How did he get a girl like her?!

How did he get a girl like her?!

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Picture this: You’re sitting at lunch with your friend, and then you see them.  You lean over and ask in an excited hush, “How did he get a girl like her?”  Then the two of you spend the rest of lunch trying to figure out how it’s possible the two of them are now a couple.

Admit it, you’ve asked that question before.  Or maybe someone has asked that question about you and your significant other?  Attractiveness is a slippery subject that is at once curious, exciting, and sometimes a little taboo to talk about.  But what really makes someone attractive?  Why do we find certain people more attractive than others?  Why doesn’t everyone agree on what is an attractive trait?

Scientists can easily give a list of traits that make people attractive:  Women tend to be attracted to men who have a relatively narrow waist, a v-shaped torso, broad shoulders, and a higher degree of facial symmetry.  Women also tend to prefer men who are taller than they are.  Men find a good waist-to-hip ratio, symmetrical faces and bodies, and higher voices attractive traits in women.

Biologically, we’re attracted to people who we’ll have the best chance of having healthy offspring.  But we don’t describe our “type” as someone who’s “symmetrical” or who has a strong immune system. Instead, our “type” is someone who’s athletic, or artsy, or who has lots of ambition.  Attraction seems to have less to do with biology and more with our own personality, style, and interests. Studies have shown that people tend to fall in love with those from their same socioeconomic background, similar levels of intelligence, and consistent values and principles.

So our “type” actually reflects a desire to date someone that’s similar to us, or maybe even an idealized and romanticized version of ourselves.  This brings up a new angle to the attractiveness debate:  do our own attractiveness biases affect our perceptions of those we date?  A team led by Leonard Lee, from Columbia University, looked into this question.

Lee and his team used the used-to-be popular website HOTorNOT.com, which allows visitors to rate the attractiveness of random, anonymous photographs, to conduct their research on attractiveness and perceptions of attractiveness.  For reasons not entirely clear, Lee and his team found that people tend to gravitate to their own level of attractiveness (along with socio-economic class, race, and social circles).

Since society places such a great deal on a certain ideas of physical attractiveness, “attractive” people are also more popular dates.  And since beauty seems to be a universal constant between cultures, based on factors such as facial features and waist-to-hip ratios, it’s hard to get away from the influence of attractiveness in dating and mating.  So why did “unattractive” people prefer other “unattractive” people, instead of all going for the “attractive” people?

A psychological theory called “cognitive dissonance” can explain this question.

“The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance by altering existing [perceptions] or … reducing the importance of any one of the dissonant elements.  A key assumption is that people want their expectations to meet reality … [and] will avoid situations or information sources that give rise to feelings of uneasiness, or dissonance.” (Thank you trusty Wikipedia)

What this means is that when a person *for example* chooses someone they believe to be more attractive than themselves, they must try and reduce the internal conflict regarding this choice. In order to reduce that conflict, they might persuade themselves that they didn’t really want to be with that person.  Or they might persuade themselves that the person they chose is actually less physically appealing than they had initially thought.

Interestingly, while the researchers found that attractive people tended to prefer those who were also rated as attractive, they also found that a person’s own attractiveness did not influence how they rated others. People rated highly attractive by others were rated similarly by the participants in the study, regardless of how attractive or unattractive the participant was.

In summary: people go for people they believe are of equal attractiveness as they are, so they don’t risk feeling conflicted or hurt from possible rejection.  But it also means that everyone has a different view of how attractive they are. 

So that “nerd” sitting next to you in class, who’s dating the hot chick who lives in the dorm next to you?  You might have very different opinions about how attractive he really is…

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About auddieblue

I love to travel and explore the world, and I believe that you are never too old for a Disney movie.
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13 Responses to How did he get a girl like her?!

  1. I think its also possible that in couples of “uneven” attractiveness can be motivated by a partner who wants to think of themselves as the attractive one. It kind of gives them a sense of superiority, helps their self esteem, and puts them in a dominant position in the relationship.

    • auddieblue says:

      I totally agree. I think it’d be really interesting to find studies or some information on the brain and what happens/what “lights up” when we see someone we find attractive. It’d be cool to compare the reactions between the brains of “even” and “uneven” couples, and single people.

  2. afraser218 says:

    i believe that personality plays a big role in the attraction between man and women.

    • auddieblue says:

      Oh yeah, definitely! Like I said in my post – we tend to be attracted to people who are like us and have the same interests and personality traits. I’m sure that there are people who date others just because of their level of attractiveness, but I don’t believe that’s a true relationship (But that’s just my opinion).
      *I just thought of the phrase “he/she has a good personality” that people tend to use when telling friends about “less attractive” people. Maybe we use that phrase since subconsciously we know that personality is a major point when choosing partners, even though now it’s become more of a “give him/her a chance” plead.

  3. whurst001 says:

    I find it funny that I am criticized by my friends when I make offhanded comments such as “Oh, I don’t find Gisele Bündchen attractive” or the like. The typical response is “How do you not? She’s a model.” That being said, I do believe that physical attractiveness is important in a relationship, at least in today’s standards. However, it is only ONE attribute in the grand scheme of an individual’s make up. Personality, intelligence, interests, and social status are all important values when looking for a partner, and each one has a different weight in terms of importance to different individuals (subjective preferences, go figure).

    In regards to people dating outside of their “attractiveness” equilibrium, what I’ve always assumed is the less attractive individual was very enjoyable to be around. Charisma goes a long way, and physical attractiveness can be influenced simply by how an individual carries him- or herself.

    • auddieblue says:

      I totally agree! The fact that everyone “rates” someone with so many different attributes, and that everyone has different opinons about the value of each of those attributes, makes the whole “attractiveness” debate so interesting – at least to me.

  4. I’ve definitely questioned this before. We’re more likely to see what some might consider an unattractive man with an attractive woman vice an attractive guy with a less attractive girl. It makes sense that what charactereristics appeal to our own specific tastes are closely related to how we see ourselves, our intelligence level and socio economic status-to a certain extent. I think what we’re looking for specifically depends a lot on our wants. Men are more likely to go for the hottest girl they can find because they’re in it to pass on those genes and maybe go on to the next one, whereas women might be pursuing something completely different that doesn’t necessarily depend on how “hot” the guy is like the ability to provide for a family, or his job stability, or even his potential as a devoted and nurturing father. Interesting stuff! :)

    • auddieblue says:

      Yeah, I totally agree. I like how you brought up the whole passing-genes-to-the-next-generation idea to this. I hadn’t really thought of that. And I agree – I think women tend to look for “reliable” partners early on, while men don’t necessarily look for a life-long partner until later in their life.

  5. afike001 says:

    I have to agree with what has been said before me about women putting more thought into picking out a mate. I do think that people tend to look for someone who is more like them or even like their family because it is not foreign to them. People seem to like staying in their own little bubble even if they deny it and change is not one of those things people seem to handle well. When it comes to picking out a mate people do tend to chose someone that brings the least amount of change into their life. I do think that what is seen as attractive is not only seen on the outside but on the inside as well for both the chooser and the chosen.

    • auddieblue says:

      I totally agree about people choosing mates who are like them. In my intro anthropology class, we actually studied this phenomenon (I wish I could remember the name!), about how people choose mates who resemble them or their family/culture/social group. It’s not something people think about, I think, when they are looking for mates, but it definitely plays a major role. Like you said, humans don’t like change, and since finding a mate is a big enough change in our life, we don’t want to add any more “change” to our lives by finding someone who is totally different then ourselves. I wonder if the ideas that “women date men who resemble their fathers/men date women who resemble their mothers”.comes from this line of thought?

  6. teterpanda says:

    I have to admit I have asked it a few time and I did it recently. A woman at work is dating someone a lot less attractive than her. She told me it was because she was afraid of being alone and being hurt by someone (flawed logic because anyone can hurt you). My thoughts are some people don’t realize the difference in attractiveness multiple reasons, but I believe the most important is confidence. There are some people who have great confidence in themselves and this makes them seem attractive. You can make yourself seem more likable and approachable by having confidence in yourself.

    • auddieblue says:

      I think that is totally true. It’d be interesting if we could somehow rate or record confidence to add to this whole debate. I know that my confidence levels change around certain people, and I know that because of that I act differently around different people. I have no doubt that affects the way I see how attractive I am and how others might percieve my attractiveness based on how shy or outgoing I act.

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