On the quest for love, singles have a list of desirable traits they’re looking for in an ideal partner. Shared values, physical attraction, and an emotional connection are among them, but there's an irresistible personality trait that’s ranked higher than a degree, good genes, or religion. According to a study published in the American Journal of Play, when it comes to desirable attributes in sexual selection, playfulness is important regardless of gender. But why?

Generally, playfulness is synonymous with children, adventure, and fun. The adjective is less socially accepted among adults when it comes to social manifestations, and rather is regarded as Peter Pan syndrome — people with the body of an adult but the mind of a child. However, psychologists believe the existence of a playful cognitive style or personality derives from situations, activities, and psychological qualities that contribute to someone being playful.

Playfulness may not be so divorced from adulthood, especially when it comes to relationships. Rene T. Proyer and Lisa Wagner from the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, sought to examine the role of playfulness in intimate relationships, based off Penn State professor and head of the Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Management Garry Chick’s adult playfulness theory. Chick theorizes playfulness serves as an evolutionary role in human mating preferences by signaling positive qualities to potential long-term mates.

The researchers were interested in testing the role of two moderators: individual differences in playfulness as personality trait and in relationship status. More than 320 young adults, aged 18 to 44 years, were polled from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria for the study. Sixty-two percent were single and 38 percent were in a relationship.

First, the researchers considered individual differences in playfulness by asking the participants to examine a list of 16 characteristics on the Preferences Concerning Potential Mates rating scale, and indicate whether or not they found them desirable in a future or potential partner for a long-term relationship. Examples included humor, fun loving, kind, and understanding, exciting personality among many others. Lastly, the participants were asked to describe themselves based on the Short Measure of Adult Playfulness (SMAP), which assesses playfulness based on playful experiences along with frequent display of playful activities, such as “I am a playful person.”

The findings revealed friendliness, intelligence, humor, and a fun tendency were among the top desired traits in a mate, while playfulness ranked behind the favorites for both men and women. "Therefore, this personality trait also seems important for the choice of partner — at least more so than the partner having a degree, good genes or being religious," said Proyer in the press release.

Moreover, the researchers found participants who described themselves as playful also valued playfulness, humor, and a laid-bac attitude, a fun tendency, and creativity in their potential partner. Interestingly, those who were in relationships assessed themselves as more playful compared to their single counterparts.

“Although we should be cautious while interpreting the data, this could be an indication that playful people are actually perceived as more attractive partners or that playfulness increasingly develops in the relationship," Proyer said.

Similarly, a 2011 study published in the journal of Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice found playfulness in adults was associated with “good character.” A level of playfulness in adults relates to positive psychological functioning and overall well-being. In adulthood, it’s the ability to transform situations in flexible, creative, and humorous ways.

Perhaps laughter and playfulness really are the best medicine, even when it comes to matters of the heart.

Sources: Proyer RT and Wagner L. Playfulness in Adults Revisited: The Signal Theory in German Speakers. American Journal of Play. 2015.

Proyer RT and Ruch W. The virtuousness of adult playfulness: the relation of playfulness with strengths of character. Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice. 2011.