Often, both women and men focus entirely on their appearance when trying to be physically attractive. They worry that they won't get a date without a young complexion and an hourglass figure (women), or chiseled abs and a tall, muscular body (men). They also believe that physical attractiveness is an objective and stable feature (that can't be changed without surgery, push-up bras, or hours in the gym).
But, are potential dating partners really that superficial?
Good news, they're not. You don't have to obsess over ideal physical features. Shorter men or heavier women need not despair. The "pretty" and "handsome" should pay attention too.
Part of physical attraction really is subjective. It is "in the eye of the beholder." Furthermore, that subjective eye of physical attraction is easily influenced by your personality. As it turns out, "who you are on the inside" does count. It even changes how others actually see you on the outside!
Here is the research...
Research on Personality and Physical Attractiveness
Swami and colleagues (2010) studied the influence of personality on perceptions of physical attractiveness. They asked male participants to rate the attractiveness of photographs of various female figures (ranging from emaciated to obese). Some participant groups received positive personality information about the women in the pictures (extroverted, agreeable, conscientious, open, and stable), while others received negative personality information, or no information at all.
Results found that all groups agreed on the body shape that was "most" attractive. However, groups given positive personality information found a significantly wider range of body sizes physically attractive, compared to the control group. Groups given negative personality information found a significantly narrower range of body sizes attractive than the control group.
An earlier study by Lewandowski, Aron, and Gee (2007) supports this effect. Their study used both men and women as participants, manipulated personality trait descriptions, and utilized ratings of yearbook photos. The authors found that pictures paired with positive traits were rated as more attractive, and those paired with negative traits were rated as less attractive, when compared to controls. This effect occurred with pictures of both "attractive" and "unattractive" students. This effect also happened for both men and women participants, with women a bit more sensitive to "negative" personality information. Finally, the effect also influenced judgments of desirability as a dating partner.
Additional research found that perceived honesty affects judgments of physical attractiveness as well (Paunonen, 2006). Similarly, naturalistic studies also show that judgments of physical attractiveness are influenced by familiarity, liking, respect, talent, and effort (Kniffin & Wilson, 2004). This occurs with both men and women. Overall, personality and character information appears to have an impact on perceptions of physical attractiveness.
What This Means for Your Love Life
As Kniffin and Wilson (2004) conclude, "if you want to enhance your physical attractiveness, become a valuable social partner." To some degree, many people experience this phenomenon. A stranger just seems to "grow on them" or get "cuter" as the person gets to know them better. Sometimes, the two even end up dating — even though physical attraction wasn't there to start.
Here's how to make this effect work for you:
- Develop a good personality. Take an inventory of who you are as a person (not just in the mirror). Are you "pretty/handsome" or "ugly" on the inside? Maybe a personality upgrade will make more of a difference than fixing the 20 pounds or 2 inches you're worrying about. If so, take a cue from the research above. Work on being more positive, outgoing, agreeable, stable and open to new experiences. Also focus on honesty, working hard, respecting others, and displaying your positive talents.
- Take it slow. First impressions are still mainly based on physical features. Others need to get to know your personality before those traits begin to influence their judgment. Therefore, let a potential partner get to know you first in a "low pressure" way and display your personality. Engage in light conversation, show off your traits, and let your perceived physical attractiveness grow. Then try to escalate the romance — start flirting like you mean it, start hinting for that drink, cozy up to them, or ask for that date. It will increase your odds of success.
- Remember to stay positive. Using this "personality influence" is not a one-time deal. It needs to be maintained over time. If your personality gets "unattractive," your physical appearance will be perceived in the same way. So, keep a positive personality. This is true, even if you're already attractive on the outside too!
Apparently, beauty is not just "skin deep." Your personality counts too. Make the most of it!
Certainly, there are limitations to this effect. Physical features unquestionably have an influence on attractiveness. But, personality seems to go a long way as well. So, make sure your personality is keeping you as attractive as possible too.
Until next time... happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Don't miss some of my previous posts:
Kniffin, K. M., & Wilson, D. S. (2004). The effect of nonphysical traits on the perception of physical attractiveness: Three naturalistic studies. Evolution and Human Behavior, 25, 88-101.
Lewandowski, G. W., Aron, A., & Gee, J. (2007). Personality goes a long way: The malleability of opposite-sex physical attractiveness. Personal Relationships, 14, 571-585.
Paunone, S. V., (2006). You are honest, therefore I like you and find you attractive. Journal of Research in Personality, 40(3), 237-249.
Swami, V., Furnham, A., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Akbar, K., Gordon, N., Harris, T., Finch, J., & Tovee, M. J. (2010). More than just skin deep? Personality information influences men's ratings of the attractiveness of women's body sizes. The Journal of Social Psychology, 150(6), 6280674.