The Psychology of Attraction

382203_10151257877851875_397838797_nMy sister Melissa got engaged earlier this year at the Biltmore House to the most wonderful man named Lance, and the photographer obviously captured the moment perfectly. But why did she fall for Lance? Why did Lance fall for her? Can that really be studied scientifically?

According to my psychology textbook “Exploring Psychology” by David G. Myers (pp. 607-608), it absolutely can. In fact, there are “three ingredients of our liking for one another: proximity, physical attractiveness, and similarity.”

1. Proximity. This one – “geographic nearness”- is simple enough. You can’t date or become friends with someone who you haven’t even had the chance to meet. However, this goes beyond just having more opportunities to run into one another.

Seeing “novel stimuli” again and again, whether that be a face or a song or an artwork, actually “increases our liking for them.” This is called the mere exposure effect.

Psychologists Richard Moreland and Scott Beach even conducted a simple experiment on this effect in 1992. They found four “equally attractive” females and sent them into a class for zero, 5, 10, or 15 class periods throughout the semester. When the semester ended, the two researchers asked the class of 200 students to rate each of the four women. Just as the researchers had suspected, the students ranked the women in order of attractiveness from the female they had seen the most (15 times) to the female they had seen the least (zero times).

2. Physical Attractiveness. I must confess, I was really excited when I saw this listed as number two. I feel like having science back up the purpose of your blog is pretty legit. Yeah science!

“Once proximity affords you contact, what most affects your first impressions: The person’s sincerity? Intelligence? Personality? Hundreds of experiments reveal that it is something far more superficial: Appearance.”

That’s straight from a textbook folks, and we have an experiment from Elaine Hatfield to demonstrate this. She randomly paired up new students at the University of Minnesota for a “Welcome Week Dance.” After two hours of dancing and mingling, she asked each of the boys and girls to rate each other. Only one factor played into their ratings of each other: physical attractiveness. Hatfield had rated each of the student’s attractiveness beforehand, and each of the student’s ratings for their dates corresponded directly with Hatfield’s attractiveness ratings for them.

Well, college kids are just superficial you say. Actually, even babies prefer to gaze up at attractive faces as opposed to unattractive faces. Ouch.

Well, isn’t beauty in the eye of beholder? Not necessarily. While some people may prefer brunettes over blonds or blue eyes over brown eyes, there are a lot of characteristics that cross time and cultures. In general, all people consider big eyes, clear skin, straight jawlines, full lips, and, most importantly, symmetrical faces, beautiful. In fact, when we see someone with these characteristics, we actually perceive them to be “healthier, happier, more sensitive, more successful, and more socially skilled” (pg. 608).

3. Similarity. Contrary to popular opinion, opposites do not tend to attract. Time and time again experiments have proved that people become friends with and fall in love with people who are similar to them. “Friends and couples are far more likely to share common attitudes, beliefs, and interests (and, for that matter, age, religion, race, education, intelligence, smoking behavior, and economic status) than are randomly paired people” (pg 610).

I think that the simple reason for this is that we like people who agree with us. It’s nice to have someone affirm your opinions. This doesn’t mean that you want someone to agree with you 100% of the time, because that would be boring. But at the same time, you don’t want someone who fervently disagrees with you 60% of the time, do you? If this were the case, then you would not understand each other. You would be frustrated. How can he believe that? I just don’t understand.

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Concluding Remarks: So, just to confirm this study, I’d like to evaluate Melissa and Lance without their permission. Sorry guys. 1. Proximity: They both went to the University of Georgia and they both attended a Bible Study on campus once a week, which is where they met. 2. Attractiveness: Lance said that when he first saw Melissa at this Bible study, he thought that she was the most beautiful girl that he’d ever seen. And Melissa thinks Lance is pretty cute too. 3. Similarity: They are both Christians. They are both kind to a fault and very polite. They both enjoy traveling. They are both UGA grads. Neither of them smoke. And they are both at about the same economic status: broke. I kid, but he’s in medical school, so I’m not too worried about them. All in all, they are both very similar in their beliefs, attitudes, and interests.

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Notice too how one ingredient leads to the next. First, you just notice someone everyday in class/at work, or once a week at church, or every once in a while when you visit a friend’s house. Second, you notice that this person is physically attractive. Third, you start to actually talk and interact with this person. If you find that you share similar beliefs, attitudes, and interests, then you will end up liking each other and wanting to spend more time together. And, who knows, she or he might just be the one. However, if you are not like-minded at all, the relationship will probably terminate at this step, or continue on in a superficial way in which neither person is very content.

What do ya’ll think? I’d be interested to hear if anyone can confirm or deny this based on experience or observance? I think that it’s a pretty good determinant of blossoming friendships and/or romantic relationships.

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14 thoughts on “The Psychology of Attraction

  1. Such an interesting article. I really appreciate that the author is a pretty girl addressing these issues objectively rather than someone on a bitter vendetta!

  2. Girl, your sister is so pretty! That Lance is a lucky man!

  3. Aw! They look like such a cute couple! One day my prince will come…one day…one day hopefully…screw it, I’m just gonna die alone!

  4. I just want nice clothes? Is that too much to ask?

  5. Want to twerk out? Get it?

  6. I wonder if proximity is not really a factor anymore. I noticed the study that was done was completed in 1992 and wonder if online dating has changed things a little. Regardless, yes attractiveness does still rank pretty high in attraction. It would be interesting to know if there’s a study on whether internal beauty can make people more or less beautiful. I would argue yes!

    • Thank you for your comment. Hermann Ebbinghaus said that, “Psychology has a long past but only a short history.” In other words, scientists have been studying the science of behavior and mental processes for a long time, yet the first psychology lab was not opened until 1879. However, psychologists today still use data from experiments spanning from the 1800’s until today. I don’t think psychology results change very much over time, but that is my amateur opinion. Myers updates this psychology textbook regularly (the most recent came out in 2012) and he still uses the 3 ingredients listed above. But I would agree, I think that technology can keep us more connected now, which would definitely help with long term relationships. And, in reference to your last comment, I agree! Inner beauty is definitely a key part of your overall beauty. I will have to save that quote for a future post.

  7. […] enough, both of these highlights were also addressed in the post “The Psychology of Attraction.” I always find that encouraging when you can reference something that you’ve already […]

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