Can You Be Too Easy-Going for Love?

We are increasingly attracted to more easy-going people, to a point.

Posted Mar 13, 2019

Dima Sidelnikov/Shutterstock
Source: Dima Sidelnikov/Shutterstock

People aren't neutral when it comes to romantic attraction: They have preferences, standards, and expectations. Certain qualities appear again and again on the empirical equivalent of "love lists," including intelligent, kind, easy-going, and physically attractive. But are there limits to the appeal of these traits when it comes to love?

The problem of extraordinary intelligence

As favorable as intelligence is, initial evidence suggests that intelligence can, at a certain point, become a liability when trying to attract a partner. The attractiveness of a potential partner's intelligence appears to peak around an IQ of 120, equivalent to the 90th percentile (slightly more than 1 standard deviation above the mean). IQs above this level start to earn lower ratings of attractiveness (Gignac, Darbyshire, & Ooi, 2018).

Can you be too attractive? Too kind? Too easy-going?

It might be hard to imagine someone as too physically attractive (except, perhaps, if it becomes intimidating), but what about too kind or too easy-going? A partner's kindness reflects warmth, thoughtfulness, and caring for others. As such, kindness seems highly appealing in a long-term relationship. If your partner had extraordinary levels of kindness, would that be a problem? Easy-going is a desirable quality as well: Easy-going partners will adjust to your needs, let you make decisions, and be happy with what they have. Would an extremely easy-going person start to lose their appeal?

Researchers out of the University of Western Australia designed a study to assess the potential thresholds of kindness, easy-going, and physical attractiveness (Gignac & Starbuck, 2019). They invited 214 university students to their lab to complete a series of questionnaires, including one in which they reported the extent of their likely sexual attraction (i.e., short-term attraction) or romantic attraction (i.e., long-term attraction) to individuals with different percentile ranks of intelligence, kindness, easy-goingness, and physical attractiveness.

Do extreme qualities hurt attractiveness?

Their findings first replicated previous work (Gignac et al., 2018) showing that the relation between intelligence and both sexual or romantic attraction increases until an IQ at the 90th percentile, after which there is a statistically significant decline in attraction with a higher IQ. Intellectual prowess is sexy, it seems, until it's at an extraordinary level. Individuals in the 90th percentile in intelligence may have an advantage over individuals whose intelligence is in the 95th or even 99th percentile.

As for physical attractiveness and kindness, the appeal of both of these qualities also peaked at the 90th percentile (Gignac & Starbuck, 2019) When judging hypothetical potential partners who had higher levels of these traits, participants found them equally attractive as those in the 90th percentile. In other words, extreme levels of these qualities appear to neither help nor hurt individuals in the dating game.

Too much of an easy-going nature, however, may be problematic. Evidence shows that the sexual and romantic appeal of being easy-going peaks at the 90th percentile, after which it starts to predict lower attraction ratings (Gignac & Starbuck, 2019). Being easy-going is still an attractive quality, but its link to increasingly higher levels of sexual or romantic interest may have a limit.

Ideal partner qualities and love

Although this research was based on abstract judgments and hypothetical scenarios, it offers considerable food for thought. If you think about the qualities you look for in a partner, do you also have implicit thresholds for these qualities? Would you recognize if someone were beyond your implicit threshold?

Given Gignac and Starbuck's (2019) findings, too much of a good thing does not appear to be universal when it comes to partner traits. However, it's possible thresholds are at play for characteristics beyond which have been identified here (i.e., intelligence and easy-going). Could too much of a good sense of humor be a problem? How about faithfulness, ambition, agreeableness, or financial success?

References

Gignac, G. E., Darbyshire, J., & Ooi, M. (2018). Some people are attracted sexually to intelligence: A psychometric evaluation of sapiosexuality. Intelligence, 66, 98-111.

Gignac, G. E., & Starbuck, C. L. (2019). Exceptional intelligence and easygoingness may hurt your prospects: Threshold effects for rated mate characteristics. British Journal of Psychology. Advanced online publication.