Theories behind "nice guys finish last"

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The stereotypical "nice guy" might appear to be a strictly social or cultural construct, but there is actually quite a bit of science behind the claim that they "finish last." Research on the topic ranges from studies of what women want; general perceptions of "nice guys"; and how "nice guys" shape up compared to proverbial studs and "real men"; all of these areas can be at least partially explained theoretically.

While society and culture are certainly vital to determining the validity and effect of the "nice guy" stereotype and how it was generated, biological and sociobiological theories are also worth considering. The biological theory maintains that biological characteristics between sexes shape gender differences (Wood, 39). An example of this can be found in a study of the links between the personalities of college males and the number of their sexual partners. A correlation was found between the amount of partners and the characteristics "sensation-seeking," hypermasculinity, physical attractiveness, and testosterone levels (Bogaert, 119). A link was also found between monthly number of partners, and dominance and psychoticism.

The role of sociobiology may explain female preferences for qualities in male partners by identifying which better indicate fitness and reproductive success. According to a study of dating and married couples and their preferences for ideal personality characteristics in mates, both women and men said they wanted a mate "who is kind, understanding, dependable, sociable, stable, and intelligent" (Botwin, 108). In the study, both sexes considered there to be a link between "agreeableness" and "commitment proclivities," and in order to secure a long-term mate, they sought others who were willing to cooperate and reciprocate (109). As evolutionary psychology would predict, women in the study selected men based in part on ability and willingness to provide for family, primarily offspring. The same study found that "[b]ecause men's resources are often closely connected with position in dominance hierarchies, women were predicted to place greater value on personality characteristics that lead to social ascendance and resource acquisition" (109-110). Thus, women indicated a preference for characteristics such as surgency and dominance in mates.

At the same time, altruistic, prosocial behaviors have consistently appeared in individuals who have proven successful professionally. Researcher and consultant Roslyn Courtney found that contemporary business leaders share certain altruistic characteristics, and that "‘the ones who are the most successful are down-to-earth and approachable'" (Marquez). John Montgomery, founder of Bridgeway Capital Management, donates half of the management firm's profits to charity because life "should be about relationships" (Braham). It may also be important to note that, as of 2001, it was very important to 46 percent of the public that a company shows a high degree of social responsibility when they decide to purchase (Dawkins).

Nice guys finish last? Not with me!

Works Cited

Bogaert, A. F., and W. A. Fisher. "Predictors of university men's number of sexual partners." Journal of Sex Research 32. (1995): 119-130.

Botwin, M. D., David M. Buss, and Todd K. Shackelford. "Personality and mate preferences: Five factors in mate selection and marital satisfaction." Journal of Personality 65:1 (March 1997): 107-136. Academic Search Elite. Gale. CSU San Luis Obispo. 19 Oct. 2008.

Braham, Lewis. "Who Says Nice Guys Finish Last? Fund manager John Montgomery cares about his shareholders, and it shows." Business Week 3837 (June 16, 2003): 90. Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. CSU San Luis Obispo. 18 Oct. 2008

Dawkins, Jenny. "The Public's Views of Corporate Responsibility 2003." MORI Research. Feb 2004. 19 Oct 2008.

Holcomb, Harmon, and Jason Byron. "Sociobiology." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 21 Nov 2005. 18 Oct 2008.

Kurzban, Ray. "Evolutionary Psychology." Scholarpedia 2.8: 3161.

Marquez, Jessica. "Leading Indicators; Think nice guys--and gals--finish last?" Workforce Management 84.7 (July 1, 2005): 49. Expanded Academic ASAP. Gale. CSU San Luis Obispo. 18 Oct. 2008

Wood, Julia. Gendered Lives. 7th ed.

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Comments 13 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 8 years ago from The Ozarks

Glassvisage, a very interesting read, as usual. I'm not sure researchers have done a good job of defining "nice guy" in this context. A person could donate to charity and still be unfair to the people he works with. Some people see donating to charity as a kind of social marker of wealth.


Shadesbreath profile image

Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

Interesting hub, and I am with you and viewing these things through an anthropological/clinical lens sometimes.

I think it still breaks down to the old Type A, Type B personality types. Type A's back in monkey times ran around spreading their seed with abandon, thus guaranteeing reproductive success through essentially a shotgun effect, raw numbers.  Type B's (nice guys) (nice monkey-men?) ensured their reproductive success by investing time in one mate and set of offspring, bringing their genetic material forward through attention rather than wide dispersment. 

Since both techniques worked, both personality traits (in all its mixed up variations now) survived.  The girl monkeys have probably had to deal with these same issues the whole time.

(P.S. Aya, I know they weren't really "monkeys" but it's a funny word and takes the academic edge off :)


Rob Jundt profile image

Rob Jundt 8 years ago from Midwest USA

Good hub, and Shadesbreath, that's a great comment. You need to write a book somewhere in the vein of Dave Barry. LOL.

Seriously now. I consider myself a nice guy. And I've always finished first (or at least outran the nearest not-so-nice guy).

Finishing first, or last, depends on one's definition of those words. Some people feel they're first (with the competition laughing in unison). And others feel the same (while those around them cautiously shake their heads).


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California Author

Thank you for commenting, everyone! Aya, I did read a bit about "the nice-guy construct" and how the meaning of the term differs by study and society. I'm not sure I can precisely define what kind of nice guy I refer to in this Hub because so many of the studies I referenced had their own definitions.

Shades, I agree that it really comes down to two groups, and you summarized them well!

And Rob, I agree.. Shades DOES remind me of Barry :D


tomisin 8 years ago

i quite agree with it a very nice article but i want u to know it the way u handle it that determines how it finishes be it first or last.guess giving definition to it matters alot thanks a lot for sharin ur mind


Steve Orris profile image

Steve Orris 7 years ago from NE Ohio

I just participated in a seminar where it was noted:

Nice guys don't finish last, they finish with integrity.

In that manner I have determined to be a nice guy.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California Author

Well stated, Steve :) Thanks tomisin!


izettl profile image

izettl 7 years ago from The Great Northwest

I believe nice guys finish last, but at least they finish and usually end up marrying the girl. ON the other hand bad boys eventually lose their good looks and their persona gets old and eventually lose many of their friends too as they've matured and moved on.


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California Author

Haha, good call, izettl. I find that it's usually best to end up with the good guy because even if they lose their looks, at least they're still nice :)


Cheeky Girl profile image

Cheeky Girl 7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

This is interesting. Girls tend to go for the badder guys some times and the guy who is more of the alpha male. So do nice girls come last, me wonders?


christalluna1124 profile image

christalluna1124 6 years ago from Dallas Texas

Glass, A very interesting article. I really think it is true that nice guys do finish last. it seems we women say we want a nice guy but in time he may become boring and we seek out the bad boy. The one who treats us like trash, abuses us and we still go back for more. Kinda stupid. i once had the best nice guy in the world and I let him go tochase the bad and cute. it is a decision I regret and am working on to mend. Beware, don't make the same mistake.

Warmest regards,

chris


glassvisage profile image

glassvisage 6 years ago from Northern California Author

True dat, christa!


SanXuary 5 years ago

We live in a very evil World and a lot of people tend to be evil. The reason nice guys finish last is because they know the difference and choose good over evil. It may be that the World is far more evil today then in the past and this is a modern problem in terms of a greater propensity that life seems to reward evil. I have seen commentary on this subject telling good people to do evil in order to get ahead at a job etc. Never did the article care about the soul of the individuals or a concept of Heaven.

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