Image: Knocked Up, Katherine Heigl, Seth Rogen
Suzanne Hanover  /  Universal Pictures via AP file
"You're prettier than I am," Seth Rogen's character drunkenly slurs to Katherine Heigl at one point in the 2007 movie "Knocked Up." Now a new study confirms what most of us have known all along: Men, no matter how unattractive, think they’ve got a chance with beautiful women.
By
msnbc.com contributor
updated 9/12/2008 8:18:14 AM ET 2008-09-12T12:18:14

It’s a rule, bartender Karen Brody says: The schlubbier the guy, the more likely he is to persistently pursue a pretty woman.

Brody — a lithe, slender Woodstown, N.J., bartender who looks at least a decade younger than her 47 years — recalls the time she was being "entertained" by a paunchy trucker with several missing front teeth. As the night wore on, he slumped to one side and eventually toppled off his barstool. When she raced around to make sure he was OK, the plump patron immediately resumed his pick-up patter — from the floor.

Apparently, the pudgy trucker isn't just an aberration, and the come-ons aren't just the after-effects of alcohol. A new study confirms what women say they've known all along: Men, no matter how unattractive, think they’ve got a chance with a runway model.

The proof was in the matchmaking Web site HOTorNOT.com, a site where members rate each others' "hotness." The site offered a treasure trove of data: It contained information not only on dating habits of its members, but also on the members’ opinions of their own attractiveness and the "hotness" of potential dates, according to a study published in a recent issue of Psychological Science.

Researchers studied ratings and dating information from 16,550 members during a 10-day period in 2005. All membersstudied were heterosexual, with 75 percent males and 25 percent female.

Using this data, they determined that the physical attractiveness of a potential mate was more important to men than women. And men were less likely than women to think that their own lack of attractiveness — based both on a self assessment and the ratings of others — should stand in the way of a date with someone "hot."

Maybe men think women have all read "The Frog Prince" and taken it to heart, allowing us to look past an ugly exterior in the search for inner beauty. Or perhaps it’s that men have internalized the messages in the popular media: movies like "Knocked Up," where the slacker hero lands a beautiful babe, or TV shows like "According to Jim," in which a difficult, slobby guy is coupled with a gorgeous wife.

The lead author of the study, Leonard Lee, an assistant professor at Columbia’s Graduate School of Business, thinks these far-fetched movie and TV couples might explain why unfortunate-looking men tend to hold out such high hopes. But he wonders whether the unattractive guys eventually learn that their chances are slim regardless of what they see on screen. There’s another important finding in the study, he says: The 10s among us, both male and female, want only to date other 10s.

There are hints in the HOTorNOT.com data that suggest men do learn to accept their limitations: They apparently hedge their bets by asking for more dates. In fact, the men in the study requested a full 240 percent more dates than the women. Researchers didn't look at how many of these online come-ons were successful, but the number of dates most men asked for might be a sign that the less attractive among us — even the men — recognize that they may have to settle for dating someone who is closer to them on the "hotness" scale.

"Good looking people are always looking for other good looking people," says Helen Fisher, a professor at Rutgers University who studies mating behavior and romantic love.

"And ultimately, men figure their own good looks are not as important as a woman’s," says Fisher, who wasn't involved with the study. "They figure they’re selling a whole lot of things that women want that aren’t associated with being attractive."

  1. Don't miss these Health stories
    1. Splash News
      More women opting for preventive mastectomy - but should they be?

      Rates of women who are opting for preventive mastectomies, such as Angeline Jolie, have increased by an estimated 50 percent in recent years, experts say. But many doctors are puzzled because the operation doesn't carry a 100 percent guarantee, it's major surgery -- and women have other options, from a once-a-day pill to careful monitoring.

    2. Larry Page's damaged vocal cords: Treatment comes with trade-offs
    3. Report questioning salt guidelines riles heart experts
    4. CDC: 2012 was deadliest year for West Nile in US
    5. What stresses moms most? Themselves, survey says

Besides, from an evolutionary perspective, men are simply looking for the woman most likely to produce a strong healthy baby — so that means they’re often focused on physical attractiveness.

"Men might as well reach for the stars," says William Pollack, a Harvard University psychologist and the director of the Center for Men and Young Men at McLean Hospital. "Women are the ones who are going to have the baby. They need to be a little more picky."

In the end, there might be some signs that boorish boys know they’re overreaching — and that may be expressed in the level of their braggadocio.

When a really attractive man is interested in a date, Brody says, he’s quieter and more cautious. "He’ll come back a bunch of times and try to get to know me before asking," she adds.

© 2013 msnbc.com.  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments