8.2: Initial Attraction

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When we say that we like or love someone, we are experiencing interpersonal attraction - the strength of our liking or loving for another person. Although interpersonal attraction occurs between friends, family members, and other people in general, and although our analysis can apply to these relationships as well, our primary focus in this chapter will be on romantic attraction between people. There is a large amount of literature on the variables that lead us to like others in our initial interactions with them. We'll review some important findings here (Sprecher, Wenzel, & Harvey, 2008). Most of us are drawn to the same qualities in our partners; however, the research indicates that there are some differences based on sexual orientation and gender. We will discuss the differences and the theories around these differences later in the chapter, but we will start by reviewing the variables that lead to initial attraction between people.

Two Ways to Understand Gender and Attraction

Two very differing perspectives on perceived attractiveness are the Evolutionary Theory and the Sociocultural Perspective. As an interdisciplinary textbook, we are describing both ways of understanding attraction and expect the reader to consider these theories independently and perhaps in combination to make sense of the phenomena of attraction.

Evolutionary Theory

The main idea of Evolutionary Theory is that our behavior reflects evolved adaptations for the survival of our ancestors. So a man’s best strategy for passing their genes is to have a lot of short-term sexual encounters with healthy and fertile woman. Youth, a low waist-to-hip ratio, facial and bodily symmetry and long shiny hair are indicators of health and fertility so it is species survival that explains preferences. According to evolutionary theory, men become focused on appearance because it is a useful cue for their potential future reproductive success. However, women have to deal with unequal parental investment, and need to have a reliable partner to raise their family, so more than physical appearance matters to them from an evolutionary standpoint.

Sociocultural Perspective

Sociocultural Perspective acknowledges that evolution plays some role in sex differences in attraction; however, the sex differences may be more to do with social and cultural factors. How we were socialized in combination with who we are as individuals shaped the way we form attractions and preferences. The role of media and cultural values regarding attractiveness standards cannot be overlooked. We also consider the notion of free will and understand that while we are living in response to our society and the norms and values that come along with it we do have the power to choose what we are attracted to.  Ultimately social forces do have a large influence on what we know to be attractive or what we should like but we have the ability to think past these influences and decide for ourselves.   Research has found that in cultures where there is more gender equality, partner preferences are more similar between people  (Zentner & Mitura, 2012).

This page titled 8.2: Initial Attraction is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Susan Rahman with Nathan Bowman, Dahmitra Jackson, Anna Lushtak, Remi Newman, & Prateek Sunder.