This guest article from Psych Central was written by Sophia Dembling.
“Why do women like bad boys?” is the frustrated refrain of nice guys everywhere.
I don’t pretend to have the answer to that question, though I do have my own pet theory: That being “bad” requires self-confidence and that’s what women are attracted to, not the “badness” per se.
Whatever the reason, a study in press for the Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, titled “Effects of popularity and gender on peers’ perceptions of prosocial, antisocial, and jealousy-eliciting behaviors” found that even girls as young as 12 and 13 have a soft spot for bad boys.
The study, done at the University of Oklahoma, presented 190 seventh and ninth graders with photos of hypothetical same- and other-sex peers who were described as either popular, unpopular, or of neutral status. Then the participants were presented a series of vignettes starring the pretend classmate, and asked a series of questions about the person and the behavior.
Among the antisocial behaviors presented in the vignettes was substance abuse, and the study revealed that “boys especially liked their substance-using female peers, while girls especially liked their substance-using male peers.”
Not only that, but girls judged the (hypothetical) substance-abusing girls much more harshly than they did the (hypothetical) substance-abusing boys.
“Girls also rated female peers as more likely to engage in substance use than boys did, and they liked female substance-using peers considerably less than they liked male substance-using peers.”
It’s sad to see that girls judge other girls more harshly than they do boys. Perhaps girls attribute different motives to substance abusing girls than to substance abusing boys. Or maybe they think they understand bad girl behavior better than bad boy behavior and therefore feel qualified to judge it. Or maybe it’s the whole cockamamie notion of “rescuing” a troubled boy, eliciting undying gratitude and love.
Or perhaps, as the paper says, these findings ”suggest that opposite-sex peers who engage in behaviors that bridge the ‘maturity gap’ may be particularly desirable romantic partners, and thus are afforded more consideration by the other sex.”
As we get older, however, the whole “maturity” thing doesn’t hold up. In fact, the behavior of adult substance abusers is more likely to be immature; anyone serious about their drug of choice is likely to require a lot of caretaking. Which is not as fun as it sounds. Nor is it as easy to “rescue” someone as a 12-year-old might imagine.
And yet a lot of girls don’t grow out of their bad-boy phase, and that can lead to an awful lot of drama.
Perhaps any woman with a soft spot for a bad boy should try imagining him as a woman. Would you find the behavior as attractive if he were a she?