Do nice guys really finish last? As much as we like to think that kind-heartedness and open-mindedness will always be rewarded, a new study published in Psychological Science journal has confirmed that sometimes things don’t always work out for the nice guy—or gal, for that matter. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t still strive to be the best version of yourself—far from it. Instead, by looking at these findings we can learn a lot about how we treat each other during tense or competitive situations, like on the dating scene, for instance.
So why do the do-gooders of this world sometimes rub us up the wrong way? And why do we punish them? Here’s what you need to know.
No, Not Those Nice Guys
Now, first of all, this evidence is definitely not supporting the common and misogynist “women never like nice guys” argument. The guys who call themselves “nice guys,” but still think they’re entitled to your attention and, ultimately, to have sex with you—and who suddenly flip out and show how awful they actually are when you reject them. And, far too many times, women end up feeling bad and like they need to let these guys down gently, despite the fact that they have literally no obligation to be attracted to this person. It’s infuriating.
But that’s not what this study was about—and it’s important to differentiate a bias against genuine do-gooders from men who label themselves as nice when they’re often just the opposite. Those are not nice guys. Instead, what this study looked at was genuine nice people—men and women—and how being nice can sometimes work against you.
Antisocial Punishment And Do-Gooder Derogation
It may sound bizarre but, as much we sometimes like to see the good guy come out on top, there are also times when we, maybe without even knowing it, like to punish the good guy. The study set up two scenarios when participants could “punish” other players in a game meant to test their aptitude for cooperation. In the games where there was more competition, participants were more likely to “punish” a do-gooder or someone who was too helpful or cooperative. It’s known as antisocial punishment or do-gooder derogation and it means that when someone is too cooperative, too congenial, too easy to get along with, we can actually have a negative response toward them.
Why? Well, in simple terms, we don’t like being shown up. Especially in a competitive situation—whether that’s playing a game or, say, competing for a mate—it’s not nice to feel like we look bad. Now, that’s not to say that we actively decide to knock them down a peg or two, Instead, it’s often a far more subtle effect. In the heat of the moment or if we’re feeling vulnerable, we may unconsciously do things to try to knock them down a level, instead of striving to improve ourselves.
What This Means For Dating
As I said, this isn’t about a faux nice guy stuck in the so-called friend zone, but these results can still have an impact on our love lives. They may mean that you want to be on the lookout for someone who seems too negative or hyper-critical of those who strive for generosity, self-improvement, or even just have nice personalities. You probably don’t want to be with someone who is threatened by those qualities, rather than celebrating them. Instead, focus on people who don’t seem to want to punish the competition, but rather put their energy into being the best version of themselves.
It’s also important to be aware that you may also take part in do-gooder derogation without meaning to—so be aware of you find yourself being scathing or unfair toward a woman who’s just plain nice, especially if you’re feeling insecure or vulnerable. You may also find yourself doing this in the non-romantic spheres, like feeling disdain toward someone who always goes above and beyond at work or that picture-perfect cousin who always seems to beam with goodness at Thanksgiving. Try to recognize the feeling in yourself and understand where it’s coming from—especially if there’s an insecurity that you haven’t dealt with.
In fact, the study authors think that you should let the cream rise to the top. If you feel like someone views you negatively because you try to do the right thing, maybe you shouldn’t be wasting your energy on them and, instead, you should look for other people who are interested in doing the right thing, too. “Let the good people pair up with the good people,” Pat Barclay, a professor at the University of Guelph and the study’s co-author told Vice. “and in the end they will be much better off than their critics. Let’s figure out ways to let goodness pay off, because then it will proliferate.” Sounds like good advice.