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Attraction: Love and Physical Attractiveness

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    When it comes to attraction, a variety of simple factors play a significant role in whom we as people come to like. Things as basic as proximity, looks, similarity, and even the difficulty of the pursuit all affect a person’s overall attractiveness. This paper will discuss how these factors are attributed to attraction and why human nature demands bonding and relationships. People are drawn to those who are near and seen on a regular basis. This finds its explanation in that people become accustomed to the presence of a person or object (or being themselves present in a place). This results in the sensation of “liking” said things. The tendency to like something we experience often is called the mere-exposure effect (Feenstra, J., 2011). In fact, one could argue this is how people who experienced repeated trauma can develop an unhealthy fixation on said trauma or pain in general. An interesting aspect of mere-exposure is the human tendency to prefer mirror images of them, while their friends prefer a person’s true image, leading to paradox. Another important factor is physical attractiveness. While a person may initially prefer others who look like them or people close to them since their youth, their preferences could be altered due to experience with the real world. Unfortunately, even this experience can be corrupted by exposure to media that promotes a beauty stereotype. As well, for marriages wherein husbands are more attractive than their wives, the relationships tend to be poorer. Meanwhile, it is very likely that either partner would prefer a match to their own physical attractiveness. That is referred to as the matching hypothesis (Feenstra, J., 2011). Physical similarity is not the only match sought. People tend to prefer those with similar interests and values but this is more a long-term factor while physical attractiveness is merely the basis for stirring initial interest.

    This rounds back to proximity as those with a greater diversity of options will seek out people more similar to themselves while those who lack those options will make due with whoever is closest (Schug, Yuki, Horikawa, & Takemura, 2009). Due to these factors, people are less inclined to engage with people from other cultures. People also value equity in relationships; receiving benefits equal to those one provides (Hatfield, 1983). This does not necessitate that one stays in a relationship due to a perceived equity, merely that such initially perceived equity helped to define an attraction resulting in the relationship. Lastly, many of these factors may lose out to the thrill of the chase. A potential partner who is near, charming, and attractive but easily captivated may lose to another who is near, charming, attractive and plays hard to get. More accurately, we are more inclined to pursue a relationship with someone who while attractive to others is only interested in us (Matthews, Rosenfield, & Stephan, 1979). The need to belong encompasses a desire for enduring connections and positive contact as well as a mutual concern for the other’s welfare. The average person forms bonds very easily and while those bonds may persist, they may not necessarily show. For example, you may continually think of someone you befriended during a vacation, but this does not translate to maintaining a relationship. We generally form these relationships because these acquaintances make us feel happy in the moment and these relationships are maintained so long as that feeling can be enforced by continued contact. The need for frequent contact is one reason long-distance relationships typically fail.

    All of this can be attributed to a person’s fear of isolation and purposelessness. There are three classifications of love. Companionate love expresses deep caring for another person, comfort, trust, and enjoyment of shared experiences (Berscheid, 2010); passionate love involves intense emotional arousal and physical attraction which declines over time (Fehr, 1994; Regan, 1998) (Hatfield et al., 2008; Tucker & Aron, 1993); and care and concern for another’s welfare as in compassionate love has been described as part of communal relationships (Clark & Mills, 1979; Clark & Monin, 2006). While those seeking a long-term relationship may expect all three forms of love, those who desire to remain single or are in long-term relationships, may seek only one or two. Companionate and compassionate love both involve a sense of selflessness in the one cares for another while companionate and passionate both seek to share happy experiences. Examples of these relationships include marriages (companionate), affairs (passionate), and caretaker or familial relationships or friendships (compassionate). Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love (Sternberg, R., 1986) distinguishes romantic love from empty love and infatuation through the presence or absence of commitment (one’s conclusion to love or stay with another) and intimacy (shared feelings of closeness).

    While romance involves intimacy and passion (i.e. passionate love), it does not involve a commitment. Meanwhile, an infatuation involves no intimacy while empty love involves neither passion nor intimacy. Long-term relationships typically require emotional arousal, closeness, and a sense of commitment. However, many persist without intimacy or a shared sense of passion. Overall, attraction finds its basis in a person’s need for a sense of normalcy. People are accustomed to the presence of others and desire to be with someone similar to them. While physical attractiveness inspires interest, it does not clinch a relationship which instead relies on proximity and deeper similarities: experiences, beliefs, hobbies, etc. References

    Berscheid, E. (2010). Love in the fourth dimension. Annual Review of Psychology, 61, 1–25. doi: 10.1146/annurev.psych.093008.100318 Clark, M. S., & Mills, J. (1979). Interpersonal attraction in exchange and communal relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 12–24. doi: 10.103780022-3514.37.1.12 Clark, M. S., & Monin, J. K. (2006). Giving and receiving communal responsiveness as love. In R. J. Sternberg & K. Weis (Eds.), The new psychology of love (pp. 200–221). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Feenstra, J. (2011). Introduction to social psychology. Bridgepoint Education, Inc. Fehr, B. (1994). Prototype-based assessments of laypeople’s views of love. Personal Relationships, 1, 309–331. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.1994.tb00068.x Hatfield, E. (1983). Equity theory and research: An overview. In H. H. Blumberg, A. P. Hare, V. Kent, & M. Davies (Eds.), Small groups and social interaction (Vol. 2, pp. 401–412). Chichester, England: Wiley. Hatfield, E., Pillemer, J. T. O’Brien, M. U., & Le, Y. L. (2008). The endurance of love: Passionate and companionate love in newlywed and long-term marriages. Interpersona, 2, 35–64 Matthews, K. A., Rosenfield, D., & Stephan, W. G. (1979). Playing hard-to-get: A two-determinant model. Journal of Research in Personality, 13, 234–244. doi: 10.1018/0092-6566(79)90033-3 Regan, P. C. (1998). Of lust and love: Beliefs about the role of sexual desire in romantic relationships. Personal Relationships, 5, 139–157. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.1998.tb00164.x Schug, J., Yuki, M., Horikawa, H., & Takemura, K. (2009). Similarity attraction and actually selecting similar others: How cross-societal differences in relational mobility affect interpersonal similarity in Japan and the USA. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 12, 95–103. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-839X.2009.01277.x Sternberg, R. J. (1986). The triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93, 119–135. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.93.2.119 Tucker, P., & Aron, A. (1993). Passionate love and marital satisfaction at key transition point in the family life cycle. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 12, 135–147.

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