Men are often advised to stand out from the crowd to attract women—there can be only one alpha male. Women, on the other hand, are told not to be too weird. This advice has sunk in: a 2006 study found that when in a mating mind-set, men become less conformist and women become more so. A paper in the June issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, however, reports that we have it all wrong.
In the new work, which studied subjects who identified as either heterosexual or bisexual, both women and men preferred nonconformist partners—those whose clothes, opinions or life decisions broke the norm—when selecting from online dating profiles, describing ideal partners or picturing dates with people they had just met. Men showed just as much interest as women in oddballs (and in one experiment, in fact more interest), even though subjects predicted women would like misfits more. Further, independent-minded people—in the U.S., the U.K. and India—reported more success in both short- and long-term dating. Other research has shown breaking rules to be a good indicator of status and power, which may explain part of its appeal for both sexes, but gender role expectations have yet to catch up.
“The old-fashioned gender stereotype—that men go for conformist, submissive women—has been slow to die,” says lead author Matthew Hornsey, a social psychologist at the University of Queensland in Australia. “I'm intrigued by the notion of the ‘girls' night out’ and how many women feel as though they can be more unguarded without men around—more relaxed, more crass, more honest, more funny. And I keep thinking, ‘Why are you keeping this good stuff to yourselves? Men would love it!’”