In this article I give insight to the sex differences found in speed dating, and the assumptions people make about the beautiful. I also discuss the impact of dubious dating strategies such as ‘negging’, and how a surprising variety of factors influence attraction; these include wealth, proximity and situation. I explore a scenario that tests people’s type against who they actually end up with, and the inbuilt fascination society has with novelty, and what happens when the novelty of someone new becomes familiar.

The importance of looking good

There’s no denying the importance that people place on looking good. Women are reported to spend an average of over £70,000 in their lifetimes on appearance, this equates to £112.65 a month, of which £53.87 is spent just on the face.

Women especially report that the need to always look their best is often an uncomfortable pressure that’s placed on them by society via social media, magazines and celebrity influence. It’s worth observing that regardless of gender, a person’s ability to dramatically transform their look with makeup is an amazing and fun thing. The problem comes when balance is lost and individuals feel pressurised by influences around them.

Artificial enhancements

In addition to using makeup to maximise appearance, a growing trend is the use of apps on mobile devices that change the shape of the face, as well as further enhancing skin tone and texture. It’s an odd phenomenon that although use of these apps is common, people still feel bad about themselves because they don’t look like others in their pictures. I applaud Stacey Soloman’s recent media release that shows what she really looks like before the transformation takes place. More of this type of positive influence is needed to remind us all that there’s nothing wrong with a natural look. Delving deeper into what people find attractive and why reveals surprises, showing there’s more to attraction than appearance. Before we get into that let’s start with the visual.

In the eye of the beholder

Certainly research shows there’s a strong bias towards visual beauty, which is consistent across cultures around the world. It’s said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, although research differs and suggests that people generally agree on what constitutes beauty, and what doesn’t. This marks the difference between having no emotional connection to a person that’s being judged in a magazine, and knowing someone. In reality people often don’t end up with their fantasy, but think their partners are no less beautiful all the same.

The beautiful people

For centuries beautiful people have experienced positive prejudice throughout their lives. In recent history the best looking have gained advantages in school from teachers, and better jobs and promotions as adults. This phenomenon is so pronounced that individuals presume glowing attributes about their characters without ever having met them. Researchers have found that showing pictures of highly attractive individuals results in the viewers pronouncing them as trustworthy, kind, intelligent, outgoing, modest and sensitive, in addition to having better jobs, more money and an all-round better life than the viewers. All this presumed from pictures; it’s hardly surprising that so much money and time is spent on our public appearance.

Gender differences

In examining who and what people find attractive there are certainly gender differences, although the majority of research so far has focussed on heterosexuals, this article will therefore concentrate on these relationships.

Winning you over & negging

Perhaps surprisingly, we find people more attractive if we feel we have won them over. While this is not generally acknowledged, it’s apparent in dating strategies for both women and men. Certain type of men use ‘negging’, a strategy based on simultaneously insulting and complimenting women. For less confident women this results in a drop in their self-esteem and them working to gain the approval of the man insulting them.

Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen

Certain types of women also use negative strategies, ‘treat them mean, keep them keen’ is the most common. For less confident men this again results in lowered self-esteem and men working harder to win approval. There are many websites promoting these strategies in a misguided effort to ‘help’ men and women know how to manipulate their partners. While both these strategies are negative and are unlikely to result in healthy long-term relationships, they do result in the recipient finding the insulter more attractive, in the short term at least.

Should I do this?

I advise against these approaches as they are likely to result in your partners becoming insecurely attached to you, which isn’t great for their mental well-being. Surely the more desirable situation is that we and our partners feel confident and secure about the relationship. In any event the science behind this approach describes it as a gain-loss theory of attraction. In simple English, we find it more rewarding if we believe we have gained something or someone by exerting ourselves, than if no effort is made. In addition to a variety of dating strategies both sexes usually have clear ideas of how the person they want to date should look.

What’s your type?

It’s common knowledge that most people have a type. It’s a cliché that women want men to be tall dark and handsome, and that men prefer blondes, or brunettes or red-heads. In reality most women want to men to be taller than them, and most men prefer to be taller than women. Apart from this consistency, and the partners being good looking, everything else is down to individual taste. To examine the reality of this, researchers explored what happens on a night out. Whatever someone’s idea of an ideal mate is, their standards are found to drop in line with the amount of time that passes.

Alcohol and desperation

Two causal factors are given as an explanation, these being alcohol and desperation. As people get more and more drunk, they report others becoming more attractive around them, in short, on go the beer goggles. Secondly, having gone out with the intention of ‘pulling’, most people also become more desperate the nearer it gets to closing time. Researchers consistently find that those pairing off at the end of a night, find someone with little resemblance to the ideal mate they sought at the start of it. In broader terms, however people meet and regardless of their ideal mate, they frequently pair off with someone quite different from whom they envisaged.

And the lesson is?

There is a lesson here, don’t limit who you might find attractive by only going for a certain type; instead be open and experience people for who they are, and you might be surprised at what you find. A commonly reported type for women are rich men, so next we’ll look at wealth.

Are rich people more attractive?

A frequently recreated study involves the assessment of how the perception of wealth influences attraction. In one form the study involves showing participants pictures of men and women in an ordinary car and apartment, or an expensive car and apartment. These and other study results consistently show that women find men considerably more attractive if they appear to have wealth. Conversely men find women with apparent wealth very slightly less attractive. Wealth is believed to represent achievement and success which apparently appeals to women on an instinctive level. On the basis that this perception stems from only a visual, we’ll take a look at first impressions.

The first impression

It’s no secret that most people place great importance on the first impression, despite it revealing very little about who a person actually is behind the mask. Research conducted during speed-dating produced some interesting differences between the sexes. Based only on physical appearance, men were more attracted to women than women were to men. How confident or anxious, open or stand-offish participants were also impacted attractiveness. Again men found women more attractive regardless of personality, whereas personality certainly made a difference to women. As a heterosexual man writing this article I’m not sure how to feel about these results.

Visual -v- personality

Certainly it’s common knowledge that the visual plays a more important role for men than women. Having said this guys, in a dating scenario, once you’ve ticked the box that the lady looks good, the real work should begin to find out if she’s a good personality fit for you. On a serious note, I can’t stress how important this is for everyone. Yes we want to be physically attracted to our partners, but we must then look deeper and establish that someone’s personality is a fit for us. This leads nicely into the next research area, similarity.

Pretending to like what he likes

Perceived similarity is reported as being very important. I say perceived, as a common dating strategy according to women is to pretend to be interested in a man’s likes and interests. While this strategy may result in further dates and a relationship, it is likely to lead to discontent as the lack of real interest soon becomes apparent. Research shows that at a basic level, partners want positive and rewarding interactions from their relationships, and this is more likely to happen when you genuinely do enjoy the same interests. Of course you may find the idea of a new hobby or activity appealing, in which case it’s a positive step to jump in and explore.

Just being around them

Simple proximity has also been found to be a big factor; being around someone for long enough is often a catalyst for a romantic relationship forming. Despite not being initially attracted to each other, plenty of couples have formed relationships due to continued proximity. For example, starting as work colleagues and then friends, couples find attraction in each other’s personalities which grows into a sexual relationship. The setting or situation has also been found to be a key but sometimes misleading factor.

Relationship anxiety

There’s plenty of research to support the theory, that exciting or stressful situations can result in elevated levels of stimulation that are mistaken as, or enhance, arousal towards the opposite sex. This is a cause for relationship anxiety in everyday life, with partners feeling insecure and jealous over their other halves working with new colleagues. Groups of women or men going on nights out or holidays are often a source of relationship conflict, from fear that someone new might catch their partner’s attention.

The Strictly curse

The twin influences of proximity and setting are seen regularly on TV; celebrities take part in reality shows and find themselves spending considerable time with others in artificial but exciting situations. Bonding quickly through continual proximity and during stressful challenges, often results in couples pairing off, even though one or both of them may already be in happy, stable relationships. This happened so frequently on Strictly Come Dancing that it became known as the strictly curse. Even now the media is reporting Aston Merrygold saying he won’t fall victim to the strictly curse and Eamonn Holmes watching for signs of it. It begs the question, why do people walk away from happy stable relationships for someone new? To answer this we need to look at our inbuilt responses to novelty and familiarity.

Does familiarity breed contempt?

Understanding that respect is an emotion but not in itself an action, it’s common for our levels of respect for a person and what they give to us to drop once we’ve known them for a period of time. This doesn’t mean that we stop feeling respect for our partners, just less so than early on. A person may have been tremendously exciting in the early stages of a relationship but over time, as the novelty of them becomes familiar to us, we no longer perceive them as exciting as we did; they have become normal. On the other hand novelty has been identified as compelling and attractive to us; what is new is good. Whether this is new makeup, clothes, music, TV, cars, celebrities, the list goes on and on.

So what have we learnt from this?

Attraction is about more than just visual appearance, and much of this is usually outside our conscious awareness. Research suggests that our perceptions about what we want and how to get it are based in our own past experiences, and also what we have observed in others. On a basic level we all need security and comfort from a relationship. We look for it to be consistently positive and rewarding, and when times are tough, to be able to share the burdens and receive consolation and support. The question therefore to ask yourself is, do your strategies and those of the people you are attracted to, result in these basic needs being satisfied? If not, it may be time for a rethink about your own approach, and the type of person you usually look for.