With Valentine’s day imminent I thought I’d take the opportunity to consider the age old question of attraction and ask, why do we fall in love with the people we do and what makes them attractive to us?
When you look back through your ex files do you wonder what links the people you’ve dated in the past? Do you have a distinctive ‘type’? Or (like me) do you seem to have a rather scattergun approach to dating?
So much of our ‘decisions’ about who to date and who we eventually fall for are rooted deep within our subconscious. On a base level, we are all products of evolution and adaptation and part of our survivalist instinct is to mate with those that we perceive as having the strongest genes.
As such certain perceptions of beauty are based around indicators of health and vitality, attracting us on the grounds that they promise a more genetically fit offspring.
Research suggests that while this primitive form of suitability analysis occurs on a subconscious level, we are able to see patterns which allow us to pick out certain so-called ‘fertility boosting’ physical characteristics.
Men appear to be attracted to facial symmetry in women, since it is thought that asymmetrical features indicate underlying genetic problems.
A waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 is also believed to be optimal in attracting a male partner (to see if you fit the bill you can calculate your own by dividing your waist measurements by those of your hips). The good news is that it appears that this rule applies no matter what the woman’s overall weight is.
The preference in women for facial symmetry (or indeed the ideal hip to waist ratio!) in their perfect partner is not quite so pronounced. Instead, it seems that women are on the look out for a man who has characteristics that would suggest he can offer food and protection (!!). Such signs of virility include a large chest, jutting jaw and powerful profile.
However, luckily it’s not just facial symmetry and a jutting jawbone that attracts us to each other. Perceived beauty is just one aspect of what makes a person attractive, while overall attractiveness is a composite that goes way beyond the surface.
Our perfect partner may be found less by biological attraction and more by our own personality, background, style, and interests.
Studies show that people tend to fall for those from the same socioeconomic background, with similar levels of intelligence and with consistent values and principles.
Bizarrely we also tend to be attracted to people who look like we do.
A researcher at the University of St Andrews developed a computer-based system to adjust photographic images of faces, morphing one face into another or changing the gender of a face.
Students in his study were shown a series of faces and asked to decide which they were most attracted to. In each instance the student unknowingly chose a version of their own face, which had been morphed almost beyond recognition into the opposite sex.
Further research suggests a correlation in couples in other physical features, such as lung volumes, middle finger lengths, ear lobe lengths, overall ear size, neck and wrist circumferences and metabolic rates. Suggesting we like ourselves more than we may think!
But what about that age old adage that opposites attract? There are certainly many couples that don’t look alike or share similar backgrounds. But these credentials don’t necessarily reflect a person’s personality. That’s what anthropologist Dr Helen Fischer attempts to do in her book, Why Him? Why Her? Here she constructs four different temperaments based on four broad biological personality types associated with four specific neurotransmitters and hormones: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and oestrogen.
Fisher believes we are all some combination of these four types, which she has named the Explorer (dominated by dopamine and characterised as a risk taker), the Builder (dominated by serotonin and who is calm and likes schedules and order), the Director (dominated by testosterone and who is focused, analytical and logical) and the Negotiator (dominated by oestrogen and sees the big picture is compassionate, altruistic and imaginative).
Within this model like may attract like but certain traits can compliment each other too, so while for example Explorers may be drawn to other Explorers, Directors and Negotiators pair up well too. So it’s not so much about opposites attracting as complementary characteristics aligning.
All of this said, the sexiest person in the room is not necessarily the one who is objectively the most symmetrical, or the one with the most familiar characteristics, or even the one with the most complimentary hormone balance. There is always that one person who can fill a room with their presence and project effortless self-confidence and happiness. Somehow this apparent comfort in their own skin makes them a hundred times more attractive than the self-conscious waif or the bragging, bulging bicepped alpha. The lesson? I’ll let you figure that out!
Happy Valentines Day!