The Rules of Attraction

Right I know this is a science article, but I’m not talking about some sort of force between magnets here, or any other such geeky subject matter… I’m talking about love! What is it that attracts you to that hot guy across the bar, or the gorgeous girl walking past the Hallward? Easy you might say, it’s his cheeky grin, or her mind-bogglingly low cut top (in January!!) Well, nope. In fact there are several much subtler things we need to possess to be attractive to a potential partner. Scientifically, you need to smell right, have a symmetrical body and be one of the first to catch their eye.

Apparently if you turn up late to a party then you really have no chance of finding that special someone by the end of the evening. When given a line up of potential mates, most animals, humans included, will evaluate only 9% of their options before making their choice for fear of missing the boat. This makes pretty sound evolutionary sense given that the whole aim of the game in nature is to pass on your genes to the next generation. Yes, ideally you look for a fit, healthy and successful partner so that your offspring inherit the best possible combination of genes, to stand them in good stead for life ahead. But ultimately instinct tells most animals that to settle for Mr/Miss Not-quite-so-perfect is better than being too fussy and not reproducing at all. If that doesn’t convince you, it’s also been mathematically proven. Don’t ask me how, its maths – that’d be like asking me to translate it for you from Latin. But mathematicians are pretty clever, so we’ll trust that the equations have been done and it all adds up.

Symmetrical bodies are the most attractive say scientists. Everybody knows that it is quite common to have one foot slightly bigger than the other, but there are many asymmetries we are just not consciously aware of. Somewhere in the depths of your brain though, you are picking up on these details. Humans and other animals, ranging from scorpion flies to zebra finches, have shown a preference for symmetrical partners. Many studies have been done by showing photographs of faces and asking people to rate the relative attractiveness. The preference is thought to be because symmetry advertises biological quality, in other words desirable genes.

Pheromones – a word you may have heard banded around by the media in recent years, but what does it really mean? Well, a pheromone is a chemical signal given out by an animal that is picked up by other members of the same species and triggers a behavioural response. Sound like something you’ve heard on a wildlife program? Maybe, but surprisingly humans use them too. One particular study carried out in 1995 by a guy called Claus Wedekind, involved getting volunteers to wear the same t-shirt for no less than three days without deodorant, and then asking members of the opposite sex to rate the attractiveness of the mystery t-shirt wearer based on smell alone. A bit gross in my opinion, but all in the name of science! Results from these studies showed that scents act as a subconscious cue, telling you whether or not a partner is suited. This is because the chemicals secreted contain information about a person’s immune system. A suitable partner will have an immune system very different from your own, so that your offspring would be equipped with a diverse immunity and consequently would be able to fight off loads of different illnesses.

So if anyone ever says to you that “your face is very even-looking” or tells you that “you just smell so different” (as unlikely as this probably is,) then don’t be offended, take it as a compliment as they are really very attracted to you!

Laura McGuinness


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