Careful how far you take this, guys, but Israeli-led research indicates it might not be a good idea to be “nice” on your first date. Women, on the other hand, appear to benefit from being nice.

For what it’s worth, the research indicates women are looking for “man-like” behavior early in dating.

The research is not definitive. It points to tendencies among members of a specific group — university students — and the results are possible trends, not absolute predictors.

In the small, limited series of studies, single men tended to prefer single women who were more responsive to their needs and wishes in an initial conversation, finding them more feminine. Many of the women, on the other hand, didn’t really care how responsive the men were.

The psychologists behind the study say women may be looking at behaviors other than responsiveness to determine men’s masculinity and fitness as partners. Or, they say, women may interpret men’s responsiveness in a range of gendered ways — to the extent that it’s even possible to generalize about the tendencies of either men or women.

“Women may see responsive men as more masculine, less masculine, or neither,” said Prof. Gurit Birnbaum, a psychologist at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, who led the study. “Regardless of the reasons, men may want to slow down if their goal is to instill sexual desire.”

The findings – published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin in July – could help guide both men and women through those pivotal first dates.

Dissecting desire

People often say they are looking for and would be sexually interested in a partner who is “responsive to their needs.” Responsiveness is essential to the development of intimacy in a relationship, and intimacy between partners has been shown to lead to passion and to sex. But Birnbaum’s previous study found that single men, but not single women, are more sexually attracted to members of the opposite sex who are responsive.

To understand why, the psychologists ran one observational and two experimental sub-studies testing the desirability of opposite-sex responsiveness to single, heterosexual Israeli university students. Experimental studies allow researchers to determine cause and effect.

In the first study, 56 pairs of men and women talked face to face about a problem in one of their lives. In the second and third studies, participants sent online chats about a life problem to a fake person of the opposite sex, who automatically replied with either responsive or unresponsive messages.

The participants later rated their conversation partners’ responsiveness, sexual attractiveness, and “gender typicality” – masculinity for men and femininity for women. In the third study, men were additionally asked how sexually aroused they were by their chat partners and how interested they were in dating them long-term.

Data analysis of the results showed that on average, the men saw more responsive women as more feminine, which made them more sexually aroused, which in turn made them more attracted to and interested in dating the women. It’s not the most cerebral process.

The analysis showed that the women were on average only slightly less attracted to men who seemed more responsive. The women were more attracted to men they found masculine, but they hardly associated responsiveness with masculinity.

What women want

The opposite-sex tendency to prefer “manly men” and “girly girls” may be rooted in evolution. Men may be looking for nice nurturers, while women may want proactive providers. But people may rely more than usual on traditional gender roles to cope with the uncertainty of early dating, the psychologists say. The man is still expected to ask the women out and to pay for the date, they note.

‘Men can be sexually appealing in various ways, which are not necessarily associated with expressions of intimacy, whereas women apparently have to be responsive to be appealing’

It would make sense then that men seem to initially find responsiveness – which they see as a feminine – attractive in women. In some cases, men may also simply be attracted to the attention as a sign of sexual interest, the psychologists say. If so, women looking for long-term relationships should aim to be responsive in a way that is feminine, rather than available – whatever that would look like.

When it comes to women’s desires, the fact that responsiveness isn’t a turn-off on average doesn’t mean women are above gender-based judgments. Rather, the psychologists say, women may be attracted to other behaviors that they perceive as better indicating men’s masculinity and fitness as partners.

Alternatively, different women may simply attribute different gendered meanings to men’s responsiveness, they say. Some women may see responsive men as trying to manipulate them into bed, and so ironically as more masculine. Other women may see such men as desperate to please them, and so as less dominant and more feminine. Yet other women may simply see responsive men as genuinely responsive.

Regardless of the reasons, the findings suggest that responsiveness isn’t men’s best bet to woo women. The good news is that men appear to have other options, the psychologists say.

“Men can be sexually appealing in various ways, which are not necessarily associated with expressions of intimacy, whereas women apparently have to be responsive to be appealing,” said Birnbaum.

The bad news is, this doesn’t help men figure out their options. Men now may think they know one way not to bomb on a first date, but pending further research, how to succeed remains a scientific and social mystery.