The modern dating world is brutal. By creating superficial popularity contests, dating apps are criticized for emphasizing the worst aspects of what is, even in the best of circumstances, a challenging journey.

It's hard to avoid becoming jaded as a result. But we can all take some heart from a new study of almost 800 people suggesting intelligence and kindness – not good looks or money – are the most valued traits in a romantic partner. At least, that's what participants in Brazil self-report.

"If you want to attract more potential partners, working on your brains and personality seems to be your best bet," University of Sao Paulo psychologist Joao Francisco Goes Braga Takayanagi told Eric W. Dolan at PsyPost.

Takayanagi and colleagues found these preferences remain true regardless of participants' sexual orientation and gender, suggesting there's some universality to them.

The 778 cisgendered Brazilian volunteers, between 18 to 64 years of age, were assigned a limited number of points to distribute between different traits they might find important in an ideal partner. These included physical attractiveness, socioeconomic status, health, kindness and intelligence.

When more points were available in 'high budget' scenarios, the participants were more likely to distribute their points evenly across all traits, but in 'lower budget' cases the volunteers were forced to prioritize.

Kindness and intelligence were prioritized above all other traits across the included genders and sexual orientations, although men, on the whole, did tend to prioritize good looks more than women.

As expected, people looking for long-term relationships compared to short-term ones were even more likely to prioritize kindness and intelligence.

"As budget size increased, intelligence and kindness, which already scored high in the low budget condition, received even greater proportions of the points in relation to other traits," wrote Takayanagi and team.

What's more, once a certain level of physical attractiveness or socioeconomic status was reached, people favored these traits less compared to the others.

"We found that socioeconomic level was a low priority trait for all groups, including heterosexual women, contrary to previous budget allocation task studies," the researchers explained.

For men, socioeconomic status was a particularly low priority.

The difference to past studies may be due to the inclusion of more 'ideal partner' traits, such as health and intelligence, the team speculated.

"It is possible that the value behind the partner's socioeconomic level is linked to their implied cognitive capabilities or to their expected longevity," Takayanagi and colleagues write.

Or it could be because this new study is based in a different global region to earlier studies. As such, these findings may not accurately reflect different cultures, nor do self-reported preferences always translate well into actual behaviors.

Studies using real-life settings are required for a more accurate picture, the researchers caution.

But despite these limitations and the depressing online noise claiming we're all vying for the same few best looking or richest candidates, the new study supports a hopeful notion that people who are genuinely looking for a long-term partner do value emotional warmth and intelligence over superficial qualities.

This research was published in Archives of Sexual Behavior.