The weight of the physical aspect in the attraction

The weight of the physical aspect in the attraction

The role of physical appearance in attracting someone has been the subject of several research studies. It is also a phenomenon we live with every day, which has given shape to various clichés, making many people unsure about establishing a relationship.

The weight of the physical aspect in the attraction

Last update: June 13, 2022

There are many theories that speak of the weight of the physical aspect in the game of attraction, especially if analyzed in relation to the early stages of a relationship. This is an aspect that is also being studied in the context of the psychology of social cognition, in fact numerous studies and research have been conducted on it.

We need to define the term attraction, since it can be confused with affinity, also favoring friendly relationships. In fact, you can build relationships without feeling attracted to the other person.

Authors such as Surra and Milardo (1988) have established the existence of two types of relationships between human beings. First, we find interactive networks, where people interact instrumentally to achieve objectives; and psychological networks, in which one feels close to others and important to them, and the bonds that are established go far beyond goals.

For this reason, the term attraction is incorporated into psychological networks. Within them, the natural disposition to establish a relationship with another person, to interact with her and to evaluate her actions and her advice in a positive way is understood as attraction.

The Weight of Physical Appearance in Attraction: Feingold and Dating Announcements

Feingold (1990) wanted to study the role of the physical component in attraction when a relationship is born. To conduct the research they were considered five methodological elements:

  • Standard questionnaire: subjects had to indicate several relevant attributes in a potential couple, including physical attraction.
  • Examination of the correlations between physical attraction and popularity.
  • Blind dates, in which to manipulate the level of physical attraction and subsequent interactions.
  • Fake physical descriptions about future co-workers to measure the level of satisfaction of these on the subjects.
  • Content analysis of newspaper dating ads.

The goal was to see if beauty played a decisive role in the evaluations of others. The answer was yes. It was agreed that men value physical attraction more than women do. But beware: it was noted that this effect was greater on a subjective level than in behavioral reactions.

This means that there appear to be differences between what the participants said they were looking for in a partner and what they were really looking for. These parameters could be confirmed by social instability and the stereotype of attraction in society.

Romantic and Platonic indices

The same study showed that more attractive women got more dates. Attractive men, on the other hand, had a higher platonic popularity index, namely friends.

This data gives a glimpse of the idea that when interactions are romantic, physical attraction seems to be more important to men; while when friendship is the goal, beauty becomes more relevant to women.

Physical attraction, money and goodness

Another research conducted by Hamermesh and Biddle (1998) shows the existence of a connection between money (or material resources) and physical attraction. In this sense, the two scholars have noted that less attractive individuals earned substantially lower wages than those who bet heavily on attraction. Regardless of sex, gender and occupation.

Eagly (1991) studied the weight of physical appearance in attraction through relevant psychological constructs, such as social skills, intelligence, integrity and altruism.

He found a direct relationship between attraction and social skills (whose statements may relate to the ease of making contact or being accepted), a fairly moderate connection between cognitive skills and attraction; and finally, an entirely relevant relationship between altruism, wholeness and attraction.

Sociobiology holds the key

The influence of physical appearance on attraction was studied in order to choose the partner. The explanation refers to the investments that men and women make for reproduction. Wanting to ensure the preservation of genes in subsequent generations is crucial as regards what interests one or the other. These traits are not only defined by physical attraction, although the latter certainly plays a crucial role.

Following evolutionary theories, people who feel attracted to women they look for symptoms of reproductive health in them, intimately associated with youth and beauty.

For people attracted to men, the most relevant traits are usually the defense for the preservation of children, that is, dominance.

Sociobiology and prototypes of universal beauty

The prototypes of universal beauty seem to confirm the psychobiological hypothesis by defining the ideal of female beauty with adjectives associated withimmaturity and motherhood. These attributes are large eyes and mouth, small nose, large breasts and wide hips. But they also refer to the ideal of male beauty: large jaw and muscular power.

However, as previously mentioned, in the case of men the characteristics mentioned in sociobiology are not associated only with the physique. A study by Jensen Campbell showed that the most attractive traits for people attracted to men were not those with physical prevalence, but those who inspired more altruism.

The parasitic theory and the influence of the media on the physical aspect

Gangestad and Buss (1993) are the promoters of the parasitic theory, framed by psychobiology. The two scholars studied the role of physical attraction in 29 distinct cultures. In each of them, it has been noted that in regions where you are more likely to be infected with pathogenic parasites, much more importance is given to physical attraction. This is because it appears to be a good indicator of immunocompetence and disease resistance.

On the other hand, Feingold reminds us that the media have played a fundamental role in what we humans consider attractive. He argues that clichés such as “what is beautiful is also good” persist over time thanks to the visibility they have in films and series: attractive, kind, strong heroes and with all the characteristics that anyone is looking for in a partner.

The tendency towards generalization of the human being would be at the basis of the fact that the correlation between attraction and good characteristics is applied to any context. This makes us victims of a fundamental error of assessment, where, without enough data, we accept the success of attractive people. We believe that attraction and positive personality traits are somehow associated, when that success for sure is due to external and unstable factors.

The self-fulfilling prophecy depends on the weight of the physical aspect

We seem to tend to attribute virtues of competence and goodness to attractive people, and to behave accordingly to that attribution. We relate to a competent, good person, and we want to keep balance with reciprocity: to live up to someone successful.

Attributing such characteristics to a person can awaken a reaction in him, and make him more willing to behave in the same way. This is called self-fulfilling prophecy.

The weight of the physical aspect in relationships

If we relate to someone we think of as unsuccessful, unintelligent and miserable, our predisposition will be quite different. These interactions will also determine the response of the speaker and if you have very strong but negative expectations, it will be very easy to find what we hope will come true.

Regardless, through psychobiology and social stereotypes, it seems that physical appearance plays an important role in relationships. It is not the only one, since other characteristic aspects have also been studied, such as the similarity with our interlocutor or familiarity with him.

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