How attracted we are to others is based on a lot of different factors, but a recent study suggests there may be an evolutionary connection to why taking risks is an attractive behaviour. It just has to be the right kind of risk.
Photo by Tambako The Jaguar
If you think about the kinds of risks our ancestors took compared to the many risks in our modern day life, there's a pretty obvious difference. Most risks to our distant ancestors involved physical action in some way. A study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, and led by John M. Pretaitis from the University of Alaska Anchorage, compared all forms of risks that are possible in our modern world. The results pointed out two very important things:
- Taking physical risks — or as they call them Hunter-Gatherer (HG) risks — were seen as attractive actions in both males and females.
- Taking modern risks — like cheating on a test, not wearing a seat belt, or opening a potentially dangerous attachment — were seen as unattractive actions in both males and females.
For males, the rating of attractiveness from physical risks was higher than females, but any risks involving our modern culture were not classified as sexy. Pretaitis explains that it may have to do with our instinctual way to pick potential partners:
...modern humans might have positive views of behaviours today that demonstrate mastery over the HG threats that historically advertised genetic fitness to ancestral mates and rivals. By contrast, humans today might have negative views of modern risks because they have the potential for negative consequences (e.g., injury) without the potential for evolutionarily valued benefits (i.e., good genes). In short, risk might be culturally attractive and considered "cool" when it advertises evolutionary HG fitness but might be culturally unattractive and considered "stupid" when it does not advertise such fitness.
So what kind of risks can potentially make you more attractive? Biking (especially mountain biking), skateboarding, training animals (especially dangerous animals), rock climbing (especially in the outdoors), snorkelling or scuba diving, playing sports, swimming in the ocean (the deeper the better), and running a race. Any danger that relates to potential physical harm could possibly amp up your attractiveness. Taking risks isn't exactly an "evil" thing to do — and we don't necessarily condone running out and taking dangerous risks — but you may be able to make yourself look a little tougher by risking a little bodily harm.
Sex differences in the attractiveness of hunter-gatherer and modern risks [Journal of Applied Social Psychology]
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