If you’ve ever used a dating website, you’ve probably answered a number of quizzes about your personality and interests before waiting for the website’s complex and discerning algorithm to match you with your soul mate.
Unfortunately, though, only one metric consistently predicts whether you’ll be interested in romantic pursuit: the other person’s physical attractiveness.
However, before you deem humans as the shallowest of creatures, consider this: If you had a potential mate who had all the personality qualities you could desire in another, but you simply did not find them sexually attractive, would you consider dating them?
One theory on why physical attraction is so powerful comes from evolutionary psychology and the “good genes hypothesis.” Because physical attractiveness serves as a marker of physical health, the more attractive you are, the more physically healthy you seem. Thus, in order to give our genes/offspring the best chance at survival, we want to mate with the healthiest (i.e., most attractive) people.
For example, research shows that we find symmetrical faces (a sign of healthiness) to be more attractive than asymmetrical faces (a sign of deformity or unhealthiness). In fact, this preference for symmetry even extends to babies who spend more time looking at pictures of symmetrical (vs. asymmetrical) faces!
But in today’s society, attractiveness implies far more than just healthiness.
In what’s known as the “halo effect,” we tend to perceive attractive (vs. unattractive) people as more self-assertive, more exciting, more stable, more honest, more altruistic, and less irritating—all simply because they’re attractive.
Generally, heterosexual men find narrow noses and chins, high eyebrows, and big eyes in women to be more attractive. Whereas heterosexual women tend to prefer men with dark eyebrows and lashes, an upper half of the face that’s broader than the lower half, and a prominent jaw/chin.
However, physical attractiveness is perceived in more than just your physical features, for your social behavior can influence it as well.
In a famous psychology study, male participants were told they’d be speaking with a female participant over the phone. Although these women were randomly assigned to the various men, the men were presented with one of two photos (either an attractive or unattractive woman) that was supposedly who they’d be speaking with (when really, neither picture represented any of the female participants).
After the conversation, both the participants (the man and the woman) as well as observers rated the women assigned the attractive picture as more engaging, more extroverted, more entertaining, and, overall, more attractive.
Although the woman in the photograph was never the woman that the men were speaking with, because the men were more enthusiastic speaking to an “attractive woman,” the women, in turn, responded favorably. That is, being treated as if you are attractive actually makes you appear more attractive.
In this regard, even if you don’t think you’re physically attractive, simply acting like you are will encourage others to treat you like are, making you more physically attractive in the end.
Love on the Brain? Research shows that our perception of our own attractiveness can be a little distorted—but how so?
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