The Hidden Trait That Predicts Who We Find Attractive
... at least for women.
Posted October 3, 2015 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
When you meet someone new, will that person find you attractive?
This question has inspired years of scientific research with fruitful results. Scholars have identified physical attractiveness, kindness, humor, intelligence, warmth, status—a fascinating array of characteristics that seem to influence romantic interest. In many ways, we now more fully understand the factors that determine romantic attraction during the first moments two people meet.
However, new findings suggest that we haven't figured it all out yet: In a new paper, Janz, Pepping, and Halford (2015) reveal that initial romantic interest may be linked to a previously understudied trait.
Are you distracted during initial conversations, planning for later in the day or mentally reviewing what happened earlier? Are you evaluating the person you're talking to at the same time that you're listening to them? If these are your habits and you're looking for love, you might consider revising how you engage in conversations, because your in-the-moment attention, or mindfulness, may influence romantic attraction.
Dispositional mindfulness refers to non-judgmental engagement in the present moment (Janz et al., 2015). In their work, Janz and colleagues evaluated the link between individuals' dispositional mindfulness and how positively they were rated by others in terms of initial attractiveness.
Focusing on heterosexual attraction, they used a speed-dating paradigm in which about 45 male and female undergraduates interacted with each other over nine three-minute sessions. Everyone had a chance to chat with every other member of the other sex and immediately rated their romantic interest after each conversation. Before beginning the exercise, each participant had completed a series of online questionnaires that measured their individual mindfulness and had their photos taken so that their physical attractiveness could be rated.
The results offer new insight into romantic interest.
Controlling for physical attractiveness, the researchers discovered that their female participants preferred males who were high in mindfulness, beyond their physical appeal. Interestingly, the reverse pattern did not emerge: Male judgments of romantic interest were independent of mindfulness, though they were related to physical attractiveness.
In sum, women find mindful men attractive.
This evidence is cross-sectional, not experimental, but it opens up the possibility that mindfulness could drive attractiveness. If this were the case, men could potentially improve their standing in the dating game by building up their mindfulness through the practice of meditation. This is an interesting idea for improving the success rate of men who might be great catches on many fronts, but struggle during first-meeting moments.
Interestingly, mindfulness in women didn't seem to affect romantic judgments. It should be noted, however, that the scholars used a rating scale of attraction that did not differentiate between short-term and long-term interest. Other studies have shown that women are often long-term-oriented whereas men are often short-term-oriented. Perhaps in a long-term context, men might be seeking mindful women and perhaps women who are seeking one-night stands would place a lower priority on mindfulness and a higher priority on physical appeal.
Additional research is necessary to determine the exact role of mindfulness in romantic interest. Still, this study provides a fascinating new angle to the puzzle of romantic attraction. Mindfulness may benefit more than just your psychological health and well-being; it might improve your ability to attract a romantic partner.
Janz, P., Pepping, C. A., & Halford, W. K. (2015). Individual differences in dispositional mindfulness and initial romantic attraction: A speed dating experiment. Personality and Individual Differences, 82, 14-19.