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It is commonly believed that assholes get more dates than people who aren’t assholes. The evidence generally presented for this claim is that disagreeable people tend to have more sexual partners. Of course, that is confounded: perhaps disagreeable people are constantly getting dumped, or perhaps they’re prone to cheating on their partners.

In a polyamorous context, neither of these limitations apply. We can look at the number of romantic partners a person currently has, which is a much better measure of their sexual success. Non-assholes would not be unfairly penalized in the sexual success sweepstakes because no one wanted to break up with them and they aren’t willing to cheat. Conversely, if the result held even in a polyamorous population, it would be definitely true that nice guys finish last.

The primary limitation of this study, of course, is that poly people are weird, and facts about their romantic success may not generalize to monogamous people.

The Methods

There were 440 responses. Of these, 27 were deleted for being monogamous, single but preferring monogamy, or aromantic-asexual, leaving us with 413 responses.

I used several different ways of operationalizing assholery. I used the Ten Item Personality Measure, which measures the Big Five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Disagreeableness is the trait of being untrusting, selfish, cold, and uncooperative. In retrospect, while I was using the shortest inventories for each I could find to avoid burdening my respondents, I should have used a more detailed Big Five instrument. The TIPI caused the most complaints among my respondents, and I am afraid that I lost some accuracy in measurement by using such a short instrument.

I also used the Dark Triad of Personality instrument. The Dark Triad of Personality measures three personality traits: machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy. People high in machiavellianism manipulate, exploit, and deceive others. People high in narcissism are proud, egotistical, and unlikely to empathize with others. People high in psychopathy are impulsive, selfish, remorseless, and prone to antisocial behavior.

Finally, I used the Conflict Tactics Scale, which measures abusiveness. While the Conflict Tactics Scale has often been criticized by feminist researchers, it is the easiest method I am aware of to measure abusiveness. The Conflict Tactics Scale was the only one I edited (I changed some wording to make it be poly-inclusive, and I do not think this is likely to have a significant effect on the results). There were many critiques from respondents that the Conflict Tactics Scale did not make it sufficiently clear that questions about hitting your partner and forcing them into sex excluded doing so as part of kink play. While all respondents who complained understood what was meant and excluded kink, it is possible that some respondents did not.

I operationalized “number of romantic partners” two different ways. First, I asked for your number of romantic partners, then I asked for the number of romantic partners you see on at least a weekly basis. The second checks that these effects are not just a product of non-assholes not liking to break up with people.

The Results

By far the largest effect was shown for extroversion. Extroversion is the Big Five personality trait associated with being outgoing, assertive, warm, active, and excitement-seeking. The correlation between extroversion and number of partners had a p-value of 0.000003, which is the sort of p-value one generally associates with physics more than psychology. The correlation between extroversion and regular partners was a measly .0004, perhaps suggesting that extroverts have more partners they see rarely. In both cases, the effect was small to medium, with an r-value of 0.22 for the former and 0.17 for the latter.

Openness to new experience is the Big Five personality trait associated with creativity, imagination, intellect, perceptiveness, aesthetics, and interest in fantasy. Total number of romantic partners was correlated with openness to new experience, with a p-value of 0.006; however, the correlation with regular romantic partners only trended to significance (p-value = .06). In both cases the effect size was small (.13 and .09, respectively).

Machiavellianism was not correlated with number of total romantic partners, but it was negatively correlated with number of regular romantic partners (p-values 0.15 and .02, respectively). The effect size was small (.06, .11, respectively).

Narcissism was correlated with number of total romantic partners significantly and trended towards significance with regards to number of regular romantic partners (p-values .001, .06). In both cases, the effect size was small (.15, .09).

Abusiveness was negatively correlated with number of total romantic partners, but not significantly correlated with number of regular romantic partners (.03, .13). The effect size was small (.10, .07).

No other correlations were significant. (I left out correlations that were trending towards significance if the result for the other kind of partners was not significant.)

The Results, For Straight Men

Most complaints of the form “people want to date assholes” are actually “straight women want to date assholes and thus nice straight men are left in the cold.” Therefore, I analyzed the subgroup straight men.

Extroversion trended towards significance with number of total romantic partners and was significantly correlated with number of regular romantic partners (.08, .03). The effect sizes were small (.15, .18).

Narcissism was significant for both number of total romantic partners and number of regular romantic partners (.03, .01). In both cases, the effect size was small to moderate (.20, .22).

No other correlations were significant. (I left out correlations that were trending towards significance if the result for the other kind of partners was not significant.)

Discussion 

By far the largest effect was extroversion. This seems like a pretty obvious conclusion for me: extroverts typically meet more people and ask more people out, which means that they are likely to get more romantic partners. I think it’s kind of weird that extroversion seems to be less important for straight men than for the general population, given that there is a strong social norm that men ask women out. Perhaps this is an artifact of my odd sample: the social norm might be less strong in an environment where many men are too shy to ask anyone out.

Openness to new experience appears to be an attractive personality trait for people in general (although perhaps not for straight men), although the effect size is fairly small, so I don’t think this is actionable advice. It is possible that this is an artifact of narcissism being correlated with openness.

With the exception of narcissism, all measures of assholery appear to be either uncorrelated with or weakly negatively correlated with romantic success. The p-values are high enough and correlation coefficients low enough for most measures of assholery that I am comfortable saying that assholery is just uncorrelated with romantic success. That is, an attractive asshole has no more and no fewer partners than an attractive nice guy.

That seems to me to explain the anecdotal data: if assholery is uncorrelated with romantic success, then there will be plenty of examples of assholes who are absurdly romantically successful and nice people who are not. People will probably ignore the examples of romantically successful nice people and romantically unsuccessful assholes, because those fit in better with our intuition about how things should work.

It seems very probable to me that assholes and non-assholes tend to date different people. For instance, maybe disagreeable people tend to prefer dating other disagreeable people. And it is commonly observed that some people (of all genders) seem to have broken pickers and consistently date people who treat them like shit.

Narcissism is, interestingly, correlated with a higher level of romantic success. It’s important to note that there is no gender difference here: narcissism is an advantage both for straight men and for the general population. It is possible that narcissists are more prone to consider an edge case (perhaps someone they’ve been dating for a few weeks, or someone they only see once every few months) to be a partner; however, that wouldn’t explain why for straight men there’s a slightly stronger correlation for regular romantic partners than for total romantic partners. Narcissism is correlated with extroversion, which might explain the data; perhaps narcissists put themselves out there more. It is also possible that, for some reason, narcissism is a romantically attractive trait: perhaps narcissists put more effort into their appearance, perhaps they talk up their good traits more, or perhaps people simply find egotism to be charming.

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