Get Your Coat! – The Psychology of Attractiveness


As a Psychology student, I have learnt many things about what we find attractive in a person and why we have ‘types’. Every day we see sexy images of Jensen Ackles and Rihanna and we all find ourselves dribbling. So what is it that doesn’t make us dribble over, say, Susan Boyle or Steve Tyler?

I am going to share with you some quirky psychological theories that can explain why we go for certain people, what makes a relationship work and how to be more attractive…hopefully.

Me, Tarzan – you, Jane

Back in the cave times, men and women had certain roles to fulfil; men were hunter gatherers and women were cave-wives. The women had to make sure that they were with the right guy (the right guy being the fittest and most able candidate to look after her). So through natural selection, women chose to mate with men who had the strongest genes for survival, and men chose the most fertile women to pass these genes on. David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist, found global features that men and women find attractive when picking a partner. Such features have evolved from the caveman era. He found that men tend to prefer traits related to fertility, such as youth and physical attractiveness, whereas women prefer traits relating to resources and security, such as ambition and social status.

Recent studies suggest that men look for baby-like features in their potential partner, for example large eyes, small nose, big smile and prominent cheekbones. Females, on the other hand, like their men to be manly. All features associated with masculinity were high on the females’ lists of desires; things like stubble, height, strong jaw, and broad shoulders drove girls crazy.

What girl wouldn’t want a tall, rugged man to sweep her off her feet?

When you fell from Heaven…

There are several factors that encourage two people to start dating, and these go a long way in explaining why so many students find love at university. These are:

  1. Proximity (who’s ever got with their housemate?) “The more we see and interact with a person, the more likely he or she is to become our friend or intimate partner”.
  2. Similarity: makes sense, you need to share things in common with your partner.
  3.  Familiarity: seeing your face frequently makes them feel comfortable around you, however seeing it too often will only freak them out and they’ll end up thinking you’re a stalker.
  4. Reciprocity: no one wants to be in a relationship with themselves, if they aren’t responding to you they’re obviously not interested.
  5. And lastly, physical attractiveness: because you can’t jump into bed with someone who just doesn’t do it for you.

You know when you see your attractive ‘lad’ friend around campus and he’s surrounded by adoring girls and wannabe guys, and you think to yourself, ‘Why do so many people like him when he’s such an arse!?’ Well, that’s because we tend to attribute other positive traits to physically attractive people, even before really getting to know them. This is known as ‘The Halo Effect’, and we do this because we want them to be the whole package. We usually assume that they are more friendly, fun and interesting than they actually are. They usually have more friends than the average person because of this, and generally pull a lot more people.

It is important to distinguish between pure infatuation with a person and genuine liking for them before you make a move. Get to know them first, as you may find that looks can be deceiving and you’re left feeling pretty disappointed.

The Long Haul

Once you have got the partner of your dreams and you don’t mind waking up next to them every morning, there are a few things you need to bear in mind. There are three elements that make up the ultimate kind of love; passion, commitment and intimacy. If you’ve got these pegged, you’re in it for the long run. These can be paired together to explain other types of love; companionate love (the love some people have with their dog), romantic love and pure infatuation (when you can’t stop watching Will Smith shower scenes on YouTube). In a strong relationship you need to be comfortable disclosing your deepest thoughts and feelings to your partner. They should be your best friend as well as your partner. Whether you grow to find them hot or you thought they were saucy at first sight, passion is key at keeping a relationship healthy. And finally, commitment; no one wants a guy who dips his paint brush in every pot.

Obviously we need to take into consideration the fact that everyone is different and types change dramatically. Just because this is what a bunch of psychologists have found doesn’t mean we are all the same. Not everyone has prominent cheekbones or broad shoulders; so I went around campus and asked your fellow students what they found attractive in their potential partner:

I like my man to be funny, creative, rugged and protective. I’m a bit of a stereotype really.

Third Year Children's Nursing student


The most attractive quality has got to be the person’s personality. It doesn’t matter who the person is or what they look like, if the personality is right there is nothing better.

Third Year Chemistry with Maths Masters student


He’s got to be funny, considerate, and ambitious. As long as I find him beautiful that’s all that matters.

Third Year Psychology student


Nice eyes, nice figure, bright personality and compassionate.

Second Year Chemistry student



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