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When Men Behave Badly: A Summary of Problem Behaviors

Part 2 of 3: David Buss describes problematic, evolved male behaviors.

Key points

  • Psychologist David Buss describes problematic, evolved male behaviors that interfere with women's choices and goals.
  • Buss uses evolutionary psychology to explain the specific conditions that encourage men's bad behavior.
  • He mentions female versions of deception, infidelity, jealousy, and manipulation, presenting a more complete picture of conflicts in relationships.

This is Part 2 of a three-part review of David Buss's new book When Men Behave Badly. The first part of the review can be accessed here.

Although David Buss has continued to address the nature of personality from an evolutionary perspective from time to time, he has devoted nearly all of his research energy toward understanding evolved differences in male and female psychology, and his most recent book represents the latest example of that.

In reading his books and articles on that topic over the past 40 years, I have noticed a pattern. He begins with a phenomenon that is already pretty much common knowledge (or at least a common supposition) in the general public. For example, men tend to prefer a younger mate, and women, an older mate. Or that men tend to be more interested in a woman's physical appearance than her social and financial status, while the reverse tends to be true for women. Or that men tend to prefer to have more sexual partners than women.

Next, he explains how such sex differences might have evolved from a few core, indisputable differences between what men and women need to do in order to produce viable offspring, particularly differences in the amount of energy, time, and risk involved in conceiving, gestating, birthing, feeding, and rearing offspring.

Finally, he assembles data from his own and others' empirical studies that provide more precise details about the phenomenon he is studying. Exactly what is the typical age difference in couples, and does that average difference vary across cultures or across different points in the life span? Exactly which female physical features attract men the most, and how important is social status to women, compared to other traits such as height, intelligence, sense of humor, thoughtfulness, and signs of commitment? Exactly how many sexual partners do women and men regard as ideal, and what factors influence how many partners one actually has?

When Men Behave Badly follows the formula described above. Buss identifies a number of well-known "bad male behaviors," that is, male behaviors that interfere with women's choices and goals. These include the following:

  • Pretending to have more status or financial resources than they really have
  • Pretending to be interested in a long-term relationship when they are only interested in a short-term sexual relationship
  • Engaging in secret sexual affairs
  • Sexually harassing women
  • Being hypervigilant, suspicious, jealous, and controlling of their mates
  • Pursuing women, particularly vulnerable women (women who are young, inexperienced, and lacking in self-confidence)
  • Using alcohol and drugs to disarm and disable women
  • Forcing women to have sex against their will
  • Objectifying women by focusing only on their bodies
  • Stalking women who are not interested in them
  • Seeking revenge after a breakup by spreading stories and posting pictures and videos on the Internet
  • Physically and psychologically abusing women and threatening violence to prevent them from leaving a relationship

Along the way, Buss does mention female versions of deception, infidelity, jealousy, and manipulation, presumably to present a more complete picture of conflicts in relationships. But the focus is on bad male behaviors, which Buss documents with research from his own lab, from other labs, from cross-cultural studies, and analogies in other species.

He also sprinkles in a variety of personal anecdotes about famous people, ordinary people who made the news due to a relationship conflict, imaginary characters from movies, and people he has known personally. Obviously, a scientific account of human behavior cannot be based only on anecdotes, but the personal stories he shares are great illustrations and really bring his account to life.

[Continue to Part 3 of 3 of this book review]


Buss, D. M. (1984). Evolutionary biology and personality psychology: Toward a conception of human nature and individual differences. American Psychologist, 39(10), 1135–1147.

Buss, D. M. (2021). When men behave badly: The hidden roots of sexual deception, harassment, and assault. NY: Little Brown Spark.

Hogan, R. (1983). A socioanalytic theory of personality. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, 55–89.

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