Theories behind "nice guys finish last"
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!
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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