Friday, August 12, 2016

Bad Boys and the Brain

“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know” is how Lady Caroline Lamb described her object of obsession, Lord Byron, in 1812. In a way, Lord Byron was the originator of the bad boy hysteria. “Byromania” was the word his future wife used to describe the scene of women fainting when he walked into the room, clamoring to be in his presence, and committing stalkerish acts to meet with him. Yet Byron was well known to be a misanthrope and a flagrant womanizer, an abuser of alcohol and laudanum. Did it matter? No. Women—and men as well—loved him. His thoughts on marrying Annabella Milbanke were telling: “I have great hopes that we shall love each other all our lives as much as if we had never married at all.”  

Two hundred years later, people are really not all that different. Women are still overwhelmingly attracted to the dark and dangerous male with the aloof demeanor and the devastatingly intense stare. But WHY?

Suburban Dangers, my YA novel dealing with sex trafficking will be released in May of 2017. In that story, my main character, Katherine, is lured into gang-controlled prostitution by a “bad boy.” My most recently finished Regency novel, Dangerous to Know (working title only) is also actually based on Lord Byron and his relationship with Annabella Milbanke (his future wife), and my two current works-in-progress also deal with bad boy attraction, so this topic interests me at present.

Turns out there’s a psychological and physiological reason why we’re attracted to bad boys at large. Apparently it’s about what happens in your brain when you meet someone mysterious, dark, and unpredictable. The brain sends out pleasure responses—so in a way, we’re rewarded for our illogical desires. Kind of like a drug.

Studies show that women may become attracted to a potential partner when they have to work for them, suffer for them, even. Check out this article in the New York Times about Professor Berns and his experiment on unpredictability. When people were administered orange juice versus water in an unpredictable manner, their brain chemistry was more reactive. When the reward was predictable, not so much. It’s all about that dopamine.

So are we sick or what? Ultimately, I think it comes back to desiring what is withheld or denied us. Bad boys tend to be elusive and not quite obtainable. We never know exactly what they’re thinking or what their next move will be. That’s attractive to our brains, which become so easily bored with the usual and mundane.

How do we get over it? Well, maturity and age helps. In my forties, the bad boy may be somewhat attractive from a safely removed place (like, watching them on TV), but I’ve had enough turmoil in my life. Upheaval and chaos is not what God intended for us. A peaceful relationship is really where it’s at. It’s how we grow in our abilities to compromise and sacrifice and work through relational difficulties. Annabella Milbanke found that out the hard way. Byron may have been attractive in that dark, mysterious, brain-synapses-firing sort of way, but in the end, their marriage lasted a year (and this was no small thing since separation and divorce were nearly unheard of in the Regency era).

Bad boys are considered bad for a reason, and we would do well to remember it. They may have learned pretty words and charming come-ons, but actions always speak louder. As Shakespeare so aptly put it, “Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more, men were deceivers ever; one foot on sea and one on shore, to one thing constant never.”


  1. You are so right, with maturity we do get over them. They can be appealing in our reckless youth though. I do look forward to your book release in May.


  2. Oh I can't wait to read "Dangerous to Know!" LOL - remember when I made you that Lord Byron plate! One of my classier "fan girl pieces." (Though did we call ourselves "fan girls" back then?) That is so interesting about the brain and bad boys. I assumed my past attraction to them was because they would act out in ways that I wanted to but would never allow myself too. Now when I see bad boys I tend to feel more impatient and annoyed at them. Growing up and having enough problems with them certainly changes ones perspective!

    1. Yes! Lisa, I still have that plate and it is on display!

  3. I love this! Always the predictable, obedient-but-boring "good" girl I was (am?) secretly drawn to those you so perfectly describe: "...with the aloof demeanor and the devastatingly intense stare."

    I'm too old to be embarrassed by it (now), but I once harbored an absurd crush on a certain 'soap' star known for being the quintessential bad guy. So, he happened by the television station I was working for at the time and we'd an opportunity to chat. He turned out to be so nice, it almost broke my heart. Ha!

    1. That is a great story! I've gotten to meet a few actors now and then, and they're usually nothing like their bad-boy characters. :)