Oh, if only dating were easier. If only we knew, before choosing a location to meet, picking out an outfit, and pumping ourselves up for the occasion, whether it would all be worth it. Would she find my joke funny? Maybe. Is there a chance he'll be interested in my favorite hobby? Only time will tell. The unknowns abound in meeting someone new, so understanding the psychology of attraction can help up your dating game. Researchers have long worked to understand the scientific aspects behind the elusive spark and discovered that there is more than one typology.
What Is the Attraction?
Attraction is the power of eliciting feelings of desire, interest, or liking. The psychology of attraction refers to the study of the reasons why we're attracted to certain people over others.
Attraction, as it turns out, is not a singular model. While there are countless variations and potencies, seven stand out as the major types of attraction "I tend to define attraction as forces which pull people together," explains social psychology expert Madeleine A. Fugère, Ph.D. "These forces can be things like liking, sexual desire, similarity, or even just physical proximity."
Sexual attraction, for example, is dictated by the desire to engage in intimate acts with a person and can be influenced by physical cues alone. Romantic attraction is deeper, spurred by feelings of wanting a relationship with someone. The two appear together in what is commonly considered "attraction." Friendship attraction is platonically just that, a desire to engage in a nonromantic companionate relationship. "We can be attracted to individuals because they are good listeners or interesting to talk to or funny but not be sexually attracted to those people," adds Fugère.
Additional types of attraction include the following:
- Physical or sensual attraction: guided by the desire for physical proximity and emotional (nonsexual) touch like a hug or affectionate cuddle.
- Aesthetic attraction: dictated by an interest in one's physical appearance (but not necessarily desiring a sexual experience with them).
- Intellectual attraction: cerebral in nature, guided by an interest in one's mind, thoughts, or the stimulating conversation they may offer.
- Emotional attraction: stems from feelings of connection, attachment, and vulnerability with someone.
All of these forms of attraction can be quite fluid and aren't always exclusive of one another but can also exist separately within their own silos. With so many variations, the psychology of attraction is quite an, well, attractive discipline. And while it's often not conclusive work, you want all the clues you can get when you're going out on a limb to meet a stranger.
Read on for seven tidbits about the psychology of attraction.
Wear Red on a First Date
A 2010 study found that heterosexual women who wore red when chatting with heterosexual men were deemed to be more attractive. The men asked the crimson-wearing women more intimate questions than those wearing blue or green and wanted to sit closer to them.
Conversely, heterosexual women who were asked to view men wearing red or standing in front of a red background saw them as more attractive, too. The phenomenon is attributed to red being a primal color that's associated with health and fertility. If you'd like to see for yourself, try wearing red on your next date.
Pay Attention to Your Body Language
A 2011 experiment found that using smaller gestures, talking slowly, and leaning backward are nonthreatening cues that allow a date—who is, after all, a stranger—to feel more comfortable. Watch as they loosen up and then feel free to get more animated. This balance between nonverbal cues is deemed attractive since you're honoring personal space and showcasing your personality.
"An open body posture is a signal of confidence and can enhance feelings of attraction," says Fugère, adding that eye contact is essential. "When women are attracted to someone, we tend to make eye contact and smile. Although women tend to do these behaviors intuitively, smiling and eye contact increase activity in the area of the brain associated with reward. The frequency of sustained eye contact varies across cultures, but eye contact and smiling can make you seem more attractive to others."
Perspective is key! According to Fugère, men are more likely than women to mistake friendship attraction for sexual attraction, and women are more likely to underestimate men’s sexual attraction to them.
Use Scent and Sound to Your Advantage
In 2017, a group of psychologists published a review from the University of Wroclaw in Poland stating that the voice and smell of someone can be a biological determination (more on that later) of their heterosexual attraction. According to their work, a woman's natural odor indicates how fertile she may be, just as a man's scent can hint at his level of dominance.
When it comes to voice, "women tend to find lower-pitched voices more masculine and attractive, which is likely associated with men’s testosterone levels," says Fugère. "Men tend to find higher-pitched voices more attractive and expect women with higher-pitched voices to be both younger and thinner."
She also adds that people tend to match a partner's voice pitch (men going higher and women going lower in heterosexual relationships) when speaking with one another. But beware, as Fugère cautions that "both men and women who are rated as having sexier voices are also more likely to be unfaithful to their partners."
Perceptions of People You Know Can Be Changed
As anyone who has fallen for a friend knows, a person's attractiveness is much more than skin deep. "There are a lot of different ways we can try to be more attractive to others, but primarily, most people are first influenced by someone’s physical attractiveness and then can become more or less attracted to someone over time depending on other factors, such as similarity, personality, and reciprocal interest," explains Fugère.
So if a person was seen as physically attractive or perhaps not as physically attractive at first sight, that can change as their interests, sense of humor, and other shared qualities become known. This process is called "slow love."
A 2014 study supports this theory, finding that perceptions of a person can change with time and that the shift can either decrease or increase their level of attraction.
Use Mindfulness to Spur Romantic Attraction
You've probably been told that maintaining a bit of mystery at the beginning of a relationship is smart—and that's often true. But when you're in the presence of a partner, practicing mindfulness can potentially increase your attractiveness.
A 2015 study found that heterosexual women thought men were more attractive when they were actively involved in the conversation rather than acting aloof. The same correlation wasn't made for heterosexual men talking to women, and the study says that it needs more research overall. All of this being said, it doesn't hurt to pay attention to your date!
Is “Love at First Sight” Real?
While the phenomenon of falling in love with someone immediately is still up for debate, a 2017 study found that when it is supposedly experienced, men are more likely to admit it.
The researchers asked 400 men and women to complete surveys on romantic interests they had just met, and men said that they felt that fluttering feeling in the process—and with more than one person. The researchers weren't sure why and obviously noted that physical attraction isn't the same as love, but it could be because women are arguably more selective in who they choose as a partner.
Genetics Impact Who We Find Attractive
It should come as no surprise that humans inherently find symmetry attractive. The balance of facial and bodily features can be a primal hint at a person’s fertility and the strength of their genes, as is often known, but there’s yet another aspect of genetics that’s intriguing. In 2005, the late psychologist J. Philippe Rushton found that similar genetics determine 34 percent of friendship and mate selection. In other words, that’s why happy couples can look alike.
But it goes much, much deeper than just aesthetics. "We tend to be attracted to those whose immune genes are unlike our own—potentially providing enhanced immunity for future offspring," explains Fugère. "We may be able to unconsciously detect genetic compatibility through scent and through kissing."
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