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Human Attraction: The electrifying experience


A couple being reunited again. Image: Derriel Street Photography, Flickr.
A couple being reunited again. Image: Derriel Street Photography, Flickr.

The human species- we are mysterious and intelligent social creatures that have survived using  cooperation and teamwork for millennia. We know what we like and dislike as well as being able to choose in life who we want to associate ourselves with. Mix that up with the concept of attraction and things can become a bit confusing. But what really causes human attraction? Let’s see if we can demystify the “butterflies in the stomach” feeling we get when we bump into that special someone.

Physical attraction is the catalyst for the beginning of all relationships. It is the very thing that drives you to talk to that special someone and see what they are all about. For example, in nature mate selection is based on alluring colors, physical prowess, or other quirky antics. So what kind of things do humans find attractive?

I spy with my little eye….something attractive

There is nothing better than a good looking profile. The thing is, we might not even be aware that we look for bilateral symmetry on purpose. Studies show that when we see someone with facial symmetry they are perceived to be more attractive with potentially promising genetic properties. Furthermore, humans naturally like symmetry because we associate it with the balance of natural space and objects within our environment, so it’s a possibility that we do the same when we look at another person’s face. Due to this preference, facial symmetry could be the beginning for someone becoming attracted to another person.

So what about an asymmetrical face? An asymmetrical face by definition means that there is not general balance to the features on each side of the face, but in actuality no face has complete balance. Now that does not mean one side is completely lopsided. There could be a minute difference, even a few centimeters, with respect to certain facial features on each side of the face. Some forms of this are a slightly crooked nose, enlarged or smaller eyes, and lips which can have one side smaller than the other.

Portrait of a beautiful young couple sitting together on couch at home - Indoor
Attractive young couple sitting on the couch at home. Richard Foster, Flickr.

The thing about features is that it’s not always about having a god like body or a flawless profile because not everyone looks like that in the world, and we would all be disappointed if we expected it. So, when you look at celebrity features like Ryan Gosling’s asymmetrical eyes and Natalie Dormer’s asymmetrical smile it is hard to imagine that there is really a contest between the two types of facial profiles whether its symmetrical or not. Besides I was always told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Can you smell what attraction is cooking?

Sweaty t-shirts. They’re gross right? Well it turns out that those funky shirts actually say more about you than you think! Believe it or not there was a study done that called for individuals both male and female to smell sweaty shirts and rate them based on which they found were the most pleasant. This study revealed that shirts smellers rated positively, corresponded to sweaters whose immunity genes were dissimilar to that of the smeller. The hypothesis proposes that we, as a species, seek genetic diversity for immune response. Pathogens come in all shapes and forms, so a diverse combination of immunity genes helps protect future generations.

With physical attraction being the catalyst of human relationships, it could be that the way we smell causes for an extra reinforcement within the process. The initial step causes for an individual to act upon who they are interested in, and then the variable of our sense of smell coming into play might set in stone that we are truly attracted to that person because of the diversity in their genes.

The most complicated social creature ever

Marble relationship. Image: William J Serson, Flickr.
Marble relationship. Image: William J Serson, Flickr.

As humans, there is more to us than the genetics of attraction. There are also many social variables involved within the alluring concept of human attraction. Socioeconomic background is a large variable that orchestrates who dates each other in our environment.. The environment you come from greatly affects who you are interested in and attracted to, including income, demographic region, race/ethnicity, education, occupation, and so much more! Now although the idea may be that opposites attract, when it comes to socioeconomic backgrounds people tend to gravitate towards similarity in social lifestyles.

Continuing from the idea of social lifestyles, two significant ideas that have been proposed are the proximity effect and the mere exposure effect. The proximity effect states that within your group of friends you generally have a higher chance of  becoming interested in someone as they are physically close to you. The mere exposure effect means that the more you are around someone, they tend to grow on you, which is something I think many of us can relate to. Think of popular shows like Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and Scrubs when it comes to these terms. Everyone is really close but eventually people started dating each other.

In the end human attraction is an elaborate concept. You might have thought that from an older perspective, people would choose someone of interest based off facial symmetry. Now it seems beauty is really within the eye of the beholder. You have a higher chance of becoming infatuated with someone based on mere exposure and proximity effect. It also turns out that we all possess our own scent, like a blueprint, that is linked to our immune system. Biologically, we prefer to have a little diversity in genes, but when it comes to our social lifestyle we like to roll will people much like ourselves. So with that being said, what do you find attractive?

About the Author

Tyus Williams is an Undergraduate student at the University of Georgia studying in Wildlife Sciences at Warnell, the school of Forestry and Natural Resources. He has a passion in wildlife conservation with goals to focus on the preservation of big cats for his career. Outside of his everyday life of science Tyus thoroughly enjoys watching anime and reading comics of classic Marvel series heroes, his favorite being Spider-Man. When he is not training in the ways of the nerd he finds enjoyment playing his guitar or enjoying the outdoors as he loves to hike and engage in adventurous rock climbing indoor and outdoor. If you would like to hear more from him or get in touch you can contact him at tdw20511@uga.edu.

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