Styling your hair in a red Mohawk or bleach-blonde dreadlocks may lead to a few stares on the subway, but it might also help you snag a couple of dates. A recent study from Australia has found that nonconformity, that is, “breaking from the norm,” is a trait potential mates find attractive in both men and women.

In the five-part study, led by psychologist Matthew Hornsey from the University of Queensland, a team of researchers asked 115 undergraduate students to read the profiles of 20 individuals and then rate each on their attractiveness and whether or not they would like to go on a date with them. The Pacific Standard Magazine reported that each potential date’s profile was made to emphasize either conformity, by using statements such as “She is quite happy to go along with what others are doing,” or non-conformity, by using statements such as “She often does her own thing rather than fit in with the group.”

As well as being asked which member of the opposite sex they were most attracted to, participants were also asked which members of their own sex they predicted others would find to be the most desirable.

Results showed that both men and women preferred the individuals whose profiles were manipulated to appear more non-conformist. However, when it came to predicting which profiles would be preferred by the opposite gender, women were the most incorrect.

"Women overestimated how attracted men would be to the conformist women," the report read. "People think that men prefer conformist women, but this impression is discrepant from reality."

Is This Just A Western Thing?

The same results were repeated when the experiment was conducted on British and American individuals. In order to ensure that these results reflected human nature and were not simply Western ideologies, the same experiment was conducted on students in India. Once again, despite the cultural differences, both the male and female Indian students showed a preference for non-conformist members of the opposite gender.

“Dating success was greater the more nonconformist the sample was, and perceptions of nonconformity in an ex-partner were associated with greater love and attraction toward that partner,” wrote the researchers.

According to the researchers, this compilation of findings contradict a common belief that men prefer women who are submissive, modest, subdued, and agreeable. While this may be true for some, for the vast majority, it’s the opposite they find most attractive.   

Source: Hornsey MJ, Wellauer R,  McIntyre JC, Barlow FK. A Critical Test of the Assumption That Men Prefer Conformist Women and Women Prefer Nonconformist Men. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 2015.