A nice guy is an informal term for an (often young) adult male who portrays himself as gentle, compassionate, sensitive and/or 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 ostensible friendship 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 that "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 that are often associated with "niceness."
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."
Researchers have therefore operationalized the "nice guy" and "jerk" constructs in different ways, some of which are outlined below.
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.
- 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" over "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."
- A study at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces (2008) showed that "nice guys" report to have significantly fewer sexual partners than "bad boys."
- 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 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.
- Botwin, Buss and Shackelford (1997) found that women had a higher preference for surgency and dominance in their mates than men did, in a study of dating couples and newlyweds.
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" having "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 that "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 towards 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 bamboozled 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 website 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.
The disease to please
A condition very similar to the "nice guy syndrome" was described by Harriet Braiker in her 2001 book The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome. Like the "nice guy," the "people-pleaser" will suppress their own needs in order to satisfy the perceived needs of others. However, while the nice guy syndrome was clearly elaborated as a men-specific problem, the "disease to please" focuses more on women who can have very similar behavior patterns.
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- Glover, Dr. Robert, http://nomoremrniceguy.com
- Blomquist, Daniel (2 April 2014). "When nice guys are sexist with a smile". Berkeley Beacon. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
- Dasgupta, Rivu. "The Friend Zone is Sexist". The Maneater. Retrieved 1 November 2014.
- Herold and Milhausen, 1998
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- "Why Nice Guys Finish Last". ABC News. 19 June 2008.
- Inman, Mason (18 June 2008). "Bad guys really do get the most girls". New Scientist.
- Barclay, P. 2010. Altruism as a courtship display: some effects of third-party generosity on audience perceptions. British Journal of Psychology, 101, 123-135.
- Judge, Timothy A.; Livingston, Beth A.; Hurst, Charlice, "Do nice guys—and gals—really finish last? The joint effects of sex and agreeableness on income", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 28 November 2011 (abstract | full text)
- Sadalla, E. K.; Kenrick, D. T.; Venshure, B. (1987). "Dominance and heterosexual attraction". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 52 (4): 730–738. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2060.
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- Botwin, M. D.; Buss, D. M.; Shackelford, T. K. (1997). "Personality and mate preferences: Five factors in mate selection and marital satisfaction". Journal of Personality. 65 (1): 107–136. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1997.tb00531.x. PMID 9143146.
- The Yale Book of Quotations, Fred R. Shapiro, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 221
- N.Y. Journal American, 1946 July 7
- Boller, Jr., Paul F.; George, John (1989). They Never Said It: A Book of Fake Quotes, Misquotes, and Misleading Attributions. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505541-1.
- Nice Guys Finish Last, by Leo Durocher, with Ed Linn, Simon & Schuster, 1975, renders it as "Take a look at them. All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys – finish last."
- Desrochers, Stephan (1995). "What types of men are most attractive and most repulsive to women". Sex Roles. 32 (5–6): 375–391. doi:10.1007/BF01544603.
- Herold, Edward S.; Milhausen, Robin R. (1999). "Dating preferences of university women: an analysis of the nice guy stereotype.". Journal of sex & marital therapy. 25 (4): 333–343. doi:10.1080/00926239908404010. ISSN 0092-623X.
- MacRae, Fiona (31 December 2010). "Revealed, dark side of the gentler sex: Women are 'volatile' (but men are arrogant)". Daily Mail. London.
- Reynolds, Matt (7 August 2005). "Why women cheat / Birds stray the nest and so do many of our human females". The San Francisco Chronicle.
- Nice Guys Finish Last?
- What romantic comedies can teach us about ourselves
- Regarding ‘Nice Guys’ and ‘Why Women Only Date Jerks’- A Critique of a Masculine Victim-Cult
- Whittaker, Jason (2004). The cyberspace handbook. Routledge. pp. 186–187. ISBN 0-415-16835-X. Retrieved 2009-11-21.
- HBI – Why "Nice Guys" are often such LOSERS
- HBI – Nice guys we can do without
- Harriet B. Braiker: The Disease to Please: Curing the People-Pleasing Syndrome. McGraw-Hill, ISBN 0-07-138564-9