The Nature Of Human Attraction

This topic submitted by Maggie Perrino, Adam Naylor, Zoe Brickley, and Lena Jasper ( at 7:20 am on 12/14/01. Additions were last made on Sunday, October 20, 2002. Section: Myers

Draft 1: The Nature Of Human Attraction
Natural Systems
Student Generated Lab Proposal
Maggie Perrino, Adam Naylor, Zoe Brickley, and Lena Jasper
This experiment is designed to find out whether people are inherently attracted to people with similar physical attributes or largely differing physical attributes. This experiment uses a survey asks participants about the physical characteristics of past partners and preferred physical characteristics of future partners and compares them to self-selected characteristics they themselves exhibit. The questionnaire is left vague as to the gender or sexuality of the participant/partners in question, thereby deliberately leaving no room for ethical or political arguments. This study is based on physical aspects alone, due to the fact that sexuality and personality are in the grayer areas of the scale, practically unmeasurable. Other questions to be asked are: Is there a tendency for males to put more of an emphasis on physical characteristics? Is this true instead for females? Or perhaps both sexes place an equal emphasis of physical traits. Also, is there any relevance to the "Ideal-Self" argument? By asking what physical attributes the participants prefer in their partners, we hope to observe an emerging trend.
The nature of human attraction is a highly debatable and varied field of opinions. Theories range from liking the same traits in others, liking opposite traits in others, melding both likes and opposites into a search for an ideal mate, health, and cultural predispositions. Our group, while only looking at physical properties and specifics as to the attraction process, realizes that it is more than superficial and primary features that are the basis for attraction. However, a great deal of research and testing has been done into the why and how of human desire and initial chemistry, suggesting that we really are almost no better than the animals from which we evolved. Much of the research also states that approaches to attraction differ significantly by gender. Whether any or all of these suggestions or even perhaps plain old destiny are the answer to why we are attracted to certain people and not others is purely speculatory, but one thing is for sure there is quite a psychological attraction to studying the nature of attraction.

There are two popular and divergent theories subscribed to by the general public about attraction. The first being, similar attracts similar. This basically is to say that those people owning certain traits will seek out and be attracted to those carrying those same traits. The other widely excepted theory is the almost clichˇ, –opposites attract”. Within this concept one is expected to find qualities in opposition to their own because of the mystery of these foreign traits. However, there are thoughts in the scientific community as to how these two ideas are interwoven in the actual attraction experienced by people (Lilienthal, 1998). Scott Gustafson a clinical researcher tested this idea in 1989. His hypothesis was that humans are attracted to those who are akin to our ideal selves. In this way we are attracted to those we are alike to, being that our ideal selves will contain many aspects of our current self, while we will also be attracted to our opposites due to the fact that our ideal self is on many ways very different than the one we occupy presently.( Lilienthal, 1998) These two explanations of attraction are very popular and generally believed, yet there are many other theories as to why humans find one another desirable.

Health and fertility issues also reside on the attraction scene. Much of the attraction research suggests that many are looking for someone with which their offspring would be given the best advantage. Men seem to be looking for birthing hips and an hourglass figure that suggests a good womanly instinct and perhaps gives insight into motherly intuitions. (Traflinger, 1996)This is not to say that men are looking for –fat” women, but a –curvaceous” body is regarded as attractive and in fact healthier than many thin women. Likewise a healthy looking person, good complexion, energetic eyes, and a seemingly optimistic mental state, is also to be considered greatly attractive. Those who remain in good health are more like to either bare/ conceive healthy, well- balanced, attractive children and are looked at as able to care more adequately for the children for many years before any complications arise. These indications to one’s progeny and the eventual care provided for them tend to be more of a male consideration while women look to other things for an attraction basis.(Traflinger, 1996)

Men and women also have extremely different criteria when it comes to mate selection. The old ideas of women looking for stability and security are still very much a part of our society, even with the new found independence enjoyed by woman today who are more than capable of providing for themselves. Men on the other hand are looking for physical beauty and desirable qualities. Men tend to rate the physical above all other points of criteria. And these stereotypical approaches to attraction are not just in America, but seemingly occur across the board and into many different cultures. In fact it can be this unchecked partnership between physical beauty and a fat pocketbook that can lead to the most dreadful pairings and relationships based on attraction alone. (Norman, 1998) In a study presented by Jan Norman in her article, The Evolutionary Theory of Attraction, the cross-cultural implications of attraction are astoundingly similar: Of 10,000 individuals from 37 different cultures and six continents, the results appear amazing similar to those gathered from US college students. In all cultures studied, females rated men with greater earning potential higher on the mate choice scale. Men in all 37 cultures consistently valued physical attractiveness in potential mates significantly more than did their female counterparts in the study. While women preferred males slightly older than themselves, men state that their ideal mate would be younger than themselves. Although the possibility cannot be dismissed, such extensive global similarities are unlikely to be the result of learned patterns. It seems likely that such natural preferences have evolved to give our- hunter-gatherer ancestors a reproductive advantage.

James L. Gould an author and the researcher who executed this study found attraction to be veritably the same among all humans. Preferences will of course vary but there is still a resounding connection to these two prominent stereotypes throughout human nature.(Gould, 1989) Obviously the realm of attraction is not a matter of simple science and easy logic. The subject encompasses a huge expanse of preferences and tastes, while also acknowledging the stereotypes and norms within its reaches. There are straightforward theories such as Birds of a Feather, the attraction of two very similar people, or “Opposites Attract,” the attraction of two people who are quite different from one another, as well as slightly more abstract ideas about what we humans are really looking for in a mate. It is said in one such theory that we are looking for our ideal selves in our mate and this way humans may entertain both the idea of attraction to a like being, being that our ideal self must contain at least some remnants of the self we are now, and the attraction to our opposite, who in turn possesses those qualities we ourselves are lacking to become that ideal self.

The nature of attraction also extends and transgresses gender and cultural barriers. While both sexes and all cultures do not share the exact attractions of the others there are many connections and correlations between them. However, no matter what the theory or stereotype behind the chemical connection, what brings all men and women or every color and background together is attraction.

Works Cited
1.Gould, James L. & Gould, Carol Grant. (1989). Sexual selection. New York: Scientific American Library.
2. Lilienthal, Helen. –Do Opposites Really Attract?” Mental Health Net 23 Feb. 1998. 7 Oct. 2001.
3. Norman, Jan. – The Evolutionary Theory of Attraction” The Human Sexuality Web 21 April 1998. 8 Oct. 2001.
4.Traflinger, Richard F. –Reproduction and Society” Social Basis of Human Sexual Behavior 28 May 1996. 7 Oct. 2001.

We used a survey to find out information concerning the participants physical attributes and the physical attributes of their past partners. This survey will also ask questions about the preferred physical attributes of future partners. We distributed 87 surveys.
The surveys read as follows:
***Please Circle one of the answer choices under each category in reference to an ideal looking partner in a relationship.
Your Hair Color: Light Dark
Hair Color of Preferred Partner: Light Dark
Your Eye Color: Light Dark
Eye Color of Preferred Partner: Light Dark
Your Height: Tall Short Average
Height of Preferred Partner:
Taller than self Shorter than self Same general height
***Please rate your answer on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being extremely important and 5 being unimportant
How Important do you think the idea of physical attraction is in a relationship?
1 2 3 4 5

When looking at the data gathered from our surveys, there are a few interesting trends. First of all, as can be seen in the first graph, 77 percent of women surveyed indicated that their ideal partner would be taller than they are. 19 percent of women stated that they wanted a partner of approximately the same height, and only 4 percent indicated that they wanted a partner who was shorter than they were. Men on the other hand were not disposed so much toward one category, but generally indicated that they did not want a partner who was taller than they were. 59 percent of men wanted a partner who was of about the same height, 38 percent wanted a partner who was shorter than they are, and only 3 percent wanted a partner who was taller than they are.

Second, as can be seen in second graph, while there was no clear preference for partners of either the same eye and hair coloring, or the opposite, there is a distinct trend against selecting someone who has both opposite eye and hair coloring. This is interesting, as it may suggests that most people choose a partner with at least one similar trait. This could mean that there is some biological or social bias towards mates who are at least somewhat similar looking.

Third, while many would argue that men are more likely than women to value physical attraction, our survey results seem to disagree. While men did indicate a higher average importance of physical attraction, the difference between men and women is quite small. The average number selected by men was a 2.59, while the average number selected by women was 2.64. This is somewhat different than what we had expected; we thought that the difference would be close to 1, not .05. However, this number was self selected and not measured by objective observers; men and women may have been comparing themselves to other members of their gender.

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