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Dads vs. cads: The biological reasons for who wins a woman's heart


Is love blind, or is it like a biological version of The Bachelorette? How does a woman pick her dream guy? Is it completely up to her, or is there a point in which her biological instincts take over? This week on Take Care, clinical psychologist and journalist Dr. Vinita Mehta discusses the issue most men are afraid to ask about -- how women pick their mates.

Click "Read More" to hear our interview with Dr. Vinita Mehta.

According to Dr. Mehta, most guys fall within one of two categories—dads or cads.

Dads “are the guys your mother would want you to marry. Those are the guys who are stable, they’re warm, they’re good invested fathers, and they stick around. They tend to be more committed. These are the men that women tend to partner with socially and get married and raise families with,” says Dr. Mehta.

On the other hand, cads “tend to be very socially dominant, but they typically only offer short term prospects for a women.” They often exhibit “alpha male” qualities, and are usually “very handsome and physically attractive men,” she said.

So what drives the preference a woman has for either one of these kinds of men? According to Dr. Mehta, it all comes down to evolution—and a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Research over the last two decades has shown that women experience a form of sexual “heat” in which interest in mating spikes during periods of peak fertility. “It’s during that window that women’s mate preferences change and they become much more attracted to what is commonly called alpha males,” says Dr. Mehta.

The reason for this shift in preference comes down to an evolutionary desire for good genes for offspring. “Those physical attributes [of cads] are signals of good genes, and that’s what women are really attracted to during that window of time,” says Dr. Mehta.

Dr. Mehta points to a study that showed how women pick sperm donors as proof of the desire for good genes. “When women are selecting sperm donors, only giving thought to basically what genes their child would be receiving, women were more interested in good genes than good personality characteristics.”

Dr. Mehta says that this research can be used to help understand social issues such as teen pregnancy. There is new research showing that women who’ve grown up in unstable environments are often more attracted to cads. “It’s as if they’ve developed this mantra ‘mate before you die.’ And since short term mating prospects are much higher with a cad than with a dad, and they want those good genes, the idea is that their perspective narrows.”

She notes that much more thought is put into picking a mate now than in mankind’s earliest days, and compares this desire for good genes to the appendix, something with “phased out usefulness. We can see this as a residue of our evolutionary makeup.”

And, as a breath of relief to dads everywhere, Dr. Mehta points out that even though women prefer cads during ovulation, “it’s not as if women stop wanting to be with dads.”