The Science Behind Attraction

The Science Behind Attraction

Ever wonder why you’re attracted to your significant other, or just to the people that you are? Why are you attracted to celebrities like Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Brad Pitt, or my personal favourite: Ryan Reynolds? There’s always that one “oh-so-fine” individual or that one obscure random crush we can't quite seem to explain, but why is it this way?

It’s not neccessarily 'random' why you’re attracted to the people that you are. Like most things in life, there’s a scientific reason behind it all. 

1. Facial Symmetry

Facial symmetry is probably one of the most basic reasons for sexual or romantic attraction. According to research, having a symmetrical face subconsciously tells potential mates that “good genes will be found in this body.” Asymmetrical bodies are thought to reveal how growth and development in the womb was negatively affected by poor health, bad DNA, or alcohol and tobacco abuse. Facial symmetry is also thought to signal traits such as agreeableness, extraversion, and conscientiousness. As a result, individuals with symmetrical faces are said to be able to make friends and hold down jobs more easily.

This probably explains why certain people attract a lot more attention than others- a majority of the world’s population is probably more attracted to celebrities such as Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett, and Jensen Ackles because their faces are bilaterally symmetrical.

The 'attractiveness' of symmetry does not stop there. A research study revealed that women partnered with men with symmetrical bodies reported the highest number of orgasms. According to other studies, women with symmetrical breasts showed higher signs of fertility than women with less evenly distributed sized breasts.  

However, other research has found that facial asymmetry in teenagers is not related to childhood health. Instead, some researchers suggest that human attraction to symmetry might be a “by-product of our sensitivity to these major asymmetries – or possibly just a reflection of our aesthetic appreciation of symmetry in art and nature.”

2. Similarities Attract

You might’ve heard that opposites attract, but to be fair, this is generally not true. Scientifically, you’re more likely to be attracted to people who are similar to you or your opposite-sex parent. Apparently, “Facial similarity has been shown to have an effect of judgments of trustworthiness and on cooperative behaviour.” In one study, participants were shown either a picture of their parent or a stranger followed by a picture of a stranger. Subjects who were shown a picture of their parent first were more likely to find the target stranger in the second picture more attractive. Which explains the odd little saying that you’re 'likely to end up with your parents'. 

In another study, participants were shown pictures of a stranger's face, or a stranger's face mixed with his or her own. When asked to rate the attractiveness of the pictures, participants usually rated the face mixed with their own more favourably. Evidently, humans are more inclined to trust and be attracted to people who look similarily to themselves. 

3. The Westermarck Effect

We’ve all heard really cute stories about how certain people met as children and later ended up dating and getting married. However, in reality, these occurrences are very rare due to something called the Westermarck Effect.

This phenomenon was named after Edvard Westermarck, a Finnish sociologist interested in marriage patterns and incest taboos. His hypothesis that individuals raised together will not develop sexual attraction contradicted the beliefs of Sigmund Freud, the most widely known and highly respected expert in the field at the time.

The Westermarck Effect, sometimes referred to as “reverse imprinting,” is a phenomenon observed in people who spend a lot of time together under the age of six. As a result of this early childhood occurrence, people raised together tend to become desensitized to the other person. Thus, later in life, they generally will not develop a sexual attraction towards the other person. This says a lot about why we’re not attracted to our siblings.

On a related note, siblings raised separately are more likely to develop what is known as a genetic sexual attraction when meeting later in life.

This phenomenon is not limited to siblings. Researchers also studied the Westermarck effect in non-related people raised together. In Israeli kibbutzim, children and members of same peer groups rarely developed sexual relationships with one another because children were often raised collectively together in large peer groups. In addition, in traditional Chinese families, young girls were often adopted into families with the intention of marrying them to their sons. However, what was discovered was that when they came of age, these girls strongly opposed such marriages, and when these marriages did occur, there were high rates of childlessness, adultery, and divorce.

 

Of course, while fun and interesting to research about, one must remember the importance of compatibility of beliefs, morals, and trust in healthy relationships. While the science behind physical attraction does have some merit, it can't replace a healthy relationship developed through trust, understanding, and communication. If your significant other doesn't look like you, or you are in a couple that grew up as childhood sweethearts, don't fret. These patterns do not apply to everybody, they're just general observances and phenomena. However, it is always interesting to get to learn a little bit more about what the world of science has to say about the laws of attraction!

Joy Jiang is currently an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto double majoring in Criminology and Political Science, and minoring in English. When not lamenting in bed about the schoolwork she has yet to do, she can be found watching Netflix and home renovation television.

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