. Perhaps a reason not to get those giant silicone implants that'll just put your back out.
The bottom line seems to be, different kinds of men like different kinds of women's bodies - so all shapes and sizes can be attractive and the important thing is to be healthy and happy with what you've got.
Anyway, if you try to achieve physical perfection to increase your chances of attracting men, then, duh... you'll attract men who demand physical perfection, when you could have gone for a nice bloke that likes a woman who's into interesting stuff and doesn't mind her hair getting messed up.
Stereotype 2: Men need to be macho 'bad boys' to get the girl.
Yes masculine looking men with large amounts of testosterone coursing through their veins are deemed sexy by a lot of women, but researchers have discovered that women prefer masculine looking men when they are happy to have a casual fling or a one-night-stand, not when they're looking for long-term boyfriend material.
And "bad boys" tend to be low in the personality factor "agreeableness" meaning they don't have a lot of empathy. This makes them effective in competition with other men, and so they may well come across as high-status and dominant, again very sexy qualities, but mostly only in the short-term. Personality psychologist, William Barta, told me that women with a liking for "bad boys" are more prone to infidelity, so that's worth bearing in mind too.
Most women, most of the time, prefer slightly more feminine types of men with agreeable personalities, particularly when it comes to serious relationships. So while the macho bad boys might do well in terms of the bed-post notch count, the nice guys have things sewn up when it comes to the more long-term stuff and relationship satisfaction, and who knows, they might be happier for it.
Anyway, it's going to be quite hard to fake masculinity, short of wearing a muscle shirt, false facial hair and putting on a deep voice. And if you try to act "bad" you'll probably come across as very rude, or weird. So just don't.
Stereotype 3: Men are attracted to dumb Women.
Marilyn Monroe was a highly intelligent woman, but you wouldn't have known it from watching the video of her in Madison Square Gardens in 1964 singing Happy Birthday Mr President in a goo goo voice that made her sound like she had all the intellect of a four-year-old child. Why is it that some women feel they have to act dumb to appeal to men?
Some research by Cari Goetz of California State University and colleagues suggests that men's liking for dumb women may come down to the perception that intellectually challenged women are more sexually exploitable. In other words, men are more likely to be able to bed them.
The team showed pictures of various women in various states to a bunch of male participants who found the ones they judged to look unintelligent, immature, drunk, promiscuous and young as most attractive; qualities they perceived to signal sexual exploitability. Quite alarming really. So in the study, men, on average, were most attracted to women who they felt were easy prey sexually.
But of course, not all men are out to take advantage of a woman when she's in a semi-comatose state. A follow up study showed that men differed in their attraction to 'sexually exploitable' women with men lacking empathy, and those out for casual sex being the ones accounting for this attraction to dumb or drunk women.
When men are on the lookout for a long-term partner though, they want an intelligent woman. Even George Clooney worked that one out; when it came to marriage he ditched the cocktail waitress and the gorgeous models and tied the knot with the supremely clever human-rights lawyer, Amal Alamudin.
So anybody thinking of acting dumb to attract a man, it may well work, but you might find you attract the type of man who is attracted to dumb women. And perhaps you don't really want that.
Stereotype 4: Men need to flash plenty of cash to attract the babes.
I've often heard men complaining that women are just after their money and in the twittersphere if you peruse anything to do with attraction and gender you'll know that there are a lot of guys out there aggressively complaining about "hypergamy", or the tendency of women to partner up the income gradient.
Historically this sort of behaviour in women has gone on of course, and still does, and for good reason. Men's and women's behaviour has been shaped by natural selection to maximize their reproductive success, or the number of babies they can potentially have. For women, the limiting factor on this comes down mainly to access to resources for the said babies, and so it has benefitted women to get together with guys able and willing to provide what she and the kids need.
Nowadays, in the Western world things are changing somewhat and of course many women are able to bring home the bacon themselves, thanks very much. A study by Fhionna Moore of the University of Dundee demonstrates that women who regard themselves as financially independent place less importance on a guy's income than other women, and more on his physical hotness. They also tend to go for younger guys too.
So when it comes to wanting a sugar daddy, some girls do and some girls don't. Oddly enough though, I find it's usually the very guys who complain about gold-diggers who are the ones being flashy with their cash and conspicuous with their consumption. So basically their moaning becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they try to make themselves attractive through money.
The bottom line is, if you don't want to be lumbered with a high-maintenance girlfriend who's got her eye on the size of your wallet rather than the size of your...er... biceps, then don't use your investment portfolio as a pulling device. It's not rocket science.
For more useful insights, check out our Workshops on the Science of Attraction & Relationships, in London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.
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