Do-Gooders Rejoice: Study Shows Volunteering is Sexy to Potential Mates

Turns out Habitat for Humanity doesn’t just looks good on your college applications — it looks good on your online dating profile, too. Researchers from the University of Nottingham and Liverpool John Moores University in the UK have found that being altruistic makes people more attractive to potential sexual partners, both men and women.

The researchers asked their participants (32 women and 35 men, all heterosexual) to rate potential partners based on pictures randomly paired with various attributes. After adjusting for attractiveness (which sounds very scientific), they found that when people were asked to consider potential partners for a long term relationship both sexes were more favorable to those with characteristic related to selflessness, such as helping out an elderly neighbor or volunteering at a homeless shelter, as opposed to supposedly neutral traits such as food or music preferences (though last time I checked, poor music taste is pretty hard to get past).

Interestingly, when participants were asked to consider people for a short-term relationship (which may or may not be science speak for one night stand), women were still more likely to rate men with altruistic traits as more favorable, whereas men no longer seemed to care one way or the other.

The paper doesn’t offer any explanation for this discrepancy, but does speculate about the potential evolutionary mechanisms that make altruism attractive and the “potential benefits to mating with helpful people.” Could it be that we see altruistic individuals as more likely to put greater effort into child care? Or is it that being able to spend time and energy doing non-essential nice things indicates that someone is more genetically fit overall?

VoThey might be overthinking it. If given the choice between spending time with someone who’s very caring and someone who’s a jerk, the choice is pretty clear. The evolutionary biology might have something to do with it, but in the end, it might just be what sort of person we’d rather be around.

But rejoice, all you who do volunteer work! You are sexy and now you know it.