Is Bill Gates sexy? Very sexy, according to a new study on altruism and attraction.
Displays of selflessness toward others don't exactly make evolutionary sense, but mates, particularly women, find them considerably attractive, say researchers at The University of Nottingham, whose findings will be published in The British Journal of Psychology next month.
Researchers surveyed 1,118 participants and asked them about a range of qualities they look for in a mate, including good looks and financial prospects, as well as altruistic behaviour such as donating blood, climbing a tree to rescue a neighbour's cat, running fundraiser marathons and diving into a river to save a drowning victim. Altruistic acts - ones that increase the survival chances of another individual at your own expense - all ranked high with female respondents.
Researcher Tim Phillips, who works with the university's school of biology, said that although women placed more value on altruistic traits, both sexes consider them when choosing a partner.
According to evolutionary theory, people should compete, not disadvantage themselves to help others. So why would people put themselves at risk to help strangers for no gain, and why would the opposite sex find that attractive?
There are the social norms engrained in our brains - men are heroic; women are nurturing - but beyond culture, the researchers hypothesize that altruistic deeds may hint at a partner's capacity to be a good parent.
Dr. Phillips suggests that as the human brain evolved, "any accurate clues as to whether a potential mate could meet the challenges involved [in parenting]would have been at a premium - hence displays of altruism toward others."
"Genes associated with mate preference and altruistic personality could have been favoured as a result," Dr. Phillips says.
Carmen Oanes, vice-president of call centres and events for the Canadian matchmaking company Life Mates, has never had a client explicitly ask for an altruistic mate. "A woman has never communicated to me that it's very important that her partner is someone that helps others," she says.
Still, Ms. Oanes cites a recent Life Mates poll that asked members what quality they most valued in a partner. Only 13 per cent picked looks while 83 per cent chose personality: strong morals and ethics, integrity, honesty and a sense of humour. And counter to evolutionary theory, not a single Life Mate listed occupation or income as important to their choice, largely because the members are financially independent, Ms. Oanes said.