What Does She Have That I Don’t?

A research-based checklist for sex appeal.

Posted Aug 04, 2020

You are interested in a special someone, but despite all the flirting and attention-giving, that person chooses someone else over you. What’s going on?

Decades ago, we began studying the psychology of attractiveness, charisma, and sex appeal. Here is what we found: A number of factors make an individual attractive and desirable.

1. Dynamic attractiveness. Yes, being physically attractive – handsome and beautiful – leads to instant sex appeal, but there is more to it than static, physical qualities. As the Beatles sang, it’s something in the way one moves that can be seductive.

Dynamic attractiveness is the expression of one’s positive personality traits through nonverbal cues. What are some of those body language cues? Expressing positive affect/feelings is one – smiling frequently. Maintaining the proper amount of eye contact. Moving gracefully, and not appearing overly nervous. (See more on our seduction research here.)

2. Attentiveness. People are attracted to those who demonstrate interest. Actively listening (and watching) the other person is flattering because it shows that you care about them. Playing hard to get may work in some instances, when it challenges the other person to “win you,” but for a more serious connection, it’s important to make the other person feel desired, and attention provides that.

3. Matching. Nearly all research on attraction emphasizes the importance of similarity. “Opposites attract” is a fallacy. Instead, birds of a feather flock together. Search for commonalities with that desirable other, and make those known — subtly, of course, and don’t feign interest in things that you hate; that will always backfire eventually.

4. Self-Presentation (and grooming). Show that you have confidence, and that you care about yourself and the impression you are making, by engaging in positive self-presentation. You don’t have to go over the top with hair, makeup, and cologne, but make yourself presentable. Our research shows that it is an important element of attractiveness. The sloppy caveman or the damsel in disarray doesn’t work.

OK. Here’s where it gets difficult. There are two things that you need to consider:

A. Moderation. Don’t overdo it. Too much attentiveness, or too much positivity, can be a turnoff.  Maintain control.

B. Individual Differences. While our research shows that these factors are those that lead people, generally, to appear more attractive and desirable, that doesn’t hold for everyone. Some people are looking for certain things in a partner: dominance/submission, a “wounded” person who needs fixing or saving, or something else. If that works for you, by all means, go ahead, but realize that a good, lasting relationship is built on a solid foundation. So, you want someone who finds you attractive and desirable, who truly shares your interests and values, and a person that you truly care about and want to be around.


Friedman, H S., & Riggio, R E. (1999). Individual differences in ability to encode complex affects. Personality and Individual Differences, 27, 181-194.

Riggio, R.E., Widaman, K.F., Tucker, J.S., & Salinas, C. (1991). Beauty is more than skin deep: Components of attractiveness. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 12(4), 423-439.