As some of you have probably noticed, I really enjoy reading about the science and psychology of this thing called love. So I'm digging the chapter on sex and relationships in Yale psychologist Paul Bloom's new book, How Pleasure Works: Why We Like What We Like. In that section, the question he poses is: Why do we like whom we like?
Well, folks, there's good news and bad news. The bad news is that, yes, we humans like beauty. It seems we're born with this preference, because studies done on wee babies found that even they like to look at pictures of pretty people better than the not-so-pretty. The baby research also seems to indicate that while cultural norms and socialization do have some influence on whom we find beautiful, we're born with many of our beauty preferences.
Here's the good news:
1. We like to look at healthy people.
A lot of what babies — and the rest of us — find beautiful are physical indications of good health. We like unblemished skin, clear eyes, nice teeth, shining hair. So simply by doing things like eating your fruits and veggies, working out, and getting enough sleep, you can do a lot for yourself in terms of looking hot. Other things that might help: visiting a dermatologist, using teeth-whitening gel, using a shower filter to take the toxins out of your water and get better-looking hair. Why is it such a turn-on when someone looks fit? It's an evolutionary biology thing: A healthy-looking person is likely to produce a healthy kid.
2. We like people who are familiar to us more than those who are not.
That's true even when the familiar people are less attractive than the newcomers. To get a better sense of what I'm talking about, let me tell you about a cool study. Researchers asked a team of women to attend different classes at the University of Pittsburgh. The women never spoke in the classes, and the number of lectures they attended varied; some went to 5, others to 10, others to 15, and so on. Some went to none. When the term was over, the "real" students were asked to rate the attractiveness of the women. Those who were judged most attractive were the ones who went to 15 classes. Least attractive? Yep: The women who'd never been to a single class. As Bloom points out, this is just one study — but it underscores a bunch of other studies that have found proof of the "mere exposure" effect. (This may also help to explain why I get hit on in the gym a lot. I'm always there, so the guys are used to me.)
3. We like people who are smiling.
Bloom cites a study that found smiling is an important factor in whether or not we'll find a face attractive. And in an interview I did a little while back with the author of a book about the science of sex, she told me that a woman's beauty doesn't have that much to do with whether or not a man will approach her at a bar. Rather, the important thing is how much a woman seems to be flirting — smiling, making eye contact, and flipping her hair.
4. We like kindness.
Bloom notes that "in the largest study ever of human mate preferences, looking at people in 37 cultures, the most important factor for both men and women is kindness." That's sweet, isn't it? (So I guess I was wrong when I worried that nice girls finish last.)
Guys, do you like hearing this stuff? I do.
Anyway, enjoy the weekend. And hey, will somebody set me up on a date? Swing by my Facebook page if you think you have a ringer. I need a little excitement!