- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hey, Mr. Nice Guy. That proverbial bad boy has got you beat - a fact familiar to women who prefer James Dean to Alan Alda.

It’s all in the DNA, according to research released Monday. Genes prompt rabble-rouser behavior. But they also foster popularity, according to Alexandra Burt, a Michigan State University behavioral geneticist who released a “groundbreaking study” that suggests good news for bad boys.

Men who had a gene associated with “rule-breaking behavior” were rated most popular by a group of previously unacquainted peers, she found.

“The idea is that your genes predispose you to certain behaviors, and those behaviors elicit different kinds of social reactions from others,” said Ms. Burt.

“And so, what’s happening is, your genes are to some extent driving your social experiences.”

Other researchers have bandied about the idea of a genetic predisposition for popularity, a theory known as “evocative gene-environment correlation.” The new research is the first to establish clear connections between a specific gene, particular behaviors and actual social situations, Ms. Burt said.

She collected DNA from more than 200 male college students; after some socializing and a student survey, the subsequent analysis found that the most popular had a particular form of a serotonin gene associated with rule-breaking behavior.

Her findings were published by the American Psychological Association.

Is there a party gene? Some say it’s the serotonin transporter gene, already identified by the National Institutes of Health as the gene behind binge drinking.

In August, the University of North Carolina also revealed a link between three particular genes and “a life of crime” after following 1,100 teenage boys over a six-year period, clearly establishing a link between the presence of those genes and aggressive behavior.

Such research has had a darker side. The idea that “bad genes” held dangerous sway over some people prompted the Supreme Court in 1927 to rule in favor of the forced sterilization of criminals and mental patients. The court reversed the decision in 1942 as unconstitutional.

These days, researchers suggest that a touch of bad behavior gives men a boost in popularity and with their sexual relationships. Narcissism, impulsiveness and deceit - the “dark triad” - play a definitive role in wooing, according to separate research conducted by both Mexico State University and Bradley University in 2008.

John Tesh, an actor-musician-radio host known for a squeaky clean demeanor, offered advice. Don’t give endless compliments to women, he cautioned, as it eventually falls flat.

“If you’re too nice, you’ll come off nerdy, immature and too soft to let a woman know you’re capable of more,” Mr. Tesh wrote in a personal blog.

He cautioned women against taking on a bad boy as an emotional “fixer-upper” and chastised the men in question.

“They act like they’re ‘bad’ because they’re insecure, rebels without any causes. They may try and act macho, but if you dig a bit deeper, you’ll discover the bad boys are just that. Boys who are not men.”

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