New United Kingdom research has found that when it comes to looking for love, the trait we are most attracted to is compassion.
Carried out by psychologists at the University of Nottingham, the new research involved a series of three studies. In the first, 83 heterosexual men were asked to spend money to either help someone by giving them compensation for being treated unfairly, or to punish the person who had treated them unfairly, or they could choose to do nothing.
Some of the men were “romantically primed,” which involved looking at photographs of three women, selecting the one they thought was the most attractive and then writing for up to three minutes a brief summary of their ideal date with her.
The researchers found that when men were thinking about a possible romantic relationship, they were less likely to punish and more likely to show their compassionate side by compensating the person who had been treated unfairly.
The findings from the second and third study, published in Royal Society Open Science, also showed that when 265 heterosexual women were presented with the same situation, they preferred men who compensated rather than punished.
As compensating the victim is linked to compassion, the researchers say the findings show that compassion as a trait is what we look for in a potential mate. It is a trait which they say not only brings romantic couples together but also helps to sustain caring societies and explains why we are so helpful to each other.
According to the researchers, the preference for compassion over punishment is stronger for those with a left-wing political ideology and who are empathic.
“Human society is characterized by high levels of cooperation which is hard to explain by natural selection. Sexual selection offers one explanation,” says author Eamonn Ferguson.
“If men, who are co-operative (help others or punish transgressors), are chosen by women then cooperation survives as a sexually selected trait, and our findings suggest that it is compassion rather than punishment that is favored by sexual selection,” he explained. “The preference for compassion is also favored more strongly by those with a left-wing political ideology and high empathic concern.” JB