What characteristics do young adults most value in a potential partner for long-term relationships? Besides friendliness, intelligence and a sense of humor, playfulness is also important, regardless of gender, finds a new study by researchers at the University of Zurich reveals. Playful people also deem humor, a fun tendency, a laid-back attitude and creativity more important in partners than their non-playful counterparts.

In a 2012 study from to researchers at Pennsylvania State University, it was found that playfulness may serve an evolutionary role in human mating preferences by signaling positive qualities to potential long-term mates.

Said Garry Chick, Penn State professor:

“Humans and other animals exhibit a variety of signals as to their value as mates. Just as birds display bright plumage or coloration, men may attract women by showing off expensive cars or clothing. In the same vein, playfulness in a male may signal to females that he is nonaggressive and less likely to harm them or their offspring. A woman’s playfulness, on the other hand, may signal her youth and fertility."

Playfulness Has Many Facets:

Playful adults like improvising, take pleasure in unusual things, are fond of wordplay, approach a challenge lightheartedly, deal with others in a playful way, enjoy teasing, and create situations in which they and others are entertained.

In psychology, however, comparatively little research has been conducted into playfulness in adulthood. The American anthropologist Garry Chick from Pennsylvania State University only recently developed a theory that playfulness in adults is a desirable trait in sexual selection:

To women, it indicates a low level of aggression in men and, to men, vitality in women. An initial study including surveys conducted among American students supports this hypothesis, and now René Proyer and Lisa Wagner from the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich show in a new study that playfulness also plays an important role in the choice of a partner in the European culture.

The Zurich researchers conducted their follow-up study with 327 young adults from Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The participants were asked to examine a list of 16 characteristics and indicate whether or not they found them desirable in a future or potential partner for long-term relationships.

Humor More Important for Women

The results showed that men and women largely agreed in their orders of preference, although there were differences in individual ratings: Women found a sense of humor more important than men and men found an exciting personality more important than women.

Friendliness, intelligence, humor and a fun tendency came at the top of the list. Playfulness ranked mid-table, although not all that far behind the favorites.

“Therefore, this personality trait also seems important for the choice of partner – at least more so thant the partner having a degree, good genes or being religious,” says psychologist Proyer.

Moreover, further analyses revealed that participants who described themselves as playful also valued playfulness, humor, a laid-back attitude, a fun tendency and creativity among potential partners themselves. And the participants who were in relationships assessed themselves as more playful than those who were currently single.

“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,” says Proyer.


Garry Chick, Careen Yarnal, and Andrew Purrington. Play and Mate Preference: Testing the Signal Theory of Adult Playfulness. American Journal of Play, 2012; 4 (4)

René T. Proyer and Lisa Wagner. Playfulness in Adults Revisited: The Signal Theory in German Speakers. American Journal of Play, February 2015

Photo: Fro-Dol-Foe

For future updates, subscribe via Newsletter here or Twitter