Wednesday, January 20, 2016

No surprise: For the long haul, study says, women prefer altruism to hunkiness

The online edition of The Week refers to a study that answers the age-old question of what women look for in men they want to be with for life:
"Individuals who displayed high levels of altruism were rated significantly more desirable overall," the researchers write. While the self-absorbed guys were viewed as more attractive candidates for a one-night stand — suggesting a night with a "bad boy" retains its short-term appeal — altruistic guys were rated as "more desirable for long-term relationships."
In the study, 202 women were shown a series of photographs of two men--one hunky, the other not so much.

For each set of two pictures, scenarios described the varied reactions of the two men in question, one of which was selfish and the other altruistic or caring.

Researchers "mixed their pitches," sometimes ascribing altruism to hunks, other times to the plain men, sometimes to both, and at other times to neither. In this way, they controlled for finding how appealing altruism really was the women in the study.

One scenario particularly caught my attention:
"Two people are walking through a busy town, and notice a homeless person sitting near a cafe. Person E decides to go into the cafe to buy a sandwich and a cup of tea to give to the homeless person outside. Person F pretends to use his mobile phone and walks straight past the homeless person."
This little vignette reminds me of Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan in which two religious figures pass on the opposite side of a road from a man who has been badly beaten by thieves.

But the hero of Jesus' story, Mr. Altruistic, the man who proves to be the neighbor to this unknown man, walks toward the man, not away from hims, and then puts salves on his wounds, then takes him to an inn where he tells the innkeeper to track his expenses for the care of the injured man until he comes back to settle accounts.

Jesus told this story in response to a man trying to limit the definition of his neighbor. (He wants to make sure that with some people, like people who don't look like him or live in his own neighborhood, it's cool to like Person F above, able to keep doing what he wants to do, other people damned.)

But, through the parable, Jesus is teaching him (and us) that, in the eyes of God, our neighbor is any person whose need comes to our attention.

Altruism, in fact, is woven in as part of Jesus' Great Commandment, in which He says that all of God's moral laws--seen in the Ten Commandments--can be boiled down to summaries that come to us from the Old Testament: to love God completely and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Altruism toward our neighbors, including being charitable in the words we say about them to others, is meant to be the behavior of spiritual superstars, but of every human being.

Now you may have noticed something about human nature, if not about your own nature: Altruism doesn't come naturally to us, selfishness does.

That's exactly why God had to give His moral law. With it, we understand what it is to be fully human made in the image of God. But we also understand how most often we fail to be fully human by being altruistic.

And that's why God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, bore our sins--our selfishness and self-centeredness--on the cross, taking the punishment of death we deserve and then rose from the dead to give forgiveness and eternal life and, for this life, the power of the Holy Spirit working within us to help us to repent, be made new, and to seek each day in that power to be altruistic, to be fully human.

Altruism is a trait none of us fully reaches in this life. That's why people like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr., Christians who struggled in the name of Christ and in the power of the Spirit to not be "in it for themselves," who strove and often failed to be the altruists God meant human beings to be, yet knew to return repeatedly to God in Christ's name to repent for their failures to love, to seek forgiveness, and to receive power to try to live love, the pure selfless love demonstrated on the cross, again today.

Altruism is a trait God wants to build up in us as we live in an ever-deepening relationship with Christ.

And, young men wondering why you find it hard to establish long-term relationships with women, it turns out that while women may like a jerk for a while--most people, women and men alike, are prone at young ages to want to take a walk on the wild side.

But, in the end young men, what women really want are men who have the strength of character to unselfishly care about others more than they care about themselves.

For marriage, the study suggests, women choose altruism over hunkiness. Of course they do, no surprise there: In men who can, at least occasionally, rise to the level of altruism, they get a glimpse of what God made we human beings to be like. And that's attractive!

[The story in The Week distills a lengthier discussion of the study found in Evolutionary Psychology and distilled in Pacific Standard.]

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