No doubt about it, scientists do amazing things. But sometimes people in white coats emerge from the labs, proud and exhausted with conclusions that are so painfully obvious (Beautiful people have more romantic options! Confident people are more attractive!) that it makes us wonder why they even bothered. So why do they? “We can’t assume the obvious, because sometimes what we believe to be fact is colored by our social experience and expectation,” says Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of The Secrets of Happily Married Women. “A century ago, it was ‘fact’ that women couldn’t be expected to be intelligent enough to vote, and that women who were pregnant needed to avoid any heavy exercise. It is ‘obvious’ that chocolate is bad, or that wine is bad. Newer studies show there are health benefits. Until we test out what we ‘know’ is true, then we are just perpetuating stereotypes. Scientists need to re-do studies, because almost always, there are methodological problems in previous studies. One interesting study that showed women were more likely to describe themselves as ‘feelers’ rather than being mechanistically inclined showed [that] the difference disappeared if you didn’t ask the person to identify themselves by sex at the beginning of the study,” explains Haltzman.
The fact is, so-called “obvious research” offers insights about dating and relationships that we need in order to make informed decisions about our own love lives. And people are fascinated by the results even if they could have predicted them as common-sense outcomes, says Haltzman: “People are drawn to reading about and hearing about these studies because humans are social animals, and on an unconscious level, we are constantly trying to make sense of social cues to improve our own standing among our peers. A guy may guess that when a woman strokes a beer bottle and gazes downward she’s interested in him, but it helps to have the scientific proof to back it up!”
Here are the most common dating clichés that actually bear some truth.
Cliché #1: Hooking up on a first date probably won’t lead to love
Women hear it all the time: If you want a relationship, don’t sleep together too quickly. But is this advice simply old-fashioned — or is it legit? Most likely it’s the truth, according to a study conducted by the University College London, University of Warwick and the London School of Economics and Political Science, which found that a relationship does have a better chance of getting off the ground if a couple doesn’t become intimate on the first date. Using a mathematical model, researchers found that more “reliable” men are willing to wait longer before doing the deed. Why does holding out boost your odds of landing a relationship? Researchers say that the early stages of courtship allow women to gather information that helps them assess a man’s romantic potential to ensure that he’s worth sleeping with before doing so.
Cliché #2: Beautiful women expect men to pay for their dinner on dates, and men are happy to offer
It pays to be pretty! Psychologists from St. Andrews University in Scotland found that men are more likely to pay on a date if find the woman to be quite attractive. According to the study, that’s because men believe if they invest their resources and prove they have the potential to be good providers, it increases their chances of securing a second date. Not that the ladies mind, either — the researchers found that women who consider themselves to be physically attractive expected their dates to shell out for dates.
Cliché #3: Men enjoy casual flings more than women do
Samantha Jones might have had her share of one-night stands and meaningless encounters, but the average woman just isn’t into that… at least, not according to findings published in the journal, Human Nature. Why? Evolutionarily speaking, women bear the brunt of child-rearing, so it’s important for them to enter relationships with men who could be potential husbands — making them less likely to hook up with just anyone. When the study’s researchers at Durham University in the UK asked almost 2,000 men and women to talk about their feelings after partaking in a one-night stand, 80 percent of the male participants had positive feelings about their night of passion, saying they secretly wanted their friends to find out about their escapades. Only slightly more than half of the women surveyed echoed those positive feelings (54 percent). In fact, the female participants were more likely to say that they had “let themselves down” and were worried about damaging their reputation, saying they found the experience less sexually satisfying than the men did. Another study conducted by researchers at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA found that when given a choice, guys opt for hooking up instead of dating and women prefer dating over a casual fling. Who knew?
Cliché #4: Men get uncomfortable when women cry in front of them
Ask any guy how he feels about crying, and he’ll probably say that there’s nothing worse than seeing a woman reduced to tears in his presence. But men aren’t exactly being insensitive jerks; rather, their discomfort with tears has biological roots. A paper published in the journal Science found that female tears actually contain odorless chemicals that physically turn men off. When researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel had 24 men aged 23-40 sniff jars containing either female tears or several drops of a salt solution, then had them rate women’s faces for sexual attractiveness, 71 percent of the subjects who sniffed the female tears found the women to be less attractive. What’s more, men who took a whiff of the jar containing human tears showed reduced levels of arousal, a slower breathing rate, and lower levels of the male hormone, testosterone (which could explain why shedding a few tears around a man will make him agree to anything, as long as you stop).
Cliché #5: Bad boys are especially sexy
Sean Penn, Colin Farrell, and Chris Brown: three men most of us might think are indisputably hot, but as luck would have it, scientists still wanted to prove the allure of these bad boys. Researchers at the University of British Columbia found that guys who look moody or sullen are more attractive than men who smile, according to a studypublished in The American Psychological Association journal, Emotion. The reason: A man with a don’t-come-near-me face conveys that he’s strong and valuable — two traits that women traditionally look for in a man.
Cliché #6: Men prefer younger women; women prefer rich men
Donald Trump and Melania Knauss, Kelsey Grammer and Kayte Walsh, Hugh Hefner and… well, anyone may look ridiculous walking down the street together, but these unlikely pairings can be explained with science.Research published in the journal Biology Letters found that men prefer younger women because they’re very fertile, upping their odds of producing lots of healthy offspring. Psychologists at the University of Turku in Finlandfound that men who marry women 14.6 years younger than themselves have the highest number of healthy babies. Likewise, women prefer older, wealthier men due to their status in society, plentiful resources, and ability to provide for their offspring.
Elise Nersesian has written for Redbook, Stuff and other national magazines.