The Science Of Attraction Biology Essay


A few weeks after their honeymoon, my friends hosted a dinner for close friends at their new home in southern Metro Manila. Many of the attendees recounted how x hated everything about y when all of us were still in college. In particular, x disliked y athletic shoes and workout clothes, especially when y would hang out with the barkada after coming from a basketball game or from the gym without changing his clothes. x would never fail to comment on how y shoes reeked, and how his sweaty shirt would smother everyone, despite the overpowering cherry scented car air freshener that x had in her car. But this all changed when x and y fell in love. Althoughy eventually amended his ways and made it a point to be well-groomed for his bride-to-be, the smelly shoes or the stinking shirt would still make an occasional appearance. But x didn't mind anymore; either she got immune to y odor, masked it with more perfume or she was simply in love with him.

Attraction: Only a Matter of the Heart?

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In general, many believe that matters of the heart are connected to feelings alone, and thus cannot be explained by intellect or an exact science. How a person feels about the other or what draws a man to a woman and vice versa, can only be justified by the abstract emotion called love. But research has shown that the brain plays an important role in how people connect and end up as couples.

The Eye of the Beholder

A person's perception of what is attractive or not, enough to be drawn to or be repelled by that person is the most basic proof of this love-related brain function. To be sure, a prospective partner having movie star looks will undoubtedly catch the eye of the beholder. But more than being influenced by culturally or socially dictated concepts or norms of beauty (which are usually fleeting), the brain actively analyzes and scrutinizes a potential partner for attractive traits. Among the physical considerations, as processed and perceived by the brain, are:

* Bilateral Facial Symmetry - According to studies, the more identical the left and right sides of a person's face are, the more beautiful he or she is perceived to be.

* Waist-to-Hip Ratio - The correlation between waist circumference to hip circumference is a big deal across cultures. A woman having an hourglass figure, that is a waist circumference that is 70% of the hip circumference, is usually rated attractive by European men. Men of other races peg a lower, but nonetheless significant, value or percentage for this measurement of beauty.

* Physical Fitness - Aside from longevity or being less prone to lifestyle diseases, people who have a regular workout routine or are simply buff will no doubt score more points than couch potatoes or those who are on the plump side. In the animal kingdom, physical fitness is an indication of strong immunity, and presumably, a good set of genes.

* Likeness or Resemblance - People tend to gravitate towards possible mates who look like them or perhaps a relative; subconsciously, a message is being sent by the brain to, say a woman, to look for a man who may possess the same good genetic traits that a father, brother or other male relative may have.

* Height - According to the Andrew Trees, PhD, the author of Decoding Love, which attempts to explain the science of attraction, taller men are said to make more money than shorter men. When applied to the dating scene, where wealth or money is one of the considerations used to measure a person's attractiveness, such a statistic becomes a disadvantage to shorter men. This observation was further supported in a study conducted by the University of Chicago and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in which more than 20,000 online daters were surveyed.

* Hair Length - According to a study, long-haired women, regardless of their facial features, are rated higher by men. Women with long hair are perceived to be intelligent, independent, determined and healthy. But short-haired women score plus points with men as well. Ladies with short tresses are characterized as honest, caring, emotional and feminine.

Shelving the Pick-Up Lines

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When meeting prospective partners for the first time, say in a soiree or singles mixer, it only takes a few crucial minutes to make or break one's search for a possible hook up. Studies have shown that it takes between 1.5 to 4 minutes to determine if a person is attractive. And pick up lines do not seem to work that well. Body language (55%), more than how fast or slow a person talks (38%) or the substance of what the person says (7%), has been found out to be what makes a person attractive.

Visual Cues

Another study has shown that the simple act of a pair staring into each others' eyes can give an insight into one's attraction for the other. A person who is interested or aroused by the other, perhaps because of what was talked about or by physical attractiveness, is said to have dilated pupils. Copying or mirroring the actions, like the manner of sitting or hand gestures, of a person one is attracted to is another cue.

More than Meets the Eye

While a person is consciously on the lookout for the visible signs of beauty, his or her brain also makes a subconscious assessment of a person's attractiveness. Non-physical traits (which are non-emotion based as well), such as respect, talent, sense of humor and likeability are only some of the characteristics that are considered invisible yet attractive, and are thus sought out by people looking for social partners. Using this type of assessment, a person will most likely fall for another person he or she is more familiar with, rather than someone who is a total stranger. In addition, a bitter memory about a person, who is no longer a stranger, can tarnish his or her attractiveness, despite making the cut in terms of physical beauty.

The Scent of Attraction

Aside from visual cues sent to the brain, smell is also said to play a role in the science of attraction. Chemical molecules, known as pheromones, are produced and secreted by an organism specifically to send olfactory signals to and draw the attention of other organisms of the same species. Insects, vertebrates and plants are believed to communicate with each other using these chemical signals. A specific class of these molecules, sex pheromones, is said to cause an incredible sexual response in animals. A type of female sex pheromone, for example, signals a female's availability for breeding, while a male pheromone may send out a message about the male's genotype or species, and therefore, his compatibility to females who are living in the area. An animal pair that is brought together by pheromones is believed to likely produce offspring that will be fit or have a strong immune system.

In humans, some researchers have hypothesized that sweat, particularly from the male armpit, is a sex pheromone. (In a way, this may explain, though not prove, Michelle's change of heart towards Dino's sweat.) Another, rather outdated study meanwhile showed that the odor of female sweat may have an effect on other females' menstrual cycles. A third study showed how men tend to be more attracted to lap-dancers who are ovulating, rather than those who are experiencing menstruation.

Interestingly, pheromone perfumes for men and women (to attract the opposite sex, and surprisingly, the same sex), have been created in the United States and are being marketed as way of attracting partners. Women wearing spicy floral scents, for example, are said to be sending an "I am thinner" signal to men.

While body scents can indeed make a person more pleasant or attractive, research, however, has not arrived at a clear conclusion on whether pheromones act in the same way in humans as in animals. Much of the needed olfactory or chemical evidence has perhaps been diluted by better personal hygiene practices imposed by modern society (as a result, useful body odors may be washed away or else masked by fragrances) or by the use of contraceptives, which tend to make a woman's ability to smell rather selective.

At the Molecular Level

As with anything today, attraction can also be studied at the molecular level. A person who is attracted to another person is said to be in the "love struck" phase. People who are experiencing this stage tend to think of nothing else but the person they are attracted to; as such, they tend to lose their appetite or get less sleep, simply by daydreaming about the object of their affection. Research has shown that key neurotransmitters are active in a person in this state. Among them are dopamine (which signals the brain to feel good, as if being given a reward), adrenalin (which pumps up the body and is responsible for sweating and accelerating heartbeat) and serotonin (which regulates mood, emotion, sleep and appetite; lower levels of serotonin are linked to the occurrence of depression). On the other hand, other molecules such as the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone (which are responsible for the "lust" stage that precedes the "attraction" stage) and oxytocin and vasopressin (which are responsible for the "attachment" stage that follows "attraction") also become active when a person is in love.

The Bottom Line

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Despite the opposing views and hypotheses about what really draws people to each other, one observation is clear: people find suitable and viable mates who can carry on their legacy to the succeeding generations. Whether this legacy is genetic/physical or social in nature, extending a piece of oneself into eternity (or recent future memory at the very least), has always been one of man's vanities, or from a more psychoanalytical perspective, neurotic needs. Making sure that one's offspring are stronger, disease-free, more viable, if not the exact copy of their parents, is at the core of this desire that needs to be fulfilled. Since the fountain of youth or the potion of immortality has yet to be discovered, psychologists and behavioral researchers believe that the human (and animal) quest for evolutionary fitness, that is the search for the perfect mate, is the only way to perpetuate one's genes. ###