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War Heroes Show Sex Appeal – But Not If They're Female

War Heroes Show Sex Appeal — But Not If They’re Female

Women are more attracted to war heroes than regular soldiers or men who display heroic traits in other fields, such as sports, according to a new study.

The new research also found that men do not find heroism to be a sexually attractive trait in women, according to researchers at the University of Southampton in England.

For the study, 92 women in the United Kingdom were presented with hypothetical profiles of men, representing varying levels of heroism in different contexts, such as warfare, sports, and business. They were then asked a series of questions designed to determine how attracted they were to the different men.

The researchers found the women were more likely to find a soldier attractive, and were more inclined to date him, if he had been awarded a medal for bravery in combat.

For soldiers who hadn’t won a medal, the researchers found that it didn’t matter if he had seen combat in a war zone or remained in the U.K., as there was no statistically significant effect on his attractiveness.

Displays of heroism in other fields, such as in sports or business, also had no effect on how likely women were to find them attractive, according to the study’s findings.

In a subsequent experiment by the researchers, 159 women and 181 men studying in Holland took part in a similar exercise to determine their level of sexual attraction to the opposite sex. This time, the soldier profiles displayed various levels of bravery, either in combat or by helping in a natural disaster zone.

Again, heroism in combat increased women’s levels of sexual attraction towards male soldiers, but heroism in a disaster zone had no impact, the researchers reported.

Female heroes, both in combat and in disaster zones, were deemed less attractive by men than their non-hero counterparts, the study also found.

“This provides evidence for the hypothesis that gender differences in intergroup conflict can have an evolutionary origin, as only males seem to benefit from displaying heroism,” said Dr. Joost Leunissen, a psychologist at the University of Southampton and co-author of the study.

“In light of the physical dangers and reproductive risks involved, participating in intergroup aggression might not generally be a viable reproductive strategy for women.

“Heroism also seems to be a context-specific signal, as it only had an effect on attractiveness in a setting of intergroup conflict,” he said.

“Indeed, soldiers who displayed heroism were only considered to be more attractive when this was displayed in a warfare context and not in another situation which is frequently associated with the army — helping during and after natural disasters.”

The experiments supplement a historical analysis undertaken by the research team, which looked at the numbers of children fathered by U.S. Medal of Honor recipients in World War II compared to the numbers of children fathered by regular veterans. The analysis shows Medal of Honor recipients had an average of 3.18 children, while regular veterans averaged 2.72 children, suggesting decorated war heroes sired more offspring than other veterans.

“Raids, battles, and ambushes in ancestral environments, and wars in modern environments, may provide an arena for men to signal their physical and psychological strengths,” Leunissen said.

“Of course, women may not always witness these heroic acts in person, but such information is likely to be widely communicated within a tribal community, particularly when the actions of male warriors are outstandingly brave.”

The study was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behaviour.

Source: University of Southampton

War Heroes Show Sex Appeal — But Not If They’re Female

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). War Heroes Show Sex Appeal — But Not If They’re Female. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 14 Mar 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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