A nice guy is an informal term for an (often young) adult male who portrays himself with characteristics such as being gentle, compassionate, sensitive and vulnerable. The term is used both positively and negatively. When used positively, and particularly when used as a preference or description by someone else, it is intended to imply a male who puts the needs of others before his own, avoids confrontations, does favors, gives emotional support, tries to stay out of trouble, and generally acts nicely towards others. In the context of a relationship, it may also refer to traits of honesty, loyalty, romanticism, courtesy, and respect. When used negatively, a nice guy implies a male who is unassertive, does not express his true feelings and, in the context of dating (in which the term is often used), uses acts of friendship and basic social etiquette with the unstated aim of progressing to a romantic or sexual relationship.
Research on female preferences
The results of the research on romantic perception of "nice guys" are mixed and often inconsistent. Herold & Milhausen conclude: "The answer to the question 'Do nice guys finish last?' is complicated in that it is influenced both by the measurement instruments used and by subject characteristics."
Studies that explicitly use the term "nice guy" sometimes cite research that does not directly use the term, but which addresses behaviours which are often associated with disingenuous "niceness".[clarification needed]
The "nice guy" construct
One difficulty in studying the "nice guy" phenomenon is due to the ambiguity of the "nice guy" construct. Participants in studies interpret "nice guy" to mean different things.
In their qualitative analysis, Herold and Milhausen found that women associate different qualities with the "nice guy" label: "Some women offered flattering interpretations of the 'nice guy', characterizing him as committed, caring, and respectful of women. Some women, however, emphasized more negative aspects, considering the 'nice guy' to be boring, lacking confidence, and unattractive." The "jerks" were also divided into two categories, "as either confident, attractive, sexy, and exciting or as manipulative, unfaithful, disrespectful of women, and interested only in sex."[further explanation needed]
Nice guys are sometimes suggested to be overbearing or lacking in a vision and ambitions, these opinions suggest self-confidence as key point and area of improvement.
Results of research
Jensen-Campbell et al. (1995) operationalized "niceness" as prosocial behavior, which included agreeableness and altruism. They found that female attraction was a result of an interaction of both dominance and prosocial tendency. They suggest that altruism may be attractive to women when it is perceived as a form of agentic behavior.
Nice guys are usually seen as twice more attractive than men who prefer to present themselves as neutral, and eight times more attractive than the "jerks" in a dating profile. Social dominance enhances female attraction to a male who has shown in the relationship niceness, traits of kindness and warmth stated by women looking for long-term relationships, and less status and physical attractiveness.
Sprecher and Regan (2002) found kindness and warmth, expressiveness, openness and humor, as desirable traits of a long-term partner, less so social status indicators like future earning potential (wealth). Participants suggested they wanted more humor, expressiveness and warmth from their partner than is expressed with their friends.
Herold and Milhausen (1998) asked a sample of undergraduate women "You meet two men. One, John, is nice but somewhat shy. He has not had any sexual experience. The other, Mike, is attractive, a lot of fun, and has had intercourse with ten women. Both wish to date you. Whom do you choose?" 54% reported a preference for "John", 18% preferred "Mike", and the rest had no preference.
Urbaniak and Killman (2003) constructed vignettes of four hypothetical dating show contestants: "Nice Todd" vs. "Neutral Todd" vs. "Jerk Todd" vs. "Michael", who was created to be a control. "Nice Todd" described a "real man" as "in touch with his feelings", kind and attentive, non-macho, and interested in putting his partner's pleasure first. "Neutral Todd" described a "real man" as someone who "knows what he wants and knows how to get it", and who is good to the woman he loves. "Jerk Todd" described a "real man" as someone who "knows what he wants and knows how to get it", who keeps everyone else on their toes, and avoids "touch-feely" stuff. "Michael" described a "real man" as relaxed and positive. In two studies, Urbaniak and Kilmann found that women claimed to prefer "Nice Todd" over "Neutral Todd" and "Jerk Todd", relative to "Michael" even at differing levels of physical attractiveness. They also found that for purely sexual relationships, "niceness appeared relatively less influential than physical attractiveness." After acknowledging that women's preference for "niceness" could be inflated by the social desirability bias, especially due to their use of verbal scripts, they conclude that "our overall results did not favor the nice guy stereotype."
McDaniel (2005) constructed vignettes of dates with a stereotypical "nice guy" vs. a stereotypical "fun/sexy guy", and attempted to make them both sound positive. Participants reported a greater likelihood of wanting a second date with the "nice guy" rather than with the "fun/sexy guy".
Barclay (2010) found, that when all other factors are held constant, guys who perform generous acts are rated as being more desirable for dates and long-term relationships than non-generous guys. This study used a series of matched descriptions where each male was presented in a generous or a control version which differed only whether the man tended to help others. The author suggests that niceness itself is desirable to women, but tends to be used by men who are less attractive in other domains, and this is what creates the appearance of "nice guys finish last".
Judge et al (2011) concluded, that "Nice guys do not necessarily finish last, but they do finish a distant second in terms of earnings ... yet, seen from the perspective of gender equity, even the nice guys seem to be making out quite well relative to either agreeable or disagreeable women".
These[which?] studies also cite other research on heterosexual attraction that does not mention the "nice guy" term. They interpret various studies on female attraction to various traits in men (e.g., dominance, agreeableness, physical attractiveness, wealth, etc.) and on the sexual success of men with different personality traits, to shed light on the "nice guy" phenomenon.
Sadalla, Kenrick, and Vershure (1985) found, that women were sexually attracted to dominance in men (though dominance did not make men likable to women), and that dominance in women had no effect on men.
Bogaert and Fisher (1995) studied the relationships between the personalities of university men and their number of sexual partners. They found a correlation between a man's number of sexual partners, and the traits of sensation-seeking, hypermasculinity, physical attractiveness, and testosterone levels. They also discovered a correlation between maximum monthly number of partners, and the traits of dominance and psychoticism. Bogaert and Fisher suggest that an underlying construct labelled "disinhibition" could be used to explain most of these differences. They suggest that disinhibition would correlate negatively with "agreeableness" and "conscientiousness" from the Big Five personality model.
A number of viewpoints have arisen in popular culture that revolve around the concept of the "nice guy", irrespective of the preceding research.
The "nice guys finish last" view
A common aphorism is that "nice guys finish last." The phrase is based on a quote by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Leo Durocher in 1946, which was then condensed by journalists. The original quote by Durocher, referring to the Dodgers' bitter rivals, the New York Giants, was, "The nice guys are all over there, in seventh place." (1946 July 6), about the 1946 New York Giants – seventh place was actually second-to-last place in the National League; many variants appear in later works, including Durocher's autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last. The Giants would finish the 1946 season in the National League cellar, while Durocher's Dodgers would end up in second place.
Though this is the origin of the phrase, Durocher's remark was specific to the context of baseball, and indeed to the context of that set of players, rather than intended as generally applicable to male/female relationship dynamics or in any other context and his allegation of a cause-and-effect relationship between being nice and finishing last was at most merely implicit – it can also be interpreted as "Nice guys, but they will finish last", rather than "all nice guys finish last".
Simplistically, the term "nice guy" could be an adjectival phrase describing what appears to be a friendly, kind, or courteous man. The "nice guys finish last" phrase is also said to be coined by American biologist Garrett Hardin to sum up the selfish gene theory of life and evolution. This was disputed by Richard Dawkins, who wrote the book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins was misinterpreted by many as confirming the "nice guy finishing last" view, but refuted the claims in the BBC documentary Nice Guys Finish First.
The "nice guys finish last" view is that there is a discrepancy between women's stated preferences and their actual choices in men. In other words, women say that they want nice guys, but really go for men who are "jerks" or "bad boys" in the end. Stephan Desrochers claims, in a 1995 article in the journal Sex Roles, that many "sensitive" men, based on personal experience, do not believe women actually want "nice guys".
According to McDaniel, popular culture and dating advice: "...suggest that women claim they want a 'nice guy' because they believe that is what is expected of them when, in reality, they want the so-called 'challenge' that comes with dating a not-so-nice guy."
Urbaniak & Kilmann write that:
"Although women often portray themselves as wanting to date kind, sensitive, and emotionally expressive men, the nice guy stereotype contends that, when actually presented with a choice between such a 'nice guy' and an unkind, insensitive, emotionally-closed, 'macho man' or 'jerk,' they invariably reject the nice guy in favor of his 'so-called' macho competitor."
Another perspective is that women do want "nice guys," at least when they are looking for a romantic relationship. Desrochers (1995) suggests that "it still seems popular to believe that women in contemporary America prefer men who are 'sensitive,' or have feminine personality traits." Women have differing opinions about whether "nice guys finish last" sexually or not.
Herold and Milhausen found that 56% of 165 university women claimed to agree with the statement: "You may have heard the expression, 'Nice guys finish last.' In terms of dating, and sex, do you think women are less likely to have sex with men who are 'nice' than men who are 'not nice'?" A third view is that while "nice guys" may not be as successful at attracting women sexually, they may be sought after by women looking for long-term romantic relationships (however, "nice guys need not lose all hope, with studies showing that while women like 'bad boys' for flings, they tend to settle down with more caring types" – the "bad boys" tending to exhibit the dark triad, i.e., "the self-obsession of narcissism, the impulsive, thrill-seeking and callous behaviour of the psychopath and the deceitful and exploitative nature of Machiavellianism". It is a possibility that women leave to escape their circumstances of abuse, disease or pregnancy to seek a chance with the nice guy (they rejected previously), afterwards.
Herold and Milhausen claim: "While 'nice guys' may not be competitive in terms of numbers of sexual partners, they tend to be more successful with respect to longer-term, committed relationships."
Another study indicates that "for brief affairs, women tend to prefer a dominating, powerful and promiscuous man." Further evidence appears in a 2005 study in Prague: "Since women can always get a man for a one-night stand, they gain an advantage if they find partners for child-rearing."
"Nice Guy" syndrome
The terms "Nice Guy" and "nice guy syndrome" can be used to describe a man who views himself as a prototypical "nice guy," but whose "nice deeds" are deemed to be solely motivated by a desire to court women. From said courting, the 'nice guy' may hope to form a romantic relationship or may be motivated by a simple desire to increase his sexual activity. The results of failure are often resentment toward women and/or society. The 'nice guy' is commonly said to be put by women "into the friend zone" who do not reciprocate his romantic or sexual interest. Third wave feminist interpretations tend to see this resentment as being based upon an assumption by men that they are entitled to sex and are therefore confused when they find that it is not forthcoming despite their supposed 'niceness'. More male orientated interpretations claim that the resentment is down to the fact that society, and the vast majority of people in spoken conversation, claim to be attracted to traits such as honesty, integrity and kindness, when in reality more superficial considerations trigger attraction. According to this interpretation people who display wealth, good looks, dominance and confidence tend to succeed more in romance than do 'nice guys'. Nice guys are therefore resentful at the inconsistency between what people claim to be attracted to and by how they act in reality.
In early 2002, the web site Heartless Bitches International (HBI) published several "rants" on the concept of the Nice Guy. The central theme was that a genuinely nice male is desirable, but that many Nice Guys are insecure men unwilling to articulate their romantic or sexual feelings directly. Instead, they choose to present themselves as their paramour's friend, and hang around, doing nice things for her in hopes that she will pick up on their desire for her. If she fails to read their secret feelings, Nice Guys become embittered and blame her for taking advantage of them and their niceness. The site is particularly critical of what they see as hypocrisy and manipulation on the part of self-professed Nice Guys.
According to journalist Paris Martineau, the extremely misogynistic incel and red pill movements (part of the anti-feminist manosphere) recruit depressed, frustrated men – who may suffer from "Nice Guy syndrome" – into the alt-right.
- Bad boy archetype
- Ben Franklin effect
- Beta male (slang)
- Big Five personality traits
- Friend zone
- Herbivore men
- Neckbeard (slang)
- Nice Jewish boy
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