Psychologists have demonstrated increased interest in understanding the factors that come into play for people to admire and like others. The general consensus is that people have different conceptualizations of what they find attractive, hence the need to understand how they arrive at decisions on what is admirable or not (Swami & Furnham, 2008). The present paper discusses some of the factors that are thought to predict why we are attracted to another person.
Attraction is defined as the “desire or inclination to approach another individual or object” (Swami & Furnham, 2008, p. 5). The variables that will be discussed in this section include physical beauty, similarity, proximity, and familiarity.
Physical beauty is described as the extent to which an individual’s physical characteristics are perceived by others as aesthetically attractive or desirable (Myers, 2013). Research on physical beauty has found that physically attractive individuals are not only perceived as more likeable and friendly, but are also favored more in work contexts than less attractive individuals (Stockemer & Praino, 2015).
Some physical beauty characteristics such as facial symmetry and waist-to-hip ratio are associated with attractiveness, good personality traits and successful life outcomes, though researchers are yet to validate some these perceptions (Swami & Furnham, 2008). For example, people find women with a balanced facial composition more attractive and knowledgeable than those with unbalanced composition despite research showing that facial symmetry and cognition are not related (Stockemer & Praino, 2015).
Similarity is described as any resemblance or likeness of character, values, or beliefs (Myers, 2013). Research is consistent that people show “stronger attraction to objectively similar others (i.e., actual similarity) that to those with whom they share fewer traits, beliefs, and/or attitudes” (Tidwell, Eastwick, & Finkel, 2013, p. 199).
The similarity-attraction effect acknowledges that people tend to be attracted to strangers with whom they share similar values, attitudes, personality, interests and world views than to friends with whom they share few of these characteristics. Research has also found that perceived similarity is a strong predictor of romantic attraction than actual attraction, though actual similarity in external characteristics such as age and hairstyle is more predictive of preliminary desirability than likeness in psychological characteristics such as cleverness and confidence (Tidwell et al., 2013).
Proximity can be described as closeness in space, moment in time or affiliation, while familiarity is the status of demonstrating adequate knowledge or understanding about something. In proximity, research shows that people tend to be attracted to those who are near them due to factors such as convenience, familiarity, identity, availability, visibility, and comfort (Myers, 2013).
Studies have also found that patterns of friendship and love are mostly determined by physical proximity due to its importance in the development of social relationships (Swami & Furnham, 2008). In familiarity, available evidence shows that people tend to be attracted to what they know or understand better due to the elements of predictability and similarity (Myers, 2013). Additionally, it is clear that repetitive exposure to certain individuals increases our attraction toward them through a subconscious process that is dependent on the level of congruence in factors such as personality traits and interests.
Drawing from this discussion, it can be concluded that the variables of physical beauty, similarity, proximity, and familiarity play a significant role in predicting why we are attracted to other people. Although these factors are not conclusive, they provide an insightful indication of the dynamics of attraction in psychological contexts.
Myers, D. (2013). Social psychology (13th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.
Stockemer, D., & Praino, R. (2015). Blinded by beauty? Physical attractiveness and candidate selection in the U.S. House of Representatives. Social Science Quarterly, 96, 430-443. doi: 10.1111/ssqu.12155
Swami, V., & Furnham, A. (2008). The psychology of physical attraction. East Sussex, England: Routledge.
Tidwell, N.D., Eastwick, P.W., & Finkel, E.J. (2013). Perceived, not actual, similarity predicts initial attraction in a live romantic context: Evidence from the speed-dating paradigm. Personal Relationships, 20, 199-215. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2012.01405.x