Learning the Rules of Attraction with Social Psychology

By Daniel Richardson

Part of Social Psychology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

So what makes someone attractive? It’s a burning question, and while Social Psychology may not have the answer every time you hear a plaintive cry of ‘What does she see in HIM?’, it can offer some valuable pointers:

  • It’s all about evolution: According to evolutionary psychology, not only do you have to be the fittest and strongest in order to survive, but also you need to look like the fittest and strongest to potential mates.

  • Not (just) a pretty face: People think of beauty as unique and elusive, but the evidence is that one simple factor determines most peoples’ judgments about attractiveness: averageness. The most beautiful person in a group is the mathematical average of everyone present.

  • It’s reproduction, stupid: Heterosexual men are attracted to adult females but want them to look pre-pubescent. Through most of human history, younger females tended to be more fertile and have healthier babies. The claim is that men have evolved to be most attracted to sexually mature women who’re young enough to still have the facial characteristics of girls.

  • What women want: As well as symmetry, the features in men that are typically attractive to females are a wide, strong jaw and jutting forehead, features corresponding to high levels of testosterone. Men with higher testosterone are more likely to have more resources and more ability to defend their families.

  • You like people who are like you: People don’t choose friends and partners purely on their looks. Many nuanced and complex answers exist to the question of what else makes two people like each other, but one very simple answer is almost entirely true: people like people who are like them.