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The Science Of Attractiveness

The evolutionary psychology of physical attractiveness: Sexual selection and human morphology

The Role of Physical Attraction in Your Relationship

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Ideal Self and Seeing the Partner in Self

A person may also look for a partner who complements, fulfils the unfulfilled dreams, or corresponds to the person’s ideal self. Murstein calls this way of perceiving the partner “trinity of desiderata”. The personality of that person made me fall in love: he was so   strong, he seemed much stronger than me… I was charmed because he was mentally stronger than me. (Woman, 23, unmarried) I felt that the person corresponds to my contemporary needs; in other words, he was strong, independent. Then he “trained” me so that I found an echo to my persistence. He didn’t submit that way. (Woman, 31, married).

The way a person perceived himself or herself affects the way he or she perceives the partner. That evaluation also involves one’s self-conception, ideal self, and the high or low degree of self-acceptance.

According to Reik, partner selection that is based on the ideal self, the motive of love is the individual’s discontent with himself or herself, his or her own insecurity and feeling of not being capable of fulfilling demands that arise from the inside. Love seems to fulfil these needs by expanding the individual’s self and internalising the other’s self, the self of the target of one’s love. In this case, the individual has found his or her “true” self in the physical and mental being of the target of his or her love.

Martinson claimed that an intimate relationship compensates a person’s feelings of insufficiency and people whose self-image is inadequate need the relationship the most: “Other things being equal, persons who marry demonstrate greater feeling of ego deficiency than do persons who remain single”. Later on, several studies have shown that single men are more imbalanced by their personality than married men: they are more neurotic, isolated, depressed, passive, anti-social, and so on. When it comes to women, the situation was proven the opposite. Many issues make the interpretation of the results difficult. For example, it is not possible to evaluate whether the personality traits are the reasons or results of living as a single or in a relationship.

Aron et al. stated that in a relationship, an individual can start to treat the other as he or she was included in the self or was a part of the self. Several other theorists have noted the same phenomenon. Greenwald and Pratkanis talked about the “collective” aspect in self and Ickes et al. about “inter-subjectivity”. Obviously, Hatfield’s concept “a sense of we-ness” refers to the same. In addition, McCall pointed out how an intimate relationship forms “an incorporation of… (the other’s) actions and reactions… into the content of one’s various conceptions of the self”.

The basis of the phenomenon described with the above-mentioned concepts is that in a relationship an individual behaves as if the partner’s all or some characteristics were the individual’s own. According to Aron et al., this phenomenon occurs as rapprochement in three areas:

1. Resources

Clark and Mills talked about the communal nature of the relationship and Wegner about an empathetic model by noting that “empathy may stem in part from a basic confusion between ourselves and others”.

2. Thoughts and opinions have proven to reflect the most versatile things, for example ways of thinking and even the partners’ memory processes.

3. Characteristics and features

The above-mentioned collective aspect in a relationship is also supported by McAdams’s way of defining the content of an intimate relationship: “converge on the central idea of sharing that which is inmost with others”. Bataille (1962) expressed it quite dramatically: “Between one being and another there is a gulf, a discontinuity”. “What we desire is to bring into a world founded on discontinuity all the continuity such a world can sustain”. According to Reik , falling in love can indeed be described-referring to the mentioned selection by the ideal self-as the desire to own the other person!

Physical Attractiveness

Fetishism partly affects partner selection as well: some body parts or features of physical appearance and personality may have a special meaning or appear especially attractive. There are also negative fetishes, characteristics and traits that fill with repugnance.

I like blue eyes a lot. That boy had handsome blue eyes. (Woman, 22, unmarried)

Things in his looks made me fall in love, especially his high forehead. (Woman, 26, married)

She had beautiful hair, nice smile. (Man, 24, unmarried)

He had wonderful, long, curly hair. (Woman, 37, married

According to previous studies, physically attractive features are among others

– The face,

– Especially eyes,

– Hair,

– The body,

– Clothing, and

– Height.

Some stereotyped beliefs are connected with people’s height: one’s height is often associated with other positive features, such as intelligence, independency and target-orientation.

Men and women perceive the importance of looks markedly differently when it comes to partner selection. According to several studies, especially men appreciate women’s physical attractiveness and thus physical appearance is a more important criterion for men than for women. “Good looks” seems to be greatly valued by men, and the phenomenon is also intercultural which was proven by Buss’s 37 samples from 33 different countries and five continents.

All in all, there are plenty of studies on physical attractiveness: Already in 1981, Cash had counted about 500 of them. The research field is interdisciplinary and even if the research questions seem to vary methodologically, the points of interest can be categorized into three main questions:

1. Do people find physically attractive people differently than the unattractive?

2. Are physically attractive people treated differently than the unattractive?

3. Do physically attractive people differ from the unattractive by, for example, their personality traits, abilities, etc.?

All the above-mentioned questions can be answered “yes” according to the existing studies. Differences in how people are treated are found already from childhood-among others, Clifford and Walster showed how teachers treat pupils who are physically attractive differently-and the phenomenon occurs even in verdicts given to criminals. Numerous studies prove that women’s physical attractiveness is the reason for the interest expressed by the opposite sex more often than among men. Physically attractive people are perceived sexier, warmer, more sensitive, friendlier, and more capable than the less attractive. Hatfield and Sprecher wrote that “people believe good-looking people possess almost all virtues known to humankind”. The stereotype of “what is beautiful is good”, and the reasons and consequences of the phenomenon are analyzed by numerous researchers.

What is significant is that the stereotype of beauty can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a pleasing looks brings about positive treatment and expectations, it reflects in, for example, balanced personality development, happiness, and subjective well-being and satisfaction with life. Yet, it is also important to realize that beauty is relative-a matter of taste. It might be that subjective perceptions on physical attractiveness may have only a little connection with more objective measures. Berscheid and Walster showed in their summary of beauty research how any feature can be perceived beautiful. Also Murstein’s studies supported the finding. Graziano et al. showed in their research how men’s and women’s way of assessing the physical attractiveness of the opposite sex differed. Women’s evaluations were more complicated and indirect: social skills were also connected with the beauty assessment. In addition, the information women get from peers affected their evaluation whereas men did not use the “consensus-information” when evaluating women’s physical attractiveness. It has been noted that especially the information about the negative features is significant: even one negative trait may nullify a bunch of positive features.

Eventually, the fact how often a partner is selected based on his or her physical appearance is difficult to figure out. However, looks is often the factor that ignites the initial interest, as do the following interview citations show, too: Her looks did matter but wasn’t of primary importance. (Man, 25, unmarried) Well, of course, the looks, the first that you see in the person is the looks… (Woman, 21, unmarried)

She was so beautiful. It started from me falling in love physically. (Man, 21, unmarried)

Furthermore, for example McFarland and Ross noted that the criteria of partner selection a person gives can vary based on the phase of the intimate relationship. Different factors are emphasized at the beginning of the relationship than at a later phase: Well, sometimes when I was 17, I went for handsome men but it passed quickly. Nowadays, I have started to look for security-it doesn’t necessarily show outward who can be trusted in. (Woman, 22, unmarried)

You know, she was a sort of girl…her looks didn’t do it but her being and attitude toward life, sort of abstract things, there wasn’t any framework of beauty… but just this person herself. (Man, 33, married)

The experience of the partner’s outer beauty can also be the outcome of the relationship and not just the reason for starting one. A gallop study reviewed by Murstein showed how spouses evaluate that each other’s physical attractiveness had either remained the same (47%) or improved (37%) as the relationship had become deeper.

In the long run, the partner’s physical attractiveness is merely connected with the quality of the relationship.

The findings from the interview data and previous studies can be explained by Murstein’s  Stimulus–Value–Role Theory (SVR). According to the theory, an intimate relationship develops through three processes: 1) the stimulus phase, 2) the phase of value comparisons, and 3) the role phase. Couples can move from a phase to another in pair but individually as well.

The first phase is the stimulus phase when the other’s outer features (physical attractiveness, status, posture, voice, etc.) are important. The stimulus phase may differ based on whether the situation of meeting each other is open or closed.

When the man and woman do not know each other beforehand or are nodding acquaintances and their possibility to get to know each other depends on their own initiative, the situation is open. Initiative is needed for example when wishing to make the acquaintance in a large group of classmates at the beginning of a semester or at a restaurant. The situations are open because the individuals can decide whether they pursue contacts or refrain from them. In a close situation, individuals are obliged to be in contact with each other and receive some information about each other. Situations like these are for example tutorial study groups, seminar sessions, meetings related to hobbies or association activities. An open situation is disadvantageous to those whose outer features, especially the ones of their physical appearance, are unflattering. Instead in a close situation, the impression given does not totally depend on senses because one can have information about the other’s opinions, vocational goals, among others.

The stimulus phase is followed by the phase of value comparison. The transition, if it is to happen, may take hours or weeks, depending on the level of interaction. At the value phase, the partners assess each other in many ways: what their religious and political viewpoints are, attitudes toward various issues, hobbies, etcetera. As the relationship progresses, they expand the scope of the attitude or opinions evaluations. They evaluate each other’s way of thinking and feeling. If the relationship functions well, open self-expression becomes reciprocal and the couple can find out being unanimous in many questions.

The second phase precedes the role phase. Moving on to the role phase necessitates that the previous phases are passed successfully and the partners share the wish to commit to a deeper and more stable relationship. The ability to adjust one’s own role with the other’s role in the relationship as well as the ability to foresee the other’s wishes and feelings. Learning these skills takes plenty of time.

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