Entries in attraction (86)
People are shallow. Psychological science has demonstrated that people often use a “what is beautiful is good” mental shortcut.1 People tend to assume positive characteristics about others based on physical attractiveness, even though these perceptions are not accurate. This bias for beauty has been shown in all types of contexts that are not limited to online dating. A classic study from the 60s on in-person dating found that a date’s hot body/face predicted romantic attraction more than personality traits, intelligence, popularity/charisma, mental health, and self-esteem.
I’m a huge fan of Slate Magazine (I read it almost daily). But recently they ran a piece that portrayed sexual fluidity in a way that was less than accurate, and perhaps ideologically biased. In the interest of scientific accuracy, I wanted to set the record straight.
What is sexual fluidity?
The Slate article contained a bold claim that, “there's absolutely no scientific evidence that female sexuality is fluid—at least not in any novel way.” This is incorrect—scientists have found a lot of evidence to support the claim that female sexuality is fluid.
But what exactly is sexual fluidity? It’s a fairly simple concept: people’s sexual responses are not set in stone, and can change over time, often depending on the immediate situation they’re in.
What is the point of music? Psychologist Stephen Pinker likens it to “auditory cheesecake,” a confection intended to tickle our neural pleasure circuits1 -- a jolt of enjoyment rather than a necessity for human survival. But 140 years ago, Charles Darwin was tinkering with another theory: that music’s true purpose is to impress the opposite sex.2 He recognised that birds don’t sing for pure joy, but to attract a mate or challenge rivals. Could music serve a similar function in humans?
Quite possibly. The lyrics of most pop songs are about relationships, with love at first sight, jealousy, and breakups being common themes. And it’s also plain that music stirs fierce emotions, from the screaming adulation that provided a second soundtrack to Beatlemania, to the Beliebers and Directioners of today whose online worshipping of their idols knows no bounds. But until recently, there’s been little hard evidence for Darwin’s theory that music is a method of sexual seduction.
When it comes to heterosexual dating preferences, does partner height matter? Data from online personal ads and a survey indicated that more women than men think height matters (57% to 40%, respectively), and tall women and short men were especially concerned with partners’ heights. Both men and women noted height differences could make physical intimacy difficult, it “felt weird or awkward” being with someone much shorter or taller, and that they had specific ranges for height they found most attractive . Women also noted they felt safer, more secure, and more feminine (because they could wear heels) with taller partners.
Yancey, G., & Emerson, M. O. (in press). Does height Matter? An examination of height preferences in romantic coupling. Journal of Family Issues.
Ever catch your partner checking out an attractive stranger on the street? Ever notice all of the good-looking opposite-sex friends your partner has accumulated on Facebook? Such things might seem harmless, but these “beautiful” people may actually make us less appealing to our partners, due to what researchers refer to as contrast effects. Contrast effects occur when something looks better or worse depending on what we compare to it. In this case, you could look less attractive to your partner when compared to someone else that is more attractive, whether that person is a sexy passerby, a good-looking co-worker, or even someone featured in erotic material. (Read more about contrast effects here.)
We often regard a kiss as a way to show affection or to create a spark. An international survey of over 900 males and females aged 18-63 found that kissing serves a greater purpose and is more than a way to increase arousal. Instead, it’s an important way to assess a partner’s quality, especially for women and for those who rate themselves as highly attractive. Those who more easily separate sex from love (i.e., high sociosexuality) rated kissing as more important early in a relationship and experienced more change in attraction (less attraction toward a partner who was initially attractive post-kiss).
Check out our other articles about kissing here.
Wlodarski, R. & Dunbar, R. I. M. (2013). Examining the possible functions of kissing in romantic relationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-013-0190-1
You might remember the 1994 movie Speed, where the characters portrayed by Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock have to drive a passenger-filled bus over 50mph through downtown Los Angeles to prevent a bomb from exploding and killing them all. Of course, they accomplish this terrifying feat, and by the end of the movie they have fallen in love. (If you haven't seen the movie, you can watch the 2 minute version here or think about the Fast & Furious franchise instead.)
The movie’s basic premise may be the stuff of wild Hollywood imaginations. But what about the idea that driving fast and near-death experiences can lead to attraction between two strangers? This probably seems pretty far-flung, but in fact, the producers of Speed got this part right.
If your relationship doesn't have chemistry or has lost it's spark, check out this post on rekindling the romance.
Image Source: George Takei's Facebook
What happens when something is only available for a short period of time or exists in limited quantities? We want it. Badly. That’s why advertisements and infomercials are always telling you to “act now, before time runs out” if you want to get your hands on the latest, overpriced, completely unnecessary product they’re selling. However, the illusion of scarcity and its effects are not unique to the world of business—scarcity may also affect how we perceive potential sexual and romantic partners. As some evidence of this, consider a classic study on the so-called “closing time effect,” or the idea that everyone gets better looking when the bar is about to close because the window of opportunity for finding someone to take home dwindles.
People often think that successful people are attractive. But what about their less successful counterparts? Are they destined to be seen as less attractive? In a study involving hypothetical job applicants, those candidates described as being “underdogs” -- i.e., they were unlikely to get a particular job due to unfair circumstances beyond their control (e.g., their application had been misplaced by a secretary) -- were rated as especially physically attractive and desirable to date compared to candidates who were (a) unfairly advantaged (i.e., had a friend pressuring the employer to hire them) or (b) were unlikely to get the job due to their own incompetence (i.e., they failed to follow directions on the job application). That’s right…being an underdog can be hot if your failures are not your own fault.
Men’s fascination with women’s butts and breasts is well known. They will often debate the qualities of each feature when together in a locker room or at a bar. But did you know there is actually empirical research on whether men prefer booty or boobs?
In a series of studies, researchers at the University of Buenos Aires recently looked at heterosexual men’s preferences for women’s breasts or women’s butts.
Should men go for the clean-shaven look, a full beard, or somewhere in between when trying to attract a woman? To answer this question, researchers showed heterosexual women and heterosexual men photographs of men with full beards, heavy stubble, light stubble, or cleanly shaven faces. Importantly, the pictures were the same men but with different facial hair styles. Women found heavy stubble more attractive than the other styles. Interestingly, men thought full beards and clean-shaven were more attractive than women did. A follow-up study focusing on fertility indicated that women’s preference for heavy stubble was the same regardless of menstrual cycle phase.
For more facial hair science, check out this article.
Dixson, B. J., & Brooks, R. C. (2013). The role of facial hair in women's perceptions of men's attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities. Evolution and Human Behavior, doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.02.003
Master manipulators know that the way to get people to part with their money is to create an illusion of scarcity. In other words, if you want people clamoring for whatever it is you’re selling, tell people they can’t have it (“Act now! Quantities are limited!”). Next thing you know, they’ll be lining up to pay you even more than you were originally asking! So does the same thing work when it comes to finding a date? Can you enhance your desirability by making yourself less available? A new set of studies suggests that you can.
Is it okay for people to be attracted to others while in a committed relationship? Is it normal? Someone told me "if you're in a relationship and attracted to someone else, then there is something missing in your relationship and you shouldn't be committed in the first place." Is that true? I've always thought that attraction is normal and unavoidable, and crushes are harmless if not acted on. So, is it normal to have a crush on someone who isn't your significant other?
A: Your question raises several different issues worth considering, so let’s take them one at a time:
1) Is being “attracted to others while in a committed relationship… normal and unavoidable?”
Actually, yes, there is reason to think that being attracted to others is unavoidable. When we look at another person our brain very quickly processes the visual information our eyes see, and we nearly instantaneously make a judgment concerning the other person’s attractiveness.
Chad Michael Murray, the actor from One Tree Hill, once said, “To all the girls out there who think being funny is not sexy, you are wrong!” Not only has a point, but there is some research to back him up. Two guys walk into a bar… and according to research, whomever women consider funnier will also be seen as more attractive and suitable for a long-term relationship.1 Having a funny partner may simply make them more fun to be around, but it is also possible that a good sense of humor indicates that a person has advanced language skills, creativity, abstract thinking, and intelligence.2 Put another way, a quick wit may signal the quality of a potential partner’s genetic make-up, which can lead that person to appear more attractive. Then again, maybe attractive people are more likely to be naturally funny, or are more likely to be perceived by others as funny. Recent research delves deeper into these issues to answer two key questions: Is being funny more attractive for short-term or long-term relationships? Does physical attractiveness influence ratings of funniness?
Some say that knowledge is power. Although knowledge in skills such as physics, literature, history, or foreign languages can help you look smart and win on Jeopardy (speaking of which, do you want to hear me talk about history in Russian?), it is less clear whether having knowledge of other people can help you “win” in social situations. In other words, can knowledge about another person lead you to like this person more? Social psychological research has evidence that familiarity may lead to either more and less liking, depending on the context.
At the stage of my life right now, I feel like I should be able to have a grasp of this, but I still don't. I am 27, male, and I've never had a serious relationship. The plain and simple reason is because I don't know how. During high school the girlfriends that I had were always more aggressive in getting what they wanted (me), so I never truly learned how to go for a woman. As I grew older, it seemed to me that the women expect the men to do most if not all of the work when it comes to intimacy. The steps from introduction to actual physical intimacy are very unclear to me; it's like figuring out the meaning of life (yes, it's that much of a mystery to me).