The Psycology of Attraction Essay

This essay has a total of 2577 words and 13 pages.

The Psycology of Attraction

The Psychology of Attraction


“Attraction: 1.n. the power or act of attracting; 2.a desirable or pleasant quality
or thing” (Webster’s Dictionary, 1995).

Taken directly from Webster’s Dictionary, this definition states in clear,
scientific terms what attraction is. However, as every human knows, the power of
attraction goes far beyond this cut and dried statement, reaching deep into our psyche, as
well into our past. In this paper, the processes of attraction, its evolutionary roots
and modern day implications are studied, in an attempt to answer the question “what
causes us to be attracted to someone”?

In the search for an answer, one must begin at the beginning- that is, at the beginning of
the human race. At this time, life was merely the pursuit of survival and reproduction.
Humans, like all other animals, struggled in competition for mates with the best genetic
quality to pass on to their offspring. Females selected males that were healthy and
strong, who could defend them and their young and who could provide food and shelter.
Males sought out as many young, fertile women with whom to mate and pass on their genes as
possible. Prehistoric man had no way of knowing whether or not a potential mate was in
good health, so he learned to rely on cues embedded deep in recesses of his brain. Such
preferences developed universally because these attributes provided signals as to the
quality of genes, health or fertility of a mate. Over time, the people who had such
preferences (and acted on them by mating with people possessing these attributes) left
more surviving children.

Three theories as to why these characteristics evolved as important signals exist.
The first theory, the Runaway Selection model, credited to British geneticist Sir Roland
Fisher, resembles the theorizing of Darwin (Diamond, 1996). In it, Fisher observes that
all female animals (including humans) do best to mate with males bearing good genes to
pass on to their offspring; however, females have no direct way to asses the quality of a
male’s genes. He hypothesized that if a female somehow became genetically
programmed to be sexually attracted to males with a certain structure, one that would give
those males some advantage at surviving, they would thereby gain an additional advantage
because they would now transmit their genes to more offspring, who would in turn survive
better and also be chosen by a female with such a preference, and so on and so on.

In the second theory, proposed by Israeli zoologist Amotz Zahavi, the fact many structures
functioning as body sexual signals are “so big or conspicuous that they constitute a
health hazard to their owner, and also cost a lot of biosynthetic energy to grow. As a
result, any creature surviving such a handicap is, in effect, boasting that they must have
terrific genes in other respects” (Diamond, 1996).

The final theory, “Advertising”, is similar to Zahavi’s theory, and was
proposed by American zoologists Astrid Kodric- Brown and James Brown. It states that
costly body structures (such as muscles and breasts) represent a honest advertisement of
quality because an inferior animal could not afford the cost (Diamond, 1996 p.79).

All three theories provide some insight as to why these preferences evolved. There are
two main components to physical cues, faces and bodies. Males and females exhibit very
different structure in both aspects, due to the presence of the hormones testosterone and
estrogen. Humans are not indifferent to the effects of these chemicals. Like many other
animal species, humans have evolved these tactics of signaling age, sex, reproductive
status and individual quality as well as programmed responses to these traits. For
examples, one may consciously admire Kate Moss’s legs or Arnold’s biceps, but
humans are also “viscerally attuned to small variations in size and symmetry of
facial bones and the placement of weight on the body (Cowley, Geofrey and Karen Spriger,
1996 p.68).”

Adult male and female faces are different in shape, with most of the shape differences
developing at puberty in response to the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen. In
general, males have relatively high testosterone levels and females have relatively high
estrogen levels. High testosterone at puberty results in specific bone growth causing
growth of the lower face and jaw, growth of the cheekbones, growth of the brow ridges and
projection of the central face between the brow and the bottom of the nose. Other effects
of testosterone on the face are: growth of facial hair, bushier eyebrows set closer to the
eyes, a wider nose and mouth and a change in voice pitch (Turner, 1999). “The
hormone also aids muscle deposition and aggression, which are both useful for competing in
male hierarchies. Testosterone also has the negative effect of inhibiting the immune
system” (Hotenski, 1999 p.57). Therefore, anyone who shows high levels of
testosterone and is also in good health demonstrates superior gene quality. It would
follow that females would prefer such males as mates; however, recent studies by
researchers at the University St. Andrews in Scotland, and the University of Tokyo
indicates that females prefer more ‘baby faced’ men as long term partners, but
show a preference for more masculine faces while ovulating. This would suggest that
females have evolved a mating strategy that says ‘marry a nice guy who will invest
into you and your offspring- but be interested in having affairs with better quality men
at the time you are most likely to conceive’.

Female faces change much less during puberty because high estrogen concentration prevents
growth, especially in the chin area (Turner, 1999; Cowley and Spriger, 1998). The major
changes in the female face are a thinning of the cheeks and growth in lip size, which
reaches a maximum at about 14.5 years of age (Turner, 1999). As females age, the
concentration of estrogen decreases and the higher testosterone/estrogen ration causes the
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