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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Paula R. Pietromonaco

Second Advisor

Brian A. Lickel

Third Advisor

Sally I. Powers

Fourth Advisor

Lynnette Leidy Sievert

Subject Categories

Social Psychology


The notion that heterosexual women are romantically interested in “bad boys” is a pervasive lay theory of close relationships in U.S. culture. The current research investigated women’s perceptions of bad boys and individual differences in their romantic interest in bad boys. Three studies recruited heterosexual female participants from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website. Study 1 asked participants to rate their associations of a list of trait adjectives with the bad boy and other prototypes (the “hero,” “nice guy,” and “loser”). Paired comparisons indicated that supportiveness and social dominance traits discriminated among prototypes. Study 2 asked participants to rate their romantic interest in profiles derived from these traits and multilevel models revealed that greater trait attachment anxiety predicted more interest in less supportive prototypes (i.e., bad boy and loser), greater trait attachment avoidance predicted less interest in the ideal prototype (i.e., hero), and associations with self-esteem, sociosexual orientation, and menstrual cycle phase differed by type of interest (sexual or relationship). Study 3 asked participants to complete attachment primes and rate the same profiles. Multilevel models indicated that the avoidant prime decreased sexual interest in supportive prototypes (the hero and nice guy) relative to other primes, while the anxious prime increased relationship interest in socially dominant prototypes (the hero and bad boy) relative to the avoidant prime; however, these results were qualified by trait attachment. The research provides evidence that women’s individual differences relate to less-than-ideal mate choice and that alterations in their state of mind can influence their choices as well.