In a very interesting new study, researchers investigated the attitudes of men and women towards risk-takers. These were divided into "heroic" risk-takers, i.e., risk-takers with a practical purpose, of e.g., saving lives, vs. "non-heroic" risk-takers, e.g., playing dangerous sports. Furthermore, attitudes were assessed toward risk-taking potential mates compared to potential friends.
Both men and women liked heroic risk-takers as potential mates, and women did so more than men. Hence, heroes do get the girl. However, non-heroic risk-takers were avoided by both men and women as mates. Therefore, activities like playing dangerous sports are not generally seen as costly expressions of a strong individual, but rather as stupid.
For same sex friends, men preferred non-heroic risk takers, while women preferred non-heroic risk avoiders. Therefore, the tendency of men to take unnecessary risks may not be directed toward the opposite sex, but rather toward their own sex. However, men thought that women actually liked non-heroic risk takers, so it is quite possible that men take non-heroic risks to impress women - who are not, however, impressed.
Evolution and Human Behavior
Volume 26, Issue 2, March 2005, Pages 171-185
Attitudes toward heroic and nonheroic physical risk takers as mates and as friends
G. William Farthing
Several hypotheses about attitudes toward risk takers, derived from costly signaling theory (CST), were tested. Male and female participants evaluated the attractiveness of risk takers compared with risk avoiders as potential mates, and as potential same-sex friends, in 21 different scenarios. Both females and males preferred heroic physical risk takers as mates, with the preference being stronger for females. Contrary to predictions, for nonheroic physical risks (such as risky sports), both males and females preferred risk avoiders over risk takers as mates. However, for same-sex friends, males significantly preferred nonheroic physical risk takers, whereas females preferred risk avoiders. It was concluded that insofar as nonheroic risk taking by males is a costly signal, the signal is directed more toward fellow males than toward females. Preferences for risk takers were positively correlated with reported self risk-taking tendencies, but the correlation was significantly higher for friends than for mates for both heroic and nonheroic physical risks.
In a second study, both males and females accurately predicted the opposite sex's preferences for heroic risk takers as mates. However, males failed to predict females' preferences for nonheroic physical risk avoiders. Both males and females underestimated the opposite sex's preferences for drug risk avoiders.