Unit Eight - Goals and Objectives
• Become familiar with what causes a person to be attracted to another.
• Indicate the gender differences in what makes one desirable as a date and a mate based upon the sexual strategies
theory from evolutionary theory.
• Know the five theories of love: triangular theory, attachment theory, love as a story, a biochemical perspective of
passionate love and companionate love, and love styles.
• Learn about passionate and companionate love from the biochemical perspective.
• Review cross-cultural research about the impact of culture on how people view love, on when people fall in love
and on the importance of love in the decision to marry.
• Learn about communication and sex, and how to be an effective communicator about sexual behaviour with one’s
READINGS: CHAPTER 12
Unit Eight - Lecture and Course Notes
Adolescent females are less likely than adolescent males to believe in “love at first sight” and report more self-
consciousness about love relationships (Mongomery, 2005).
Why is one person attracted to another? What leads to interpersonal attraction? How can we increase our chances
that someone we like might find us attractive? Let’s look at the psychological and biological variables that have
been thought to play a role in interpersonal attraction.
Let’s start by trying to resolve two different pieces of folk wisdom related to attraction: “opposites attract” versus
“birds of a feather flock together.” Overwhelmingly, the research indicates that we like those, and are more likely to
be liked by those, who are similar to us, supporting the “birds of a feather” concept rather than the “opposites
attract” myth. This makes sense, since we are more likely to have positive experiences with those who like the same
music, food, activities, etc. that we like. It is reinforcing to be around those who like the things we like and think the
way we do because this increases our personal sense that we are “right.” And the more positive experiences we have
with someone, the more likely we are to find them attractive. Similarity of social characteristics is referred to
So, does that mean that “opposites attract” doesn’t hold true? Well, as is often the case with human interactions,
there always seems to be an exception to the rule. In this case, the exception occurs with specific personality types.
There is a small amount of data which suggest that people who are dominant, those who like to be “in charge,” tend
to be attracted to more submissive or shy types of people and vice versa. While this doesn’t fit with the “birds of a
feather” idea, it is consistent with the idea that more positive experiences with someone increase liking. Imagine you
are a shy person and you’re out for dinner: the waiter brings you your meal, but it’s cold. Due to your personality
style, you probably won’t say anything. But if you are with a more outgoing, assertive person, they might complain
for you, and you get the hot meal you expected.
Reciprocity is an important factor related to similarity and has been well researched. If someone shows admiration
or is complimentary, we behave in a similar fashion to them. If you learn that someone likes you, that person may
suddenly become more attractive to you.
This is the first thing we note about people and usually is the first thing that attracts us. Cross cultural research by
Ford and Beach in the 1940s and 50s indicated that physical attractiveness was a universal constant, but
interestingly, exactly what particular physical features were the objects of attraction varied widely. Very few
features were found to be of universal appeal, although things like good skin and teeth and clear eyes were
consistent across all or almost all cultures. Others things like cleanliness, good hair, firm muscle tone, and a steady
gait were important across cultures and were important to both genders, but even here there was variability in terms
of what exactly good hair or cleanliness was. It is speculated that all of these factors may play a role in reproductive
potential. HUMAN SEXUALITY
All things being equal, men are more attracted to indications of youthfulness from a physical perspective, again
likely being linked with reproductive success. Men’s appeal to women seems to be more related to their ability to
provide a stable environment for child-rearing, but we may see slight changes in this over time, at least in
industrialized countries. Also, while both genders ranksmiling faces of opposite gender members as more attractive
than non-smiling faces, the effect seems to be bigger for women. That is, a smile seems to be a greater determinant
of attractiveness for females than for males. Being confident is an important gender-related attractiveness factor:
men, but not women, are ranked as more attractive when they are seen or believed to be more outgoing, expressive
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that we are more attracted to physically attractive people. The halo effect comes
into play here: we consider attractive people to be better at everything and to have more positive qualities than less
attractive people. However, what might be surprising is how pervasive this effect is. Social scientists have done a
wide variety of studies that indicate that those who have been ranked as more physically attractive are thought to
be happier, more successful, more popular, and more intelligent than less attractive individuals. One study indicated
that attractive students handing in poorer essays were more likely to be given the benefit of the doubt and were
given higher marks than their papers deserved. The inequity doesn’t stop there. In a series of studies, it has been
demonstrated that given the exact same set of facts and circumstances, juries will judge less harshly and suggest
lighter sentences for physically attractive defendants versus less attractive ones. Next time you’re defending yourself
in court, make sure you look your best!
Interestingly, we each have a sense of “how we rank” from a physical attractiveness perspective. Overwhelmingly,
when couple members are rated, each member of a couple typically receives a similar “attractiveness ranking” by
objective observers, so that very attractive men tend to end up with very attractive women and less attractive women
tend to be partnered with less attractive men. However, the data become slightly skewed when we rank our own
partners. It seems that everyone loves a bargain. Studies indicate that both men and women are likely to rate their
partners as slightly more attractive than they rank themselves. It seems we all like to think that we have “traded up”
when it comes to pairing off.
The role of attractiveness appears to be most important in the early stages of a relationship. As a relationship
progresses, physical attractiveness tends to decrease in importance. And we often perceive people whom we love as
being beautiful, regardless of what anyone else might think. (McNeil & Rubin, 1977)
Propinquity is just a fancy way of saying nearness or proximity. Not surprisingly, we are more attracted to those to
whom we are more likely to be in close physical proximity than to those whom we don’t see very much. You are
much less likely to be attracted to a person on the other side of the country or a person who is in none of your
Just being exposed to a stimulus makes us more comfortable and increases liking; this is called the mere exposure
effect. Data from residence supports this: students are more likely to like someone who is next door or two doors
down than someone three or more doors away. The same thing works in neighbourhoods. There is at least one
important implication arising from mere exposure in terms of getting partnered: if you are interested in finding a
partner, you increase your chances by attending as many social occasions and events, under as many different
circumstances, as you can manage. So attend classes, school functions, and friends’ parties; join clubs, sports teams,
and hobby groups; go for walks in the park, around campus, and downtown.
Playing Hard to Get?
There appears to be something to it, but only in particular circumstances. Data show that there is no increase in
liking if the woman acts hard or easy to get—the degree of attraction is the same in both circumstances. However, if
the hard to get routine is used selectively, that is, if a woman acts hard to get for everyone else except you,
there is an increase in attraction. There is no data on what a man is supposed to do so we don’t know if guys should
selectively act hard to get or not.
If you are in more pleasant surroundings, you will be more attracted to the person than if you are in unpleasant
surroundings. This fits well within the conditioning model (as do most of the above characteristics): the more
positive or reinforcing factors associated with a person, the more likely there is be to be an increase in attraction.
In the “Bizarre” category, names can be thought of as attractive: women with names like Jennifer, Christine and
Kathy and men with names like Dave, Joe and Paul were thought to be more attractive than were people with names
like Harriet, Gertrude, Ethel, Sylvester and Ernest. This could be due to a combination of novelty and generational HUMAN SEXUALITY
differences: names that were common in previous generations may now only be associated with the elderly, and we
don’t tend to see the novel or the elderly as attractive.
Breast size in North America is an interesting phenomenon. Generally the idea that “bigger is better” still holds true,
but with some caveats. Females believe the ideal bust size is larger than is actual average bust size. Men think the
ideal bust size is larger than what women believe ideal bust size to be, but women believe that men prefer busts even
larger than men’s ideal! The media is infamous for perpetrating these and many other ideals of beauty, many of
which are not only unrealistic but in fact are probably not that important or relevant in a real-life scenario.
Pheromones may be a factor in attraction. There is plenty of evidence showing that pheromones are important
signals in nonhuman animals, but as mentioned earlier, we don’t have any good evidence that these play an
important role in human attraction.
Schachter and Singer (1962) conducted what is now one of the classic studies in social psychology, and is frequently
used as the basis for the study of emotions. These guys asked, “Exactly what is an emotion?” The answer they
finally got was that an emotion is made up of two discrete components: a physiological arousal component and
a labelling component. Essentially, they suggested that for all emotions there is a certain degree of physiological
arousal and that this arousal is not dramatically different across emotions. What is different is how we label this
arousal. They did a famous experiment to try to prove their point. They brought subjects into the lab, gave them a
shot of what they described as a new drug (it was actually adrenalin) and then had them sit in a waiting room where
their actions were observed while they filled out a questionnaire.
Waiting with them was a confederate of the experiment who acted in one of two ways: angry or euphoric. The point
of the study was to see if, with the same level of arousal (which was due entirely to the drug), subjects would adopt
the label that the confederate provided for them in terms of labelling their emotions. The answer is yes—if they
didn’t have any other way to attribute their arousal they would misattribute their arousal to the emotional label (i.e.,
people in the anger condition interpreted their physiological arousal as anger, and those in the euphoric condition
interpreted their arousal as euphoria). This confirmed the two component theory of emotion. The fact that
physiological arousal can be misattributed (that is, assigned to an incorrect thing or category) has come to be known
as the misattribution of arousal phenomenon.
Berscheid & Walster (1974) adopted this approach to understanding passionate love. They claim that you need
arousal and a cognitive label of love to have passionate love. White & Knight (1981) had male subjects run in place
to create physiological arousal. Then asked them to rate how attracted they were to a female confederate. Those who
did the running reported more attraction to the woman than did those in the control group who were not asked to run
and therefore experienced no physiological arousal.
In another classic study (Dalton & Aron, 1974) conducted in British Columbia, men who were on the Capilano
Suspension Bridge were asked to complete some psychological measures by a female experimenter. The participants
were asked to meet the experimenter at the middle of the swaying bridge, 230 feet above a gorge. The point of the
study was to see if arousal caused by fear could be misattributed to attraction. The control group participants were
interviewed on a solid wood bridge 10 feet off the ground. Measures included projective tests like the Thematic
Aperception Test, which asks participants to write a short story based on an ambiguous picture (e.g., two people
sitting facing each other). When the interviewer was female, stories from volunteers on the suspension bridge
contained more sexual content than did those from volunteers on the control bridge. However, when the interviewer
was male sexual content did not vary according to which bridge they were on. Subjects were also given a chance to
call for follow-up information. The theory was that if there was more attraction, subjects were more likely to call the
female from the scary bridge. This is indeed what happened.
Can we use misattribution of arousal to our advantage?
It’s no accident that common dating activities often include things like thrill rides (e.g., roller coasters), attending
horror movies, or dancing. All of these activities activate our bodies’ physiological arousal systems. Consequently,
if the person you are with is experiencing a higher degree of physical arousal while they are with you, they might
come to believe that it is your company as much as whatever the two of you are doing that is causing that arousal
and come to believe that you are an arousing person to be around!
So, how do you use this social psychology tidbit to your advantage? When you are planning a date with someone,
make sure at least one of the things you do involves an increase in physical activity, particularly something your HUMAN SEXUALITY
partner has never done before. For example, suggest something like in-door rock climbing. If this is a new activity
for your date, he or she is likely to find it physically arousing and, because it is an activity they have never done
before, they are even more likely to misattribute their physical arousal to being in your company. “Having the hots”
for someone seems to make a lot more sense now, doesn’t it?
DEVELOPING AN INTIMATE RELATIONSHIP
There are rules to the development of a relationship. Levanthal described these rules as a script. The script starts
when there is no awareness of the other person - zero contact. Awareness of the person is next, and things like
proximity are important here. At this early stage you would establish eye contact and then move to verbal greetings.
Interactions that don’t follow these rules can feel uncomfortable. Next will come verbal greetings, and these can be
positive or negative. From here we move to more meaningful communications, but things can get tricky here.
Studies have shown that you have to take these types of early conversations slowly or they can lead to disliking.
The When of Disclosure
In one study, a female confederate disclosed personal information to male participants early or late in the
conversation. Later ratings of her showed that when she disclosed later in the conversation rather than early in the
conversation she was liked significantly more. When you self-disclose, you show that you have trust in the other
person, and this promotes liking and attraction, but timing is important. Expressing sexual interest would be
appropriate at different times for different people. There are no hard and fast rules for that.
The Who of Disclosure
Once again, attractive people have a leg-up. We are more likely to disclosure personal information to an attractive
person, and attractive people are more likely to make personal disclosures themselves. Thus it is likely that attractive
people are able to develop intimate relationships more quickly than the then rest of us.
The How of Disclosure
The content of what is disclosed is also important. It turns out that attraction and intimacy are enhanced more by the
disclosure of emotional things rather than plan old facts. Consequently, if you want someone to like you, tell them
about how you felt about a movie rather than the special effects. However, self