Helping an old woman cross the road, donating blood or bone marrow and working with an NGO among others can make both men and women attractive to potential sexual partners, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Nottingham and Liverpool John Moores University.
The study has been published in the BMC Evolutionary Biology.
The researchers said that charitable acts not only make a person feel good but also increase their chances of having sex. It was found that women preferred men who exhibited selflessness when looking for both one-night stands and long-term relationship.
"At first glance, it's difficult to see how natural selection could favour behaviours that involve investing significant time and resources to help others at a cost to oneself," said Dr Freya Harrison, a Research Fellow in The University of Nottingham's Life Sciences Centre for Biomolecular Sciences. "We now know that "altruistic" helping can actually increase evolutionary fitness in various ways - people might preferentially help their relatives, with whom they share genes, or they might target their helping toward others who are likely to reciprocate in the future."
Altruistic acts liked in both men and women
The team arrived at the conclusion after conducting experiments on 32 heterosexual women and 35 heterosexual men. The researchers asked the participants to rank the attractiveness of the opposite sex based on a list of characteristics and activities.
For long term relationships, both men and women favoured partners who were involved in charitable events. When scoring partners for a brief sexual encounter, women were still fascinated with men who exhibited philanthropy. However, it was not the same for the men.
Altruistic acts lead to having children?
Harrison said that after establishing the link between altruism and potential partner, now the researchers are further studying whether 'altruistic' acts increase their chances of having children and passing on their genes.