You’d be surprised what the world of science has figured out when it comes to romance. One minute, science is launching Neil Armstrong across the void to walk on the moon. The next, it’s telling you exactly how to land your fantasy date. Contrary to popular belief, love and attraction is less like a romance novel, and a whole lot more like a psychology journal. Here’s what science says is working behind the scenes when Cupid’s arrow strikes.
Forget about flaunting your curves for a minute. Results from a study at Manchester University found that lips are a woman’s most attractive physical attribute. When you think about how much ladies like Angelina Jolie and Scarlett Johansson are lusted after, it’s tough to argue against it. For extra credit, pink and red lipstick were found to hold a man’s attention even longer. When in doubt, go red—it’s a classic and it works.
Strong eye contact
Forget that saying about the eyes being the window to the soul, because they’re also the door to keeping a lover’s attention. Turns out your pupils dilate a little more when you’re attracted to someone. The kicker? People are apparently super attracted to dilated pupils. Lesson learned: never miss an opportunity to fixate your eyes at your intended bae.
Research suggests that straight, white teeth are more attractive, and it’s safe to assume that most folks don’t prefer yellow, rotting teeth. We shouldn’t even have to tell you this, but brush, floss, and visit your dentist regularly. You’d be surprised how many people don’t maintain dental hygiene. It’s one of those subconscious signals of health and fertility that evolution so craftily tucked into our DNA to help us survive. Thanks, evolution — now pay for our Invisalign!
Smiling like an emoji
When we say smiling like an emoji, we’re talking about the happy-face kind, not the inappropriate-but-well-timed eggplant. One study suggests that men are significantly more attracted to women who smile. It’s not like you’ll be reeling them in with a grimace.
A higher-pitched voice
High-pitched voices are apparently sexier. Researchers suggest it’s because higher voices suggest a smaller body size, which our society deems more attractive. We all know the truth: helium fetish. While we’re on the topic, keep in mind that cigarettes won’t help your cause as they have a tendency to deepen your voice (and yellow your teeth. And, you know, cause cancer).
The hips don’t lie
To make things more confusing, even though men appear to be attracted to smaller body types in the previous slide’s study, apparently both Shakira and Sir Mix-a-Lot were also right. Researchers found that men preferred larger hip-to-waist ratios than smaller ones. Call us crazy, but we’ve chosen to conclude that this means all body types are beautiful and attractive.
Make them see red
This study of color stereotypes included two photos of the exact same woman. She wore blue in one picture and red in the other, posing the same way in both. According to the results, the photo of the woman in red was rated as more attractive and sexually desirable. Furthermore, the men of the study indicated they would be more willing to date the scarlet-clad woman and even spend more money on her. Blue never stood a chance.
The body language of attraction
If you’re sitting at a bar, turn a little towards a guy you’re interested in. Leaning in, tilting your head, and pointing your feet toward a person all subconsciously communicate interest and engagement. Blushing signals attraction and is the body’s way of gaining the attention of the opposite sex. So if you’re going out and planning to mingle, don’t forget to put on a little blush before you go.
What might be the most important feature, according to researchers, is something we can do very little about: facial symmetry. This is when the left side of your face looks exactly like the right side of your face and vice versa, with things matching up perfectly from one side to another. Most celebrities and models have strong, symmetrical faces. You can’t really change your facial symmetry unless you go under the knife, and we don’t suggest trying it. If you happen to be blessed with facial symmetry, thank your genes for the leg up. But if you don’t, believe us, there are far more important things you can do to attract someone (see the next slide re: confidence).
Confidence is key
Attraction isn’t all about appearances, so don’t go thinking it’s all about winning the genetic lottery — there are many things about your character that make you attractive. Confidence, for one, can vastly increase your sex appeal. Confident people are more apt to send off signals of interest. Send more signals out, and you’ll get more signals back in return — just don’t make it desperate. Even if you’re not the hottest person in the room, having the mindset that you are happy with who you are can help make a better impression than a model with low self-esteem.
In the same vein, there are many other non-physical traits that are incredibly attractive. Read on to find out what you can do to attract your soul mate.
Inscribed near the entrance of the venerated ancient Greek Oracle at Delphi, "Know thyself" continues to be good advice. Knowing yourself is the same idea as being self-aware, since it involves understanding your own personality and character.
So what, exactly, is self-awareness? Psychologist Daniel Goleman, author of best-selling book Emotional Intelligence, proposed the most popular definition of self-awareness as "knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources and intuitions," although it can also cover a broad range of things including your needs, desires, failings, habits, your likes and dislikes, preferences and non-negotiables, what makes you angry or defensive, and, conversely, what makes you happy. Basically, it encompasses all the things that help you answer the universal question of "Who am I?"
Being more self-aware can greatly improve self-confidence, since self-awareness enables us to clearly see our strengths and weaknesses — which allows us to devote more time and energy to doing what we’re good at (and who doesn’t like the warm fuzzies that come with kicking butt at something?). This, in turn, increases our overall sense of confidence (see: warm fuzzies).
When a person is authentic, they’re not afraid to be themselves. You can recognize authenticity, both in yourself and others, by traits such as having realistic perceptions of reality, being accepting of themselves and of other people, being thoughtful, having a non-hostile sense of humor, being able to express their emotions freely and clearly, being open to learning from their mistakes, and understanding their motivations.
Authenticity, self-awareness, and confidence are all closely linked, too. Chris Armstrong, a Certified Relationship Coach, told me that the combination of authenticity and vulnerability gives people the self-confidence to be open about who they are — and comfortable with who they’re not. There are no pretenses with people like this, and when people are able to be genuine, it helps them build deeper, more meaningful connections with others.
When I spoke with Amanda Rose, a matchmaker and dating expert, she said that "there’s something about a person’s ability to be unfiltered and raw that creates connection, [and] when we feel more connected to someone, the attraction level rises." So go ahead and let your quirks show! They’re endearing for those who know and love you, and your authenticity will be attractive to those who don’t know you yet.
Being vulnerable entails allowing yourself to be seen in a way that makes you uncomfortable: weaknesses, flaws, insecurities, and all. When you’re being vulnerable, you choose not to hide who you really are. The good and the bad, strong and weak… it’s all out in the open. Being open, honest, and real, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable, takes guts.
Even though vulnerability can feel incredibly risky, it can also be deeply rewarding. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D., a Los Angeles-based psychologist whose specialties include relationships and self-esteem, told me that vulnerability — and being open about one’s flaws, idiosyncrasies, and weaknesses — makes a person more relatable and human, instead of coming across as too cold or too perfect.
And, if you’ll allow me to go full fangirl for a moment, University of Houston researcher Brene Brown has produced some amazing work on the benefits of vulnerability: "embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable," Brown wrote in her best-selling book Daring Greatly. And, if you want to feel really inspired to become more vulnerable, check out Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability. It’ll leave you feeling both verklempt and awestruck.
Remember how the previous slide said that vulnerability takes guts? Well, courage (which is all about guts) is also an attractive personality trait. Bravery — such as the willingness to take calculated risks (that is to say: risks that aren’t reckless, so please don’t try to hold onto the back of a moving vehicle while riding your bike), Thomas told me that the ability to stand up for yourself and others, and a willingness to do things that are intimidating — conveys emotional resiliency and strength.
Openness to experience and curiosity
Openness to experience is another hallmark of attraction. Marked by creativity, intellect, imagination, and curiosity, open individuals enjoy learning new things, are inquisitive about the world around them, and are interested in new experiences. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to take up skydiving or go out and party every weekend (I, for one, am terrified of skydiving and would much rather spend the evening at home with a book). The question is more about how curious you are about the world around you — for example, different cultures, new places, new activities, or different restaurants — and your willingness to try them.
A good example of this is an ill-fated date my dad went on before he met my mom: he was all excited to try out a new Jewish deli in town, and the woman he took there for their first date proceeded to order a plain hamburger with ketchup and was visibly shaken by all the unfamiliar foods on the menu. As a guy who grew up in the New York City suburbs, would order food from just about any restaurant in the world, and loves trying new things, my dad knew a second date would never happen long before his Reuben sandwich arrived.
One big benefit of openness to experience, as well as curiosity, is that they make us more empathetic and help us to form bonds with others, since making an effort to understand the lives of people who are different helps us to expand our worldview and become more accepting of those differences. When we create deeper connections with the people we meet, our interest in their lives of others will likely lead to reciprocated interest — they’ll want to know more about you, and the connection grows from there.
Be a giver
The whole point of attracting someone is that you want to share your experiences with them. It’s no surprise, therefore, that being selfish is definitely not a turn on. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Studies have shown that people are more attracted to those with a generous spirit.
So get out there, open your heart, and be a giver! Volunteer to read to senior citizens. Organize a food drive. Donate money to charity. You’ll be doing something good for those around you, while also becoming more attractive in the process. It’s a win-win!
Show off your playful side
There’s an old saying: "you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." So, if you’re trying to catch someone’s attention, some researchers suggest you indulge your sweet, playful side instead. After all, who doesn’t want to have more fun?
Life can be so serious and stressful sometimes, which makes it even more important to shake off the negativity and have a good time. So, the next time you’re feeling silly, just go with it. Get down in the dirt, dance in the rain, and throw your head back and laugh from your core. You’ll feel amazing and people will be drawn to you.
Be the brainiac
There are countless movies built on the premise that no one wants to date a nerd… but maybe those out-of-touch Hollywood producers have it all wrong. According to actual research, we are scientifically wired to be attracted to intelligent people.
That’s right, folks. Being smart is a highly desirable quality, so stop dumbing yourself down! Dust off your library cards, take your board games and microscopes out from under your bed, and embrace your big, beautiful brain openly and with pride.
Remember: romance doesn’t have to be the endgame
Ok, so: I know this piece focuses on attraction, both physical and emotional, in the context of romantic relationships, but we can probably all agree that 1) that different traits are attractive to different people and 2) that romance isn’t the be-all and end-all of adult life.
To the first point, while studies have shown that men are attracted to specific physical traits like big hips or luscious lips or a high-pitched voice, it certainly doesn’t apply to all the dudes out there. I’ll use myself as a case in point: I have dark hair, a decidedly not high-pitched voice (some might even call it husky), and an athletic build. While these fundamental, unalterable traits quickly ruled out the menfolk who prefer petite blondes (in the interest of full disclosure, I did spend a few years feeling crappy about my soccer thighs and dark brown locks), I haven’t exactly spent my life in a nunnery. I eventually married a man who loves how I look, and it turns out he was particularly drawn to my muscles and dark hair. It just goes to show that what men find attractive is totally subjective, and beauty, as the cliché goes, is very much in the eye of the beholder.
Adding to which: while finding a romantic partner is definitely something many people want, in no way does it measure your worth or success (even though HOLY EFF does it ever feel like that sometimes). Women in particular are often fed the implicit message that we need to change ourselves to become worthy of men’s attention and affection. And that, if I may say so, is total BS.
Instead, you can use the character traits above to help you build a life that you love — with or without a partner. Cultivating traits like self-awareness, vulnerability, authenticity, courage, openness to experience, and empathy can help you in all facets of life, both personal and professional. They can help you build a social network of friends you adore, create work you find meaningful, travel to places that excite you, and seek out experiences that help you grow. From that point, it’s safe to say that relationships are likely to follow, and yet even if they don’t, what’s most important is that you are able to be proud of who you are and the life you live.
Here’s to building a life that makes you happy, and all the benefits that come from it!