I would like to welcome my dear friend: Wendy Reinders. We both study Clinical and Health Psychology at the Utrecht University. Wendy is the first guest blogger I have invited to this blog and I’m very excited about it – enjoy!
What’s the first thing we’re likely to notice about those we meet? Their looks, of course. And, although we all know there is much more to people than their appearance, looks definitely count. Physical attractiveness has a substantial influence on the first impressions that people form of one another. In general, we tend to assume that good-looking people are more likeable than those who are unattractive. Studies show that physically attractive people are also presumed to be more interesting, talented, sociable and smarter than those who are less attractive.
Generally, we seem to use the crude stereotype that what beautiful is good. We assume that attractive people have desirable traits that complement their desirable appearances. Additionally, we seem to make these judgments automatically, without any conscious thought: a beautiful face triggers a positive evaluation the moment we see it.
Several studies have shown that, to a limited extent, beauty is in the ‘eye of the beholder’. However, observers agree in their perceptions of beauty much more than they disagree. Despite some idiosyncrasy, people mainly share the same notions of who is and who isn’t pretty.
So what makes women attractive? There’s little doubt that women are more attractive if they have ‘baby-faced’ features such as large eyes, a small nose, a small chin and full lips. The point is not to look childish, however, but to appear feminine and youthful. Male attractiveness is more complex. Men who have strong jaws and broad foreheads – men who look strong and dominant – are usually thought to be handsome. On the other hand, when average male faces are made slightly more feminine through computer imaging, the ‘feminized’ faces are thought to be attractive, too.
In any case, good-looking faces in both sexes have features that are neither too large nor too small. Indeed, they are quite average. When composite images are created that combine the features of individual faces, the average faces that result are rated more attractive than nearly all the faces that make up the composite. This is because average faces are symmetrical, which is presumed to be attractive.
Of course, some bodies are more attractive than others, too. Men find women’s shapes most alluring when they are of normal weight, neither too heavy nor too slender, and their waists are noticeably narrower than their hips. The most attractive waist-to-hip ratio is a curvy 0.7 in which the waist is 30% smaller than the hips. In most cases, women who are overweight are judged to be less attractive than slender and normal women are, but thin women are not more attractive to men than women of normal weight.
Again, male attractiveness is more complex. Men’s bodies are most attractive when their waists are only slightly narrower than their hips, with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.9. Broad shoulders are also considered attractive.
There are still other characteristics that influence those perceptions. Both men and women tend to prefer partnerships in which he is taller than she. A potential partner’s body odor seems to be of influence as well. Lastly, women are more attractive to men when they have longer rather than short hair.
Who has a bias for beauty?
Some people care more about physical attractiveness than others do. How important are other people’s looks to you? Your answer may depend on whether you’re male or female. All over the world, men report higher interest in having a physically attractive partner than women do (which may also be why 91% of cosmetic surgeries performed in the U.S. was done on women). Nonetheless, women do care about men’s looks. When people meet each other, physical attractiveness is one of the most powerful -if not the most potent- influences on how much the two will initially like each other. The better the looks, the better the liking.
Nevertheless, the bias for beauty is stronger in some people than others. Men who are high self-monitors (who are sensitive to the impressions they make on others) are especially interested in having good-looking dating partners. In contrast, men who are low self-monitors are more attracted to substance than style. So personalities matter, too.
The costs and benefits of beauty
As you might expect, beautiful women get more dates than plain women do. Moreover, people tend to enjoy their interactions with attractive women; they talk more and are more involved, and they feel that the interactions are of higher quality. Handsome men fare well, too, they receive more smiles, talk and positive feelings from others than unattractive men do.
Being more popular, attractive people tend to be less lonely, more socially skilled, a little happier than the rest of us, and are able to have sex with a wider variety of people. But there are disadvantages to being attractive, too. For one thing, others lie to pretty people more often. People are more willing to misrepresent their interests, personalities and incomes to get a date with an attractive person. Attractive people may cautiously begin mistrusting or discounting the praise they receive from others. If you’re very attractive, you may never be sure whether people are complimenting you because they respect your abilities or because they like your looks.
Matching in physical attractiveness
People may want gorgeous partners, but they’re likely to end up paired off with others who are only about as attractive as they are. Partners in established romantic relationships tend to have similar levels of physical attractiveness; that is, their looks are well-matched. This phenomenon is known as matching. People sometimes share casual dates with others who are better-looking than they, but they are unlikely to go steady with, or become engaged to, someone who is ‘out of their league’. What this means is that, even if everybody wants a physically attractive partner, only those who are also good-looking are likely to get them.
Source: Miller, R. S., & Perlman, D. (2009). Intimate relationships (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Wendy recently received her bachelor’s degree in Clinical and Health Psychology from the Utrecht University, with a minor in Personality and Relationships. In September, she starts the corresponding Master’s program. She is mainly interested in the psychology behind love, intimacy, sexuality and relationships. Besides her studies she works as a nursing assistant in a hospital. Wendy enjoys to read and write and likes to visit lectures and symposia on psychology.