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Tell a Good Tale, Find a Great Mate

Research finds storytelling ability increases men’s attractiveness as long-term romantic partners.

By Tom Jacobs


(Photo: Joris Louwes/Flickr)

Guys: Are your pick-up lines no longer working? Well, here’s a new approach you may want to try. Go over to that attractive woman, introduce yourself, and tell her in a quiet but authoritative voice: It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon….

That’s right: Spin a yarn. Newly published research finds women view men as more attractive potential long-term mates if they are good storytellers.

“Stories are not just mere conversation,” write Melanie Green of the University of Buffalo and John Donahue of the University of North Carolina. “Storytelling ability appears to increase (a man’s) perceived status, and thus helps men attract long-term partners.”

In the journal Personal Relationships, the researchers describe three studies that provide evidence of this dynamic. In the first, 71 male and 84 female university students were shown a photograph of a college-age person of the opposite sex. They then read one of four versions of the person’s purported biography.

If you are wooing a potential life partner, don’t whisper sweet nothings in her ear. Better to whisper a sweet story.

Depending on which version they read, participants learned that he or she was either a good storyteller, an OK one, or a poor one. Still others read a version that did not reference storytelling at all. After reading the bio, all were asked to assess the person’s attractiveness as a long-term dating partner, a casual date, or as a friend.

The result: Women found men described as good storytellers more attractive as potential long-term mates. But as prospective casual dates, they had no advantage over rivals in the other three categories. And for men evaluating women, storytelling ability proved irrelevant.

The second study, featuring 92 undergraduates, was similarly structured. But rather than being told someone was a good or bad storyteller, participants actually read a well-told or poorly told tale. The results were the same: Storytelling ability raised the attractiveness level of males among women looking for long-term partners.

In a final study, 141 undergraduates were again presented with potential partners of varying storytelling ability. Besides rating their attractiveness, they were asked whether they felt the person would “be popular, be admired, be a good leader,” and “be an inspiration for others to excel.”

Adding up those scores, the researchers report “greater storytelling ability led to perceptions of higher status,” which clearly contributed to the higher attractiveness ratings.

From an evolutionary perspective, “women desire good storytellers because storytelling ability reflects a man’s ability to gain resources,” Donahue and Green write. “Good storytellers may be more likely to influence others, or to gain positions of authority in society.”

Case in point: Garrison Keillor isn’t the most handsome guy in the world, but he does have influence — and he’s been married three times.

So, men, if you are wooing a potential life partner, don’t whisper sweet nothings in her ear. Better to whisper a sweet story.