Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The evolution of attraction
Those of you ladies out there who are in relationships, have you found your gaze lingering a bit too long on an especially beautiful woman? I think we all probably have. It's not just because of her perfect hair or "toothpaste commercial teeth" though. It's because of evolution.

That's what psychologists at Florida State University recently discovered. They measured how long it takes a person to avert their eyes when they see a really attractive person of the same sex, and concluded that we have an innate reflex of looking just a little bit longer at someone who appears to be "competition" for our mate, compared with when the interloper is just average-looking. And, if you're straight and you see someone of the opposite sex who's really attractive, it generally takes longer for you to avert your eyes too; you are literally mesmerized.

When I talked a little longer to lead study author John Maner, he revealed some other really interesting tidbits about the effects of evolution on how we choose our mates. It turns out beauty isn't really just in the eye of the beholder, as they say. In fact, it has generally objective parameters that are driven by evolutionary motivations. Study after study proves that our biological need to procreate leads most of us to pick mates with the same specific types of physical features over others. At the end of the day, most of us tend to latch on to people whose features suggest their own high potential for reproductive success. How unromantic!

Men look for women with a hip-to-waist ratio of 0.7, and a face with a high forehead, good skin, and big eyes because it means you're youthful - all signs of good childbearing potential and healthy future offspring. Meanwhile, women look for men with strong square jaws and other macho features that suggest high testosterone levels (big muscles, etc.) because the more dominant they are, the more likely they will provide resources and status for the woman. But when a woman wants to cheat, she usually looks for someone who's got really symmetrical features. That's because symmetry is something we tend to associate with having good gene... so in the end, even when we cheat, we're looking for good procreating prospects.
This sounds like you have fallen into a stereotype. I know plenty of couples that did not select each other based upon stereotypical/high-schoolish femininity and masculinity. As you note, it is obvious by looking at many couples that neither are the stereotypical model. There is obviously much more to it, such as the need for psychological fulfillment or indications of intellectual prowess.
This topic is very funny because it's realistic on the views of sexual attraction. A lot of it deals with natural selection and social darwinism. At the same time, it is very depressing when thinking of unattractive or mundane people. What happened to them, do they just not find a mate, are they considered genetically inferior? Even worse, if they pass on their genes, how would the parent feel if the reason for their children to be socially and sexually unattractive and unaccepted is because of their genes. Do they just not procreate to avoid harming another person's life. I know this sounds black and white but there is some truth in it because just because a person is considered ugly doesn't mean they are any less affected by the media.
There is no doubt that beauty contributes to the joy of life. Beautiful looks are inspiring. We were created to enjoy beauty. You don’t see dogs gazing into the breath-taking sunsets with tears in their eyes. But there are so many types of beauty. Beauty in sights and sounds. Beautiful literature appeals to the intellect, that touches our heart and mind.

But the most beautiful things in life are people who have a moral beauty.

A female point of view here. I remember a certain someone who pursued me. The epitome of tall, dark and handsome. My friends were tickled pink over it, the married ones were thrilled and some were even envious. But something just didn’t seem right to me. I wasn’t impressed with looks anyway and decided not to date him and simply observe him in a group with all my friends as my parents always advised me. (my friends thought I was crazy)

Until one day I saw him condescendingly mistreat a certain cleaning lady at his lavish office when a group of us all dropped by to go out for lunch. It was horrible. He humiliated her in front of all us. There was a dead silence in the room. She was so embarrassed and hurt. I don’t know if he thought it would impress us all to show the "power" he had or what. But it sure revealed something awful about him. I felt pained at heart and hurt for her myself. That was all it took for me.

In any case, any good looks he had were marred by that one moment in time. I felt so sad. If I had seen him treat her with dignity and compassion I would have respected him at least.

I recently saw him on TV not too long ago…I couldn’t believe it….what a small world…Still arrogant…he still didn’t look handsome to me. I’m so glad I took my time.

When you see a person treat others with dignity and compassion it cannot help but touch your heart. It doesn’t matter whether they are old, young, male or female. Usually the people that end up meaning the most to you are those who are kind, no matter who they are. You never forget them.

But regarding beauty: I don’t think women should use this idea a crutch and end up looking like something out of a scary horror movie, hoping someone sees their inner beauty. That’s crazy. Absolutely not. I do feel that it is SO important for women to take good care of themselves – make the best of themselves. Sometimes if we are stressed out, or undergoing great pain or distress we can stop taking care of ourselves. Almost destroying ourselves…It can happen without a person realizing it. It’s SO important to catch ourselves if we are in that spiral. And learn to love ourselves again.

We are commanded to “Love your neighbor as YOURSELF”…so we need a measure of self love too.

Among the intriguing French culture, even the older women take great pride in their appearance, elegance and beauty - it’s SO inspiring! I think the old French saying states that if a women believes she is beautiful then she will be. Something like that. Interesting.

Oooh la la
If it were something that everyone had it wouldn't be so exceptional. That specialness, and rareness, IS why EVERYONE looks at beautiful people. Who cares about character when you're just looking??? Most people accept that beautiful people are out of their league and thus end up with someone of similar attractiveness. Likewise, similarly beautiful people tend to seek others, like themselves. But when you're that pretty you can be picky so while some beautiful people choose for "success" others choose for love.

I never considered that my fascination with other beautiful women was some primitive/competitive thing. Though, I probably just didn't want to admit it because, honestly, we're all constantly judging and measuring other folks, trying to determine where we fit.

Especially women, in this world where beauty seems to determine our value. This pressure is even harder for women now due to the saturation of artificially beautiful celebrities. It's hard for even a natural beauty to compete with professional make-up and computer generated perfection. And the resulting unrealistic expectations this gives men.

As for the character of beautiful people, or anyone. I think it's far worse to be so judgmental that you'd base your opinion of a person on one act. To demand perfection from anyone is absolute arrogance, and sin.

- LC
This "discovery" sounds like the accidental discovery of the "blue pill". The story says men go for same types of physical features over others. They go for Real or artificial features??? More than 50% of females have breast implants. Did the lead author of the study take into account these things? Do males go for females with breast implants,lipsuction,tummytuck(so that it meets the hip-waist ratio)
or do they go for females who have natural body?

This story doesn't hold good even at sex level. Physical attraction is fleeting because sex is couple of minutes job. Once it is done there is nothing to hold onto! So people split. Sex is like food and infact sex loses the battle to food. Even to have sex, one needs energy. Sex is not an aerobic excercise. If X is sexually satisfied with Y, why would X ditch Y or vice versa?

According to FSU theory, what happens after the initial attraction? Do they stick to each other or split? The theory seems to have no head or tail. Bundshen,great looking model, de caprio,very sweet. Both are very attractive and very reproductive I guess. Why did the two split?

The story should have been based on like minds attract each other. The rate at which obesity is increasing in this country(epidemic), this stringent condition of waistline rules out this theory/discovery. How many guys have upper body like Stallone?Even a urologist(without lab tests) will not be able to tell from the looks of a guy(let alone a female with no medical knowledge) "how his testosterone levels(low or high)and how reproductive he is(Semen count)and if his seminal vesicles lack fructose,in that case he is irrevocably impotent. So a female decides that she is not interested in that guy!".

Let me give another example. When a female goes to a doctor for the first time to have proper diagnosis of her ailment(osteoporosis or rheumatoid arthritis), a rheumatologist/immunologist based on visual observation of the patients hands/wrist can figure out roughly but he is not going to write out prescription without doing further tests.

Why obesity is spreading like a contagious disease(recently there was an article addressing this in the New England Journal of Medicine) and my simple answer(better than the one in the journal)is most of the americans are lazy to cook and hence eat and dine out all the time(so also the kids)and to top it off, no excercise. This is what causes overweight and obesity. If an X doesn't care about his/her own body/health why should any restaurant(packed with high calories) worry about X's health?

Every creature(including human beings) is normally reproductive. It is due to some genetic mutation/aberration that a creature becomes impotent. Even geneticists don't know.

This has got nothing to do with evolution of attraction but confusion in the mind that the person doesn't know what life is, what and who he/she is.

May be I should give this episode on Oprah show. One female(married with a gem of a guy with 3 kids)underwent first liposuction(As she didn't like her body around that area). The husband okayed it! When she went for second tummy tuck, husband was not for it but after a long time okayed. Third time when the wife wanted to go for one more surgery, husband gave an ultimatum that he would divorce her. He told Oprah that I love my wife just the way she is. She doesn't have to go for these non-sense surgeries as they may have some complications(depending on the individual's body type). When there are stupid females like this there will be some dumb males too to balance each other's stupidity.

If there are 2 more slightly bigger tsunamis, doesn't matter who is potent or impotent,who has high or low testosterone/estrogen levels. Everybody is gone for good including evolution of attraction/repulsion.

99.9% of my friends are all males. They don't look only at the body or waistline. Definitely they look for a person who is disciplined internally and externally. A husband is wife's best friend and vice versa. Everybody needs someone or the other to crib/share their viewpoints. It is much much much more than physical. If it's only physical look, a guy can as well go to a strip club and crib to a stripper and probably he will be charged. Let us be sensible and use our mind! Why there is no brain transplantation? I know the answer.

Please post articles that are thought provoking and have good reasoning and not like this one with dumb reasoning. Sorry, it may sound harsh but the fact is everybody needs true knowledge. that's what gives happiness. Thanks.

How does that explain the big woman and the skinny guy you see at the mall?

Help me please!
A response to LC: I enjoyed and agree with most your comments. Insightful. FACT Beauty attracts. Ugliness usually repels. Beauty makes us happy. We prefer to spend our holidays in a beautiful area and not in a garbage dump. Hyperbole.

It WOULD seem arrogant to make a judgment based on one act. You are right. None of us is perfect. Everyone has the right to have a bad day. But I had written I "wasn’t so sure" earlier in my statement, doubts because of other things I had already sensed. I am sure nobody cared to hear the entire boring saga. The final incident silenced an entire room of people as it was blatantly cruel. Huge.

After all, in a lifelong partner, a kind heart is a soft place to fall. Isn’t that what true love is all about?

The only reason I mentioned the incident, is that this man would be (using the words in the blog) the epitome of "mesmerizing" to most girls. Thinking of this blog and the theory of evolution, I am assuming that if this was true then most women would REALLY want to have his baby I guess. Good Procreating prospects? Genes? I don’t know. There is more to life than that I think. Anyway. It makes me laugh out loud just to write this paragraph. Too heavy for me. LOL

I have also read other studies that state that males are attracted visually but females are often attracted to males, not through what they see, but through something sensory, the way they feel inside. As if wired differently. If this is true, then that explains it.

THEN I think of Princess Diana. She was beautifully stunning in looks. The Peoples Princess. But in the end why did millions all over the globe grieve over Princess Diana? I personally feel it was not her looks, it was her inner beauty. Her beautiful looks of course drew our attention, but I think it was her compassion to those who were ill and suffering. That is what truly made her beautiful.

I feel that the people we truly love the most and mean the most to us are those who have a moral beauty. Whether they are goodlooking or not, old or young, male of female, they are TRULY beautiful to us. Their goodness and kindness. We never forget them.

OR touching news stories of poor dear men and women that come back from war who are scarred horribly beyond belief, or injured severely. And there beside them stands their loving partner, their love has only deepened despite the alteration. They are still in love with that inner person. Such stories often bring tears to my eyes. That is the way true love and loyalty should be. I feel that whether you believe in evolution or creation, nothing should or could break that bond if you fall in love with the inner person in the first place.
Evolutionary Psychology is a new field of research to shed light on the puzzle of human nature. It’s a subject we studied briefly in university and interested me. Some what the theory prescribes makes sense, other parts are downright humorous. But it also raises several serious ethical concerns for some. Some even label Evolutionary Psychology as a “DEHUMANIZING THEORY”. And others are concerned about the future social consequences. What will happen when this new Evolutionary Psychology fully sinks in? What will be the negative affects on human ethics?

The book “THE MORAL ANIMAL: Why We Are, the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology by Robert Wright” states that as evolutionary thinking spreads it will inevitably affect the moral thoughts of humans deeply.

From the vantage point of Evolutionary Psychology even parental love for a child is basically seen as nothing more than a cold impersonal gene inspired ploy to assure the survival of genes to the next generation. If our whole purpose of life is to reproduce, then it essentially reduces humans to nothing but ruthless with only genetic interests. The theory has also been said to condone infidelity, particularly in men, and also women under certain circumstances. According to the theory, the goal of men is said to have sex and reproduce with an endless series of women. Some now wonder about the consequences of Evolutionary Adaptable Behavior.

This is my opinion, but if the goal of evolution is just to reproduce, then having sex with an endless list of partners should be a good thing. If so, how do we explain the misery caused by it? Broken families, AIDS, STD, emotional and mental trauma, abandoned children, and children growing up maladjusted. If it is the animal model, then why all the pain and suffering? Is this a beneficial thing? Will it make us happy? And how many people go through life happy with the only purpose in life to eat, sleep and reproduce? Do we have instilled distinct human emotions or are we no different than chimpanzees?

Researchers state that only time will tell how this new theory may affect the human conscience.

Signing off. On a light note, like most guys I am initially attracted by a pretty face. But not a pretty face with a mean spirit. In addressing LC, I gladly defend my sister. Earlier warning signs gave credence to her caution. The final straw was not a lack of compassion. Hurling demeaning verbal abuse at a defenseless cleaning woman? It was not a tirade in the cause of justice. In my eyes I see a possible wife abuser. That is a sin. What also ticks me off is a person who takes an almost "sadistic" satisfaction in crushing innocent victims in the courts too. I concur with my sister that everyone feels an aversion towards Gaston in Beauty and the Beast for valid reasons! Gaston GQ man or not, I say run for your life sis

Cheers! MJ
Regardless how one would like to tie moral values and character into the selection process, the truth is that ultimately our pursuit of a mate is based on instinct. Why a big woman with a tiny man? One explaination is that it was not always that way (i.e. one gained/lost weight) or perhaps it also ties to the concept of a healthy mate as well. Consider a third world country with an average starving population. A large mate would increase the likelihood of viable offspring and may also indicate wealth in the family. You can justify motives in any way you chose, but we are all primal beasts at heart.
In repsonse to anonymous, there are skinny men with large women because they're called "Chubby Chasers". There are people who are attracted and prefer a mate that is overweight.

Of course this society values beauty over character of a person. That's why People has the 50 Most Beautiful People issues every year. If beauty wasn't so important, they'd have the 50 Most Inspiring People issue showcasing people who have made a difference.
Hi Shahreen, I have carefully re-read the very interesting comments in the blog, it has obviously ruffled a few feathers too. What a fascinating topic.

I am NOT a runway model, but not jealous of the competition as I do find beautiful women who take care of themselves SO inspiring. And besides that sometimes even runway models don’t choose to marry a Mr. macho either. There is someone out there for everyone.

And I do believe in such a thing as love at first sight. But I also feel that time must be taken to be sure it is true love. And our tastes and needs change over time. I wonder if someone were to marry someone on the evolution of attraction only, what if they lost their good looks? A disfiguring injury? Or illness? Or lost their fortune? We should never look for perfection but hopefully if we do marry for true love nothing could or would ever break that bond. There are plenty of beautiful examples of loyal love. I think of Christopher and Dana Reeves at this moment.

This was and is my point, it would be SO sad to marry a square jawed muscular dominant Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast”, testosterone to the perfect max! Most Disney fairy tales have an underlying moral for people to consider. To look for and fall in love with the inner moral beauty. (although I do remember finding the story a little creepy too)

And as Shahreen says in her blog, to simply look for a soaring potential for reproductive success is SO “unromantic”. It made me laugh as I totally agree. Unromantic for sure.
This is hardly surprising and their is a MOUNTAIN of evidence backing this up.

What do "less" attractive people do? They date someone of relative equal attractiveness.

The X factor here of course is that women are more heavily influenced by wealth and power then men are.
Hi Shahreen,
What a very interesting study. All in all we look for mates to procreate with who are very strong and healthy. Isn't that what really attracts us to them? Good health?
Ok Dr. Gupta - answer me this ... why is it when I meet someone I REALLY find attractive I get all tongue-tied and embarrassed... STILL! I am a happily married 40 year old woman for Pete's sake!

Seriously though, I would be interested to see the age breakdown on the test subjects. Personally, my opinion of what is attractive in a member of the opposite sex has changed drastically in 20 years.

Marcella Potts-Fletcher
Seminole, FL
Very interesting and inline with basic human and animal laws of attraction. In the book Survival of the Prettiest, by Nancy Etcoff, she describes exactly what you have about the dimensions of attraction to the opposite sex (hip to waist ratio of 0.7, etc) and that essentially, straight members of the opposite sex choose mates based in part due to procreation. However, as a gay man, I wonder what drives my attraction to another male? Obviously it is not procreation. I wonder what the biologists at Florida State would say about this???
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