“What do you see in him?” If you have ever been asked that question about your selection of a dating partner, you are in good company. Why do we hear that so often? Because we are attracted to others through much more than what we see with our eyes. Research reveals that beauty may be skin deep, but attraction is much deeper — and much more durable. Romantic feelings are generated by far more than superficial appeal. Personal appearance is important, but so is what lies beneath.
Beauty Is Skin Deep, Attraction Runs Deeper
As put simply by researchers Viren Swami and Adrian Furnham in The Psychology of Physical Attraction, people equate good looking with good.[i] Research consistently demonstrates the predisposition to view good-looking people in a more positive light than less-attractive counterparts.[ii] This “halo effect” causes people to assume that physically attractive individuals possess a host of positive qualities in other areas,[iii] ranging from trustworthiness to intelligence to honesty.
Despite the fact that we tend to assume good things about good-looking people, in reality, these stereotypical beliefs are not accurate in any area.[iv]
Thankfully, we do not need to rely on the halo effect in judging prospective partners, because research indicates there is much more to attraction than what meets the eye.
Live, Love, Laugh: The Attraction of Humor
A good sense of humor may be good for dating prospects, because funny people are apparently more attractive. Elizabeth McGee and Mark Shevlin, in a study entitled “Effect of Humor on Interpersonal Attraction and Mate Selection” (2009), found that people with a good sense of humor were rated as more attractive and viewed as more suitable long-term partners, compared to more serious counterparts.[v]
They focused on exploring suitability for a long-term relationship, because research indicates that humor may be more important in sustaining long-term versus short-term relationships. Their study confirmed prior research, which found that both genders prefer a romantic partner with a good sense of humor.
Tell Me a Story: The Seduction of Storytelling
We have all been to social engagements where we observed someone who had captured the attention of a crowd through the dramatic recitation of a story. Apparently, this ability is both captivating and attractive. And its attractiveness is enduring.
For men, storytelling can enhance their perceived allure as a long-term romantic partner. John K. Donahue and Melanie C. Green, in a piece aptly entitled “A good story” (2016), tied women’s assessments of a man's perceived attractiveness as a long-term dating partner to his ability to tell a good story.[vi] This effect was explained in part by the fact that, for men, good storytelling apparently led to a perception of enhanced status.
They noted that, interestingly, the attraction of good storytelling did not occur when the genders were reversed — storytelling ability did not affect men's assessment of women as attractive long-term dating partners. They also found that storytelling ability did not impact attractiveness assessments of short-term dating partners.
Extraversion Through Imitation
We all know individuals who seem to be the life of the party. We enjoy their company and like to have them around, because they spice things up. But we also apparently find them attractive through the way they bond with us.
Research by Korrina A. Duffy and Tanya L. Chartrand entitled “The Extravert Advantage” (2015) ties the popularity of extraverts to their ability to build rapport through mimicry — yet only when they are motivated to affiliate.[vii]
This is a significant finding, indicating that even extraverts require motivation to turn on the charm. It is also an example of how in addition to improving outer appearance, inner qualities may be cultivated and refined, and are often more important when it comes to long-term attraction.
Attraction Is More Than Skin Deep
Thankfully, research indicates that unlike superficial beauty, attraction is more than skin deep. Recognizing the value of personality traits and personal disposition on attraction and relational success will increase your chances of selecting a partner who is an appropriate match for a healthy relationship. It is, after all, “what you see in them.”
[i]Viren Swami and Adrian Furnham, The Psychology of Physical Attraction (London: Routledge, 2008), 11.
[ii]Judith H. Langlois, Lisa Kalakanis, Adam J. Rubenstein, Andrea Larson, Monica Hallam, and Monica Smoot, “Maxims or Myths of Beauty? A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review,” Psychological Bulletin 126, no. 3 (2000): 390-423.
[iii]Laura K. Guerrero and Kory Floyd, Nonverbal Communication in Close Relationships (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2006), 58.
[iv]Schneider, Frank W., Jamie A. Gruman, and Larry M. Coutts. Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (Thousand Oaks: SAGE, 2005), 82.
[v]Elizabeth McGee and Mark Shevlin, ”Effect of Humor on Interpersonal Attraction and Mate Selection,” The Journal of Psychology 143, no. 1 (2009): 67-77.
[vi]John K. Donahue and Melanie C. Green, ”A good story: Men´s storytelling ability affects their attractiveness and perceived status,” Personal Relationships 23 (2016): 199-213.
[vii]Korrina A. Duffy and Tanya L. Chartrand, “The Extravert Advantage: How and When Extraverts Build Rapport With Other People,” Psychological Science 26, no. 11, (2015): 1795–1802.