Women Like Cads for Sex, Dads for Mating

Cads Win for Short-term Flings, Dads for Long-term Relationships

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on October 24, 2003
From the WebMD Archives

Oct. 24, 2003 -- When women think of "Mr. Right" it's usually a kind, compassionate, and moral man who reminds them of dad. But when it comes to picking "Mr. Right Now," it's the devilish cads that win out, hands down.

A new study shows once again what romance novelists have written about for centuries: women prefer bad boys for flings and good guys for long-term relationships.

Researchers tested this evolutionary mating theory on a group of female undergraduates by using classic dad and cad prototypes drawn from British romance novels and asking them to pick which type they'd rather be with.

Not surprisingly, they found women's tendency to pick cads over dads increased as the length of the hypothetical relationship decreased.

"About 60% of the women said they would prefer to have sex with a cad when considering a brief affair," says researcher Daniel Kruger, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, in a news release.

Sorting the Dads From the Cads

In the study, the young women read descriptive passages of prototypical dads and cads drawn from classic British romantic novels. Waverly from Waverly by Walter Scott and Valancourt, from the Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe represented the dads, and George Staunton from The Heart of Mid-Lothian and Clement Cleveland from The Pirate by Walter Scott represented the cads.

In the passages, the dads were described as domestic, happy, peaceable, bookish, moral, gentle, compassionate, frank, and shy. The cads came off as daring, arrogant, moody, passionate, rebellious, strong, humorous, vulgar, shrewd, and slanderous.

After reading each description, researchers asked the women a series of questions, such as how much they thought they would like each character, how well they would get along with the men, and how likely they would be to have a short-term, long-term, and brief sexual relationship with each character.

To make the choices even more clear-cut, the women were also asked to choose which character they would be more likely to go on a three-week road trip, a formal date, have sexual relations with, marry, and prefer to see engaged to their 25-year-old daughter.

Bad Guys Get the Girls, Good Guys Keep Them

Overall, researchers found that the women thought they would like the dads more than the cads. But they preferred cads for a short-term relationship and dads for the long haul.

When forced to choose between a pair of dad and cad characters, the dad was the top choice for a formal date, marriage, and as a son-in-law.

But the results were mixed on the other options. When it came down to choosing who they would like to have sexual relations with or go on a road trip, the women preferred cads in one comparison, but had no clear preference in the other.

The results appear in the current issue of the journal Human Nature.

Researchers say the findings show that the dad vs. cad distinction is intuitive to women, and when given only a brief character sketch, women seem to be able to make informed dating decisions.

Show Sources

SOURCES: Kruger, D. Human Nature, 2003; vol 14: pp 305-317. News release, University of Michigan.

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