Psychology and romantic attraction


in Geek stuff, Psychology, Science

The psychology course I have been following features a Valentine’s Day lecture about love. Mostly, it is about what seems to make people attracted to one another, as demonstrated by psychological experiments.

Professor Peter Salovey, the guest lecturer, argues that we have empirical evidence for seven major causes of attraction. Three of them are fairly obvious, but very demonstrably important. The next four are more subtle, but are also supported by experimental investigation.

The big three:

  1. Proximity – we are more likely to get romantically involved with those who we live near
  2. Familiarity – the more we see a person, the more likely we are to get involved with them
  3. Similarity – apparently, opposites do not attract

The practical utility of this is obvious, for those looking for a romantic partner. Move to an area with people who you find attractive, and participate in social events with like-minded people, so as to improve your odds of being similar to and familiar with attractive people.

The more subtle four:

  1. Competence – the people who we like the very best are those that strike us as highly competent, but who make some sort of humanizing blunder
  2. Physical attractiveness – many people underestimate how important a factor this is for themselves
  3. An increasingly positive view – if someone seems to be warming towards us, it is highly interesting
  4. Mis-attribution of good feelings – we feel good or excited for a reason unrelated to a person, but wrongly attribute the feeling to them

These all also suggest dating strategies. The last two seem particularly easy to manipulate. It is also worth noting that we are most attracted to people who seem to be very exclusive in their choice of partners, but who we do not expect to be picky or difficult in our case. That may not be enough to constitute a Revolutionary New Dating Paradigm, but it might be helpful for some people.

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Milan April 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Mis-attribution of good feelings might be the most interesting thing on this list:

This is a phenomenon about the misattribution for the causes of arousal. You feel physiologically aroused but you’re not completely sure why, and you have to make up an explanation for it. I think what I want to do–And sometimes that explanation is accurate, but the ones that are interesting here are the ones where you misattribute the cause of the arousal–you make a mistake and think it’s love when it might be due to something else.

Experiments have shown that all sorts of situations that prompt general arousal can also make people feel attracted to those around them. These include crossing a rickety bridge, listening to a rapid heartbeat, and being told that an upcoming experiment in which they are a subject will involve painful electric shocks.

The dating message: amusement parks and rock climbing might be good first date ideas.

XUP April 27, 2010 at 5:09 pm

I found this significantly more concise and useful than that RNDP dinosaur thing

Alena April 29, 2010 at 9:57 am

Those are interesting factors of attraction. I wonder if they differ from culture to culture and to what extent they are socialized. I have read somewhere that a person decides about his/her attraction to another person in less than 3 seconds. When I ask my students from Asia and Africa what attracted them to their partners, they almost always say that it was because they came from a “good family,” were well-educated and had a god job or prospects for the future.

Padraic May 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Is the rest of the course worth listening to? I have never taken a psych course but have developed an interest in it. I also do generally like iTunes U courses.

Milan May 2, 2010 at 9:55 pm

I would definitely say so.

I have now listened to the whole thing, and found each lecture very interesting. I am also planning to get the textbook and reader eventually, but that will need to wait until I have worked through some of the three dozen books I am currently at some stage in reading.

. May 18, 2010 at 7:55 pm

Justice Not As Blind As Previously Thought

“I doubt this is much of a surprise but apparently Cornell University did a study that seems to show you’re more likely to get convicted if you’re ugly. From the article: ‘According to a Cornell University study, unattractive defendants are 22 percent more likely to be convicted than good-looking ones. And the unattractive also get slapped with harsher sentences — an average of 22 months longer in prison.'”

Milan May 18, 2010 at 7:59 pm

I am surprised I didn’t already quote one of my favourite bits of the course, which definitely relates to the question of romantic attraction:

People like attractive people. Physically attractive people are thought to be smarter, more competent, more social and nicer. Now, some of you who are very cynical and/or very good looking might wonder “yes, but good-looking people like me actually are smarter, more competent, more social and morally better.” This is not a crazy response. It is–it could be, for instance, that the advantages of being good looking make your life run a lot easier. Teachers are more responsive to you, people treat you better, you have more opportunities to make your way through the world, you make more money, you have more access to things, and that could, in turn, cause you to improve your life. This would be what’s known in the Bible as a “Matthew effect.” A Matthew effect is a developmental psychology phrase for the sort of thing where, well, as Jesus said, “For unto everyone that hath shall be given and he shall have abundance.” That means if you’re good looking you’ll also be smart but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath. It’s a long version of the rich get richer and the poor even lose what they hath. So, there’s a variety of studies suggesting that teachers rate attractive children as smarter and higher achieving. Adults think that when an ugly kid misbehaves it’s because they have an ugly soul [laughter] while the attractive kid, “oh, that little scamp, somebody must have been bothering him.”

When I was in the University of Arizona and we lived next–and all I remember of my neighborhood is we lived next to this little boy and his name was Adonis. [laughter] Cute kid, but come on. [laughter] Also in mock trials judges give longer prison sentences to ugly people. [laughter] That’s the Matthew effect, those who hath little get even that taken away and thrown into prison.

It is both comic and poignant when spoken by Professor Bloom. Video links are here.

Padraic May 20, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Good quote, but your link points to the wrong image.

Milan May 20, 2010 at 6:34 pm

Thanks for pointing that out. I altered my earlier comment.

Unfortunately, there is no elegant way to link directly to the Flash video.

Milan July 5, 2010 at 8:32 pm

The television series Invader Zim provides an especially colourful illustration of the Matthew Effect.

Zim is part of the warlike Irkin race, who are determined to conquer the universe and use height to determine an individual’s social status. Their leaders, naturally, are called ‘The Tallest.’

In the first episode, The Tallest are assigning Irkin Invaders to planets that they are meant to research and help conquer. One especially short Invader is told that he was going to be sent to the Planet Blorch – “home of the slaughtering rat people.”

Given that he has grown, however, they send him to the Planet Vort, which contains the most comfortable couch in the universe.

An even shorter Invader gets sent to Blorch.

. August 10, 2010 at 11:19 am

The science of the booty call

Xeni Jardin at 1:34 PM Monday, Aug 9, 2010

“As much as you want to escape your biology, there it is, in your face. Humans have the illusion that they can escape their biology, but we’re just like any other animal, the difference is our leash is longer. It appears that we have all this freedom to make these choices, but we really don’t.”—University of South Alabama psychology professor Peter K. Jonason, author of the scientific treatise “Positioning the Booty-Call Relationship on the Spectrum of Relationships” [PDF]

Milan October 15, 2010 at 8:09 am
. November 30, 2010 at 8:16 pm
Anon December 19, 2010 at 11:22 pm

When we like someone, we focus on their best feature. When we dislike them, on their worst.

. January 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Judge Rules White Girl Will Be Tried As Black Adult

The court ruled a white teen who stabbed a classmate to death will face the jury as a 300-pound black man.

. January 31, 2011 at 8:41 pm

Love at first byte
Online-dating sites have made it easier for people to click with one another. But they still leave something to be desired

FOR the lovelorn, the new year can be an unhappy time, as they cast envious glances in the direction of lovey-dovey couples at the season’s parties. For online-dating agencies, it is a golden opportunity, as people who have spent the holidays ruminating over unsatisfactory or non-existent love lives log on in their thousands, hoping to find romance—ideally before February 14th. “The period between New Year’s Day and Valentine’s Day is our busiest six weeks of the year,” explains Sam Yagan, the boss of OkCupid, a big American dating site.

Once seen as the last resort for a bunch of lonely geeks, online-dating services have gradually shed much of the stigma formerly associated with them. Although they are still popular with tech types—Julian Assange, the mercurial co-founder of WikiLeaks, reportedly once maintained profiles on dating sites under the name “Harry Harrison”—they now attract millions of people from many walks of life. ComScore, a research firm, says Match and Zoosk, two large dating services based in the United States, saw 4.6m and 4.8m unique visitors respectively come to their American sites in November 2010. Meetic, Europe’s biggest dating service, also boasts millions of users.

Blowing cyberkisses has become a popular pastime in emerging markets too. In countries and cultures in which arranged marriages are common, sites such as India’s Shaadi and BharatMatrimony, which boast many millions of clients, are a big hit with young people who want to influence how their marriage partners are chosen. And a number of sizeable digital matchmakers, including Jiayuan and Zhenai, have risen to prominence in China. Deepak Kamra of Canaan Partners, an American venture-capital firm that has backed several dating services, including Zoosk and BharatMatrimony, estimates that the industry’s revenues from membership fees and advertising now amount to $3 billion-4 billion a year.

. July 7, 2011 at 11:05 pm

The Misconception: You always know why you feel the way you feel.

The Truth: You can experience emotional states without knowing why, even if you believe you can pinpoint the source.

The bridge is still in British Columbia, still long and scary, still sagging across the Capilano Canyon daring people to traverse it.

If you were to place the Statue of Liberty underneath the bridge, base and all, it would lightly drape across her copper shoulders. It is about as wide as a park bench for its entire suspended length, and when you try to cross, feeling it sway and rock in the wind, hearing it creak and buckle, it is difficult to take your eyes off of the rocks and roaring water two-hundred and thirty feet below – far enough for you feel in your stomach the distance between you and a messy, crumpled death. Not everyone makes it across.

In 1974, psychologists Art Aron and Donald Dutton hired a woman to stand in the middle of this suspension bridge. As men passed her on their way across, she asked them if they would be willing to fill out a questionnaire. At the end of the questions, she asked them to examine an illustration of a lady covering her face and then make up a back story to explain it. She then told each man she would be more than happy to discuss the study further if he wanted to call her that night, and tore off a portion of the paper, wrote down her number, and handed it over.

. August 26, 2011 at 4:39 pm

The economics of good looks
The line of beauty
Pretty people still get the best deals in the market, from labour to love

FRANCE looked back this week at the 1911 theft of the Mona Lisa from the walls of the Louvre. It was one of the most startling art heists in history, but the emotions it still arouses go beyond that. Stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s painting was like stealing beauty itself. And beauty has lost none of its power to bewitch, bother and get its own way, as three new books on the economic advantages of good looks confirm.

Physically attractive women and men earn more than average-looking ones, and very plain people earn less. In the labour market as a whole (though not, for example, in astrophysics), looks have a bigger impact on earnings than education, though intelligence—mercifully enough— is valued more highly still.

Beauty is naturally rewarded in jobs where physical attractiveness would seem to matter, such as prostitution, entertainment, customer service and so on. But it also yields rewards in unexpected fields. Homely NFL quarterbacks earn less than their comelier counterparts, despite identical yards passed and years in the league. Not everything comes easier: good-looking women seeking high-flying jobs in particularly male fields may be stymied by the “bimbo effect” until they prove their competence and commitment. But the importance of beauty in the labour market is far more pervasive than one might think.

. November 5, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Cute 8-Year-Old Starting To Realize How Much Better She Is Than Ugly Girls

WINNEMUCCA, NV—Eight-year-old Ella Neumark said Saturday that in recent weeks she has become increasingly aware of how her adorable physical characteristics make her superior to unattractive girls.

Ella told reporters she has only lately begun to appreciate how her wide, expressive eyes, shiny blond hair, and flawlessly straight teeth cause her to be a far more worthy human being than her less appealing peers.

“I never really noticed it before, but my prettiness makes me better than every girl who isn’t as pretty as me,” Ella said. “The face I have means I deserve more attention than anyone whose face isn’t as good.”

“Mrs. Hothan calls on me all the time in class because my eyes, nose, and mouth are a certain way, and that’s why she also gives me more time to answer questions,” Ella continued. “She likes to look at me, so she’s nice to me. Other girls don’t get treated as nice because they aren’t nearly as good to look at. That’s so amazing.”

Ella’s growing recognition that her cuteness endows her with intrinsically greater value than girls who are overweight or possess thick eyebrows has reportedly caused her to see her friendships differently. The third-grader said she has begun to fully understand that she can in fact exploit her appearance to obtain benefits she believes she is entitled to.

. May 14, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Bradley Ruffle at Ben-Gurion University and Ze’ev Shtudiner at Ariel University Centre looked at what happens when job hunters include photos with their curricula vitae, as is the norm in much of Europe and Asia. The pair sent fictional applications to over 2,500 real-life vacancies. For each job, they sent two very similar résumés, one with a photo, one without. Subjects had previously been graded for their attractiveness.

For men, the results were as expected. Hunks were more likely to be called for an interview if they included a photo. Ugly men were better off not including one. However, for women this was reversed. Attractive females were less likely to be offered an interview if they included a mugshot. When applying directly to a company (rather than through an agency) an attractive woman would need to send out 11 CVs on average before getting an interview; an equally qualified plain one just seven.

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