social sciences

Romantic attraction: what do we look for in a partner?

There are many ideas on what attracts people to each other romantically. Some people are convinced that opposites attract holds true. As such a couple would perfectly balance each other out. According to this principle,  a person who is very timid and an outgoing person would make a perfect match. Or people might have theories, regarding looks that individuals search for others who are just as attractive as them. This concept is labeled ‘being in someone’s league’, meaning you have a chance of making a successful move one someone who is just as attractive as you are. Earlier I wrote a post about what men and women find attractive about each other, from an evolutionary perspective. But these a very generalized ideas, what about individual attraction?

  • First of all, in terms of romantic attraction, men perceive attraction as a more important feature than women.¹ This is what studies,  time and time again, seem to find in terms of gender differences and attraction.
  • For females, height was deemed more important, with the male-taller norm as the standard.²
  • Using speed-dating settings for research, it was found that people ended up being more attracted to their potential partner when they knew that the partner already liked them. So knowing someone is attracted to us, can make us feel more attracted to them.³
  • There seem to be robust findings for the similarity principle. People like those who are like them. Opposites attract was quickly regarded as folk wisdom, similarity is what influences who we form relationships with, whether it be romantic or platonic. However, again using speed-dating settings, researchers found that it’s perceived similarity is what matters and not actual similarity. If we feel as if we are similar to others, this makes us feel more attracted to them.4
  • Interestingly, while knowing that someone likes you can increase your own attraction, uncertainty can also have an effect. Not knowing whether someone is attracted to you can ultimately increase your attraction towards that individuals. As you will spend more time thinking about that person.5

1. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms.
2. Pierce, C. A. (1996). Body height and romantic attraction: A meta-analytic test of the male-taller norm. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 24(2), 143-149.
3. Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What leads to romantic attraction: Similarity, reciprocity, security, or beauty? Evidence from a speed‐dating study. Journal of personality, 77(4), 933-964.
4. Tidwell, N. D., Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Perceived, not actual, similarity predicts initial attraction in a live romantic context: Evidence from the speed‐dating paradigm. Personal Relationships, 20(2), 199-215.
5. Whitchurch, E. R., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2011). “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…” Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction. Psychological Science, 22(2), 172-175.

social sciences

Sexual selection from an evolutionary prespective

Ask a couple why the choose each other and you probably get some story on how they thought their significant other was attractive. There are thousands of self-help books dedicated to helping you become more attractive. Even coaches exist to assist you in appearing appealing to the person of your liking. But what exactly makes people attractive? 

As suggested in the title, the following explanations are from an evolutionary perspective. This research field mainly seems to focus on heterosexual couples. Also, the first part of the theory will discuss physical attraction, the second part will look at personality characteristics. Hormones play a big role in secondary sex characteristics, which is essential in sexual selection. Men and women look at different cues that are important for reproduction.

Women
Women look for characteristics that indicate high levels of testosterone, such as a broad jaw (Grammer & Thornhill, 1994). Such characteristics are the result of evolution through sexual selection. Because these indicate important physical traits to consider such as immunocompetence (the immune system being able to fight off antigens). These are favorable hereditary traits to pass on to your offspring. Yet another indicator of good genes is facial symmetry (Scheib, Gangestad, Thornhill, 1999). Which again, could be signaling good genes, as it could indicate development stability in puberty, the body withstood pathogens and perturbations (Gangestad & Thornhill, 2003). Ovulation can also influence females’ perceptions of attractiveness. As during this phase of the menstrual cycle, females prefer more masculine faces.

Men
Men look for characteristics such as low hip-to-waist ratio since this could be an indication of good health (Sing, 1993). As for facial attractiveness, men seem to rate neonate faces as more appealing. These are faces with ‘young features’, such as big eyes or a small chin (Cunnigham, 1986). This could be due to the fact that women are fertile only for a certain period of time, which is linked to her younger years.

Personality
However, personality is still an important factor in attraction. Humor for one can influence people’s perceptions of attractiveness. Previous research has suggested that it displays intelligence. Li et al (2009) point out that someone who is already seen as somewhat appealing will be able to increase this by being funny. This means that people will also actively use this as a strategy to seem desirable to a potential partner.
People often claim ‘opposites attract’, however humans are not magnets. It actually seems like similarities attract, people are more likely to look for mates that share the same traits (Botwin, Buss, Shackelford, 1997).
Research has suggested that preferences for personality traits are influenced by culture, whereas physical attractiveness seems to be more universal. The differences between men and women were that men seemed to place more emphasis on physical attractiveness, while women looked for kindness, or humor. Though both genders found the aforementioned traits to be of importance, with intelligence being the highest ranked trait overall (Lippa, 2007).

Botwin, M. D., Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Personality and mate preferences: Five factors in mate selection and marital satisfaction. Journal of personality, 65(1), 107-136.
Cunningham, M. R. (1986). Measuring the physical in physical attractiveness: Quasi-experiments on the sociobiology of female facial beauty. Journal of personality and social psychology, 50(5), 925.
Gangestad, S. W., & Thornhill, R. (2003). Facial masculinity and fluctuating asymmetry. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24(4), 231-241.
Grammer, K., & Thornhill, R. (1994). Human (Homo sapiens) facial attractiveness and sexual selection: the role of symmetry and averageness. Journal of comparative psychology, 108(3), 233.
Li, N. P., Griskevicius, V., Durante, K. M., Jonason, P. K., Pasisz, D. J., & Aumer, K. (2009). An evolutionary perspective on humor: sexual selection or interest indication?. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
Lippa, R. A. (2007). The preferred traits of mates in a cross-national study of heterosexual and homosexual men and women: An examination of biological and cultural influences. Archives of sexual behavior, 36(2), 193-208.
Scheib, J. E., Gangestad, S. W., & Thornhill, R. (1999). Facial attractiveness, symmetry and cues of good genes. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences, 266(1431), 1913-1917.
Singh, D. (1993). Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: role of waist-to-hip ratio. Journal of personality and social psychology, 65(2), 293.