And here’s why you sometimes pick wrong…
When you meet someone who turns you on, the chemistry can be electric.
Your heart starts beating that little bit faster, you get the tingly feeling, and you know you’ve met someone who gets your juices flowing (yeah, I went there). But why? Why this person?
Turns out your body might know you like someone before you do. When you meet someone, there are a whole lot of physical reactions that happen that can determine if you think someone is more dud or stud…
The nose knows
Smell is one of the most powerful transmitters of memory, so it’s no wonder it plays a role in whether or not someone turns us on. Then take smell and ramp it up to 11, and you have pheromones, which are thought to be a key element in attraction. Your body produces these little scent-filled chemicals in your sweat and other secretions and studies have shown they may play a big role in bringing people together.
“We’ve just started to understand that there is communication below the level of consciousness,” psychologist Bettina Pause explained to Scientific American.
“My guess is a lot of communication is influenced by chemical signals.”
Whether or not those chemical signals are pheromones, per se, is up for debate, but other studies have shown smell cues can definitely impact compatibility.
According to a bunch of studies, we humans have an “odor print” that’s as unique as our fingerprints, and transmits important information about our DNA. This theory got a massive boost through a research project that got women to sniff sweaty men’s T-shirts and rate their attractiveness. Almost exclusively, women preferred the whiff of men whose genetic imprint was different but complementary to theirs. Which makes sense, because when breeding, you want each partner to bring something different to the table when it comes to immunity.
Guys can smell if you’re fertile
No, really. It sounds like a gross concept, but men are said to be able to detect if a woman is fertile by smell, which might make her more or less attractive to him. Ever get to that time of the month and all of a sudden your man is acting like he can’t get enough of you? It’s ’cause you smell different.
Another study that involved T-shirt sniffing (really? again?) got women to sleep in certain shirts, both during the most fertile parts of their cycle and the least fertile. And, you guessed it, the men whose job it was to get a whiff of those shirts found the fertile shirts more alluring. I guess what this proves is that human noses are amazingly excellent, and weird…
It’s not always masculinity that turns us on
There’s been a lot of investigation done as to why, in general, women tend to prefer more masculine looking men. The conclusion used to be that manly features – strong jaw line, broad shoulders, muscular physique – indicated virility and good genes.
But more recent research has debunked that theory, and it all has to do with context.
A study from the Face Research Laboratory found that women from poorer socio-economic backgrounds tended to still go for the strong, alpha men. Perhaps a protector/provider complex? But interestingly, women in more developed seemed to lean towards more feminine-looking, metrosexual men.
It’s better to be average
Wait, what? It’s true, blending into a crowd will give you a better chance of finding a partner than standing out. Studies have shown time and again that people gravitate towards average.
In one study, researchers made up artificial faces by combining several features to create the ideal “average”. In trial situations, the faces that were the most “same same” were consistently rated as much more attractive than the faces of real, actual people, both traditionally “beautiful” and not. What’s even more bizarre, is that the faces comprised of the most other faces were rated as the more attractive.
So… just look like everyone else?
The pill can change everything
Could your birth control play a part in your choice of partner? Why yes, yes it can. There’s a fair amount of research to suggest contraception can have an effect on who we choose as a sexual partner.
Remember when we talked about how women can pick up on a man’s genetic compatibility by their smell? And how the most complimentary genetic makeup with regards to immunity was one that’s different to your own? Studies show women on birth control such as the pill tend to select partners with immunities similar to their own, which isn’t the best for building resilient kiddies. The science boffins aren’t actually sure why this happens, but some say it’s because hormonal changes in the pill mimic pregnancy, which makes women gravitate to nurturing relatives (i.e. those similar to us).
And don’t think that just because you’ve already chosen your partner you’re off scot free. Those in committed relationships have been found to have changing levels of sexual satisfaction depending on whether the woman is on the pill or not. “Women who had met their partner while taking the pill and were still currently taking it – as well as those who had never used the pill at any point – reported greater sexual satisfaction than those women who had begun or stopped using the pill during the course of the relationship,” researcher Dr Craig Roberts says.
That’s not all to say we’re all just giant bags of chemicals, drifting towards each other because of smells and science. That’s part of it, but personality definitely matters. Who someone is can affect how attractive we find them, independently of their looks.
A 2014 study discovered that people are seen as more attractive if they’re known to be nice, good people. Researchers asked participants to look at photos of women with neutral facial expressions. A couple of weeks later they were asked to view the same photos but this time half the pictures had personality traits such as “kind” and “honest” listed next to them, and half had negative traits. The control group saw only photos, with no descriptions. We can see where this is going, right?
People rated the “nice” gals as much more facially attractive. And the “bad” people? Well, they were rated less attractive than both the nice ones and the control group. Harsh!
So the moral here is be a nice person and people will think you’re much hotter.
In the end, you do you
One thing that should be clear from all this is that there are loads of things at work that lead you to “Oh he/she is hot!” But don’t let that overwhelm you or make you doubt yourself.
Even though it might be a chemical attraction, those chemicals are still a part of you and who you are. You like who you like, it’s just fun to know that there may be a (smelly) reason why.
Images via tumblr.com and giphy.com.
Comment: How do you know when you’re attracted to someone?
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Elizabeth is a journalist and editor who’s great at providing relationship advice… for everyone but herself. She’s happy to share her own hilariously bad attempts at finding love, and in her spare time likes long walks down the makeup aisle. Follow Elizabeth on Instagram (@thebeautypalate) for all the beauty product eye candy and mouthwatering food you can handle.