Being Altruistic Could Boost Love Life, Study Finds

March 01, 2010 - News Release

Why are people altruistic? One reason could be that it makes us more desirable to the opposite sex, according to a new University of Guelph study.

Psychology professor Pat Barclay has found that, all else being equal, both men and women are more attracted to people who are charitable.

“Altruistic behaviour is very costly because it takes time and money away from yourself to help someone else,” said Barclay. “From either an evolutionary perspective or a learning perspective, behaviours that bring no obvious or immediate benefit should disappear, but altruism is still around. It’s possible that generosity serves for mating purposes, either consciously or unconsciously.”

Published recently in the British Journal of Psychology, the study set out to investigate whether altruistic behaviour helps our chances at lust or even love.

To determine whether altruism makes us more attractive to the opposite sex, the study asked participants to rate profiles of people by stating how willing they would be to have a long-term relationship, a date or a one-night stand with the person.

The profiles were patterned after dating ads, and half of them included descriptions that hinted at altruistic interests such as “volunteers at a food bank” or “plays guitar at a children’s hospital.” The profiles were accompanied by photographs of “average-looking people” to ensure participants weren’t swayed by looks.

Results revealed that both men and women preferred those described as charitable when it came to long-term relationships.

Women also preferred the nice guys as potential dates or one-night stands.

“This goes against common wisdom that women go for bad guys simply because of their badness,” said Barclay. “Instead, it suggests that altruism can definitely be used by men as an effective way to attract the opposite sex. For example, an average-looking altruist is more desirable than an average-looking regular guy. Similarly, a dashing and attractive guy can be even better if he’s also an altruist.”

Women, however, may not have the same success at grabbing men’s attention with their giving nature.

Although men preferred altruistic women for long-term relationships, they showed no preference for or against nice women when it came to a single date and actually preferred women without altruistic interests when choosing the right person for a one-night stand.

Barclay says there are a few possible reasons for the men's one-night-stand preferences.

“The first reason could be that they believe a one-night stand would cause more harm to a nice girl,” he said. “The other possible reason is that men believe they are less likely to be successful in achieving a one-night stand with a nice altruistic girl.”

As to why altruism makes a person more desirable to both sexes for long-term relationships, Barclay suggests it could be because it implies other traits that are highly sought after when looking for someone to date or marry.

“It could be that altruism signals to potential mates an individual’s ability and willingness to be a good partner and a good parent. It could also possibly signal abilities, resources and good character for those just looking for a date.”

Prof. Pat Barclay
Department of Psychology
519-824-4120, Ext. 58247

For media questions, Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, Ext. 53338,, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982,

University of Guelph
50 Stone Road East
Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1