Whether you’re simply looking for a date or hoping to find something that lasts, you could benefit from the decades of psychological research on the qualities that women find most attractive in a male partner.
We’ve rounded up some of the most compelling scientific insights, so you can step up your game.
Look for the universal signals of flirtation.
Rutgers University anthropologist and best-selling author Helen E. Fisher says that from the depth of the Amazons to the cafés of Paris, women signal interest with a remarkably similar sequence of expressions.
As she shared at Psychology Today, it goes like this:
First the woman smiles at her admirer and lifts her eyebrows in a swift, jerky motion as she opens her eyes wide to gaze at him. Then she drops her eyelids, tilts her head down and to the side, and looks away. Frequently she also covers her face with her hands, giggling nervously as she retreats behind her palms.
This sequential flirting gesture is so distinctive that [German ethologist Irenaus] Eibl-Eibesfeldt was convinced it is innate, a human female courtship ploy that evolved eons ago to signal sexual interest.
Look for someone “in your league.”
Men — and women — are attracted to people who are as attractive as they are.
In one study, for example, researchers at the University of California at Berkeley looked at the behavior of 60 male and 60 female users on an online dating site. While the majority of users were inclined to reach out to highly attractive people, they were most likely to get a response if that person was about as attractive as they were (as judged by independent raters).
“If you go for someone roughly [equal] to you in attractiveness, it avoids two things,” Nottingham Trent University psychologist Mark Sergeant, who was not involved with the study, tells The Independent. “If they are much better-looking than you, you are worried about them going off and having affairs. If they are much less attractive, you are worried that you could do better.”
Present yourself as high status.
In 1969, University of North Carolina sociologist Glen Elder found that looks and wealth tend to find one another — namely, good-looking women tended to settle down with less attractive but wealthier men.
Since then, it’s become a well-confirmed finding in the social sciences.
Most recently, a 2010 study found that men pictured with a Silver Bentley Continental GT were perceived as way more attractive than those pictures with a Red Ford Fiesta ST, and a 2014 study found that men pictured in a luxury apartment were rated more attractive than those in a control group.
Why the attraction to resources? Evolutionary psychologists speculate it’s because women want a mate who can provide for them.
Psychologists call it the “George Clooney Effect.”
As a 2010 study of 3,770 people suggested, women often prefer older men. As the women become more financially independent, they say they like older guys even more.
“We think this suggests greater financial independence gives women more confidence in partner choices, and attracts them to powerful, attractive older men,” lead author and University of Dundee psychologist Fhionna Moore said in a statement.
Evolutionary psychologists say that younger women and older men often pair up because while fertility only lasts from puberty to menopause in women, it starts at puberty and can extend long into midlife for many men — and they have a greater opportunity to accumulate status and resources.
Grow a light beard.
While some claim that the beard trend is over, the research says it’s not.
In a 2013 Australian study, researchers had 177 men and 351 women look at images of 10 men in one of four conditions: clean-shaven, light stubble, heavy stubble, or full beard. Participants rated the men pictured on several traits, including attractiveness.
Results showed that women say the most attractive beard length is heavy stubble, which comes after about 10 days of growth.
“Facial hair correlates not only with maturity and masculinity, but also with dominance and aggression,” write authors Barnaby J. Dixson and Robert C. Brooks.
“An intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive,” they added.
It only takes a bit of maintenance to keep that 10-day beard all the time.
Build muscle (but not too much).
In a 2007 University of California at Los Angeles study, 286 women looked at pictures of shirtless men and indicated which ones seemed like they would make the best long- and short-term partners.
Results showed that women were more likely to want short-term relationships with the guys who had big muscles.
The evolutionary signal at work here?
Sexual characteristics like muscularity are “cues of genes that increase offspring viability or reproductive success,” say authors David A. Frederick and Martie G. Haselton.
But Frederick and Haselton took away another telling finding: Less-muscular men were thought to be a better fit for long-term relationships. So if you want to catch a woman’s eye and hold her attention, you may be better off building some muscle but not going overboard.
One of the most robust findings in psychology is the halo effect, a bias where you unconsciously take one aspect of somebody as a proxy for their overall character. It’s why we think beautiful people are good at their jobs, even when they aren’t necessarily.
But as psychologist and writer Scott Barry Kaufman at Greater Good notes, the halo effect works in other ways too.
In a 2014 Chinese study, more than 100 young men and women looked at images of other men and women’s faces and rated them on attractiveness. Each face pictured was paired with a word that described either a positive personality trait — like kindness or honesty — or a negative personality trait — like being evil or mean.
Results showed that the people described with positive traits were rated more attractive.
“Even though beauty is an assessment of fitness value, there is no reason why assessment of fitness needs to be purely physical,” Kaufman writes, meaning that acting kind makes you look like you’d be a stable, worthwhile mate.
A 2010 cross-cultural study — with participants from China, England, Germany, and the US — found that women are most attracted to men wearing red.
In one experiment featured in the study, 21 female undergrads looked at a black-and-white picture of a man against either a red or white background, and then rated the man’s attractiveness.
Sure enough, the man was rated significantly more attractive when he was pictured against the red background. The results were similar when researchers compared the red background to other color backgrounds as well.
Red has been a symbol of status since at least the Roman times, when the most powerful men were called coccinati, the ones who wear red. Wearing red may work for women, too.
Make your partner laugh.
Multiple studies indicate that women are more attracted to men who can make them laugh.
In one small study, a man told a joke to two friends at a bar while a woman sat at a nearby table. Then that man was instructed to approach the woman and ask for her number. In another condition, the man who asked the woman for her number was one of the men who had listened to the joke without telling one. (These scenarios were repeated about 60 times total.)
After the man left, an experimenter approached the woman and asked her to rate the man on attractiveness and intelligence and to indicate how much she would want to date the man long-term.
Results showed that the guy was three times as likely to get the woman’s number when he’d told a joke. Plus he was rated more attractive and intelligent.
Walk a dog.
In a 2014 experiment, 100 Israeli women read vignettes about men. Some of the men were described as “cads”: They would cheat on their partner and get into fights. The other men were described as stereotypical “dads”: They would work hard at their job and take good care of their kids.
Whenever the story featured a cad who owned a dog, women rated that man as a more suitable long-term partner than a cad who didn’t own a dog. Cads with dogs were even rated slightly more attractive than dads with dogs.
The researchers concluded that owning a pet signals that you’re nurturing and capable of making long-term commitments. It can also help you appear more relaxed, approachable, and happy.
Not into pet ownership? The good news is simply being seen with a dog can make you seem more dateable. In one 2008 study, a 20-year-old man approached hundreds of women and asked for their phone numbers. When he had a dog with him, he was much more likely to score their digits.
Play more music
In a 2014 study, researchers asked about 1,500 women (whose average age was 28) to listen to simple and complex pieces of music and rate the attractiveness of the composer.
The results showed that women preferred the more complex music, and said they would choose the composer of the more complex music as a long-term partner.
If you’re not musically inclined, simply holding an instrument could help you score a date. A 2014 study found that men who approached 300 women and asked for their number were more successful when they carried a guitar case, as opposed to a gym bag or nothing at all.
Australian researchers recently studied undergrads participating in a speed-dating session, and found that mindful men tended to receive higher attractiveness ratings from women.
Before the session began, 91 students were asked to fill out a mindfulness questionnaire in which they indicated how much they agreed with statements like, “I perceive my feelings and emotions without having to react to them.”
After each interaction with an opposite-sex partner, students privately indicated how “sexy” they found their partner and how much they’d like to date that person.
Results showed that men were generally more drawn to physically attractive women. (Independent coders had rated the students’ attractiveness beforehand.) But women were generally more attracted to mindful men.
Play extreme sports (carefully).
A 2014 study led by researchers at the University of Alaska at Anchorage found that women are attracted to men who take what the researchers call “hunter-gatherer risks.”
More than 200 undergrads filled out questionnaires about how attractive they would find a partner who engaged in certain risky behaviors, as opposed to a partner who engaged in low- or no-risk behaviors.
Hunter-gatherer risks included mountain biking, deep-sea scuba diving, and extreme rollerblading. “Modern” risks included plagiarizing an academic paper, casually handling chemicals in a lab, and not updating the virus-protection software on your computer.
Low- and no-risk behaviors included biking along paved paths and carefully handling chemicals in a chemistry-lab class.
Results showed that women said they would be more attracted to men who engaged in hunter-gatherer risks — the kinds that were similar to risks faced by ancestral humans. Women said they would be less attracted to men who engaged in modern risks, which might seem just plain dumb.
Wear a scented deodorant.
Simply knowing that you’re wearing a new fragrance can make you act more confident, and even make you seem more attractive to other people.
In a 2009 study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science, researchers gave one group of male undergraduates a spray with antimicrobial ingredients and fragrance oil and another group an unscented spray without antimicrobial ingredients. Over the next few days, the men who used the scented spray reported higher self-confidence and felt more attractive.
The strange part? When a group of women were shown silent videos of the men, they found those who were wearing scented spray more attractive, even though they obviously couldn’t smell them. The researchers determined that the men using the scented spray displayed more confident behavior, which in turn made them more attractive.
Chow down on garlic.
The smell of garlic on your breath is generally regarded as an instant romance killer, but a recent series of studies suggests a different story when it comes to body odor.
In one study, eight men ate a slice of bread with cheese and 12 grams of fresh garlic; another eight ate bread and cheese without any garlic. For the next 12 hours, the men wore cotton pads under their armpits and were instructed not to use any deodorants or fragrances.
The following day, all the men returned to the lab, where 40 women sniffed the pads and rated the odor on pleasantness, attractiveness, masculinity, and intensity. Results showed that the garlic group was rated more pleasant and attractive and less masculine and intense.
Do volunteer work.
A 2013 study found that women find men more appealing when they demonstrate altruistic behavior.
About 30 women looked at a picture of a man with a brief description of his hobbies, which sometimes included volunteer work. The same procedure was repeated with about 30 men looking at a picture of a woman. Everyone rated how attractive they found the person pictured for a short- and long-term relationship.
Both genders rated the person pictured as more attractive for a long-term relationship when they were described as altruistic — but the effect was stronger for women rating men.
Show off your scars.
That scar on your chin from when you fell off your bike as a kid? It could help you attract a mate.
In a 2009 study, researchers took photos of 24 male and 24 female undergrads and digitally manipulated half of them so they appeared to have facial scars. Then they recruited another group of about 200 male and female undergrads to rate all the people pictured on attractiveness, for both short- and long-term relationships.
Results showed that men with scars appeared slightly more attractive for short-term relationships than men without scars. Women, on the other hand, were perceived as equally attractive regardless of whether they had scarred faces.