How Your Relationship Status Affects Who You Find Attractive
We all can appreciate an attractive human being.
Magazines and TV are awash with good looking, could-be models. Men gawk at attractive females. And women notice – a bit more discreetly – attractive men who walk through the bar.
However, who are what we find attractive is usually a bit subjective. We all find different aspects or characteristics of others more sexy than another person. To some, that may mean being more attracted to brains or brawn. Or maybe even status or power.
However, when it comes to being drawn to someone, recent psychology finds that our attraction might also depend on our current relationship status.
Do Opposites Attract?
One study was aimed at answering the age old question, “Do opposites attract?”
The psychologists wanted to know if current relationship status had an affect on how people rated the attractiveness of others. They found that the statement “opposites attract” might hold more truth for people who are single.
What does that mean? In the study, people found people who looked less like themselves as more attractive if they weren’t in a relationship. One of the scientists – Jitka Lindova – said this:
“We found that single participants, those not in relationships, rate dissimilar faces as more attractive and sexy than self-resembling faces.”
And the opposite was true for those that were currently in relationships. If you were seeing someone, you would find faces that were more similar to your own as more attractive.
You may ask what’s going on here.
The scientists think it may be genetics. Evolutionary psychologists believe we have a drive to find the genetic composition that produces the healthiest offspring. So when we’re single, we want to find genes that are different from our own.
When we’re in a relationship, though, this drive becomes suppressed. We seem to switch to a nurture mode. Dr. Lindova from the study explains:
“This might be a relationship maintenance strategy to prevent us from finding alternatives to our own partner, or perhaps self-resemblance becomes more important in terms of the social support we expect receive from relatives, which are known as kinship cues.”
Protecting Your Relationship
It might sound weird that we have a built in evolutionary mechanism that tells us what looks attractive. But it may be more than the pursuit of better matching genes.
Another recent piece of research says we may also use psychological mechanisms to protect our long term partners. That we guard our current relationship by downplaying the attractiveness of others.
The study even provided evidence that the happier we are in our relationship, the more we’ll downgrade the attractiveness of others.
Eye of the Beholder
The study looked at heterosexual couples and had them rate the attractiveness of various individuals.
Here’s the twist. The psychologists told the participants that the individuals they were rating were either single or in a relationship.
The mention of this simple fact had an affect on how someone in a relationship rated people. If the person was single, they would rate them as less attractive. However, if the person was in a relationship, this didn’t seem to affect how they rated them.
And when they asked single people to rate the people in the pictures? Relationship status had no effect on how they rated levels of attractiveness.
One of the authors – Dr. Shana Cole – said this about the research:
“Misperceiving attractive people who represent threats to the relationship as less attractive may help people resist the inclination to pursue them.
This is especially important since finding someone physically attractive is a primary reason why people choose to date or romantically pursue someone.”
And interestingly enough, the happier people reported being in their current relationships, the bigger the effect.
So the happier you are with your beau, the less attractive other people are.
Intentional or Not?
Were these individuals simply just saying they found single people less attractive?
We’ve all done this. Told our significant other that we didn’t find someone attractive (or less attractive) than we actually did. A little white lie to avoid unnecessary jealousy or bickering?
Or were the people in the study doing this unconsciously?
The psychologists say those in relationships consistently underrated attractive individuals. This happened whether or not the scientists gave participants an incentive to provide accurate ratings.
So it seems that this mechanism – a process psychologists call “perceptual downgrading” – operates behind the mental curtain. We aren’t consciously aware of it.
Call it a unconscious mental trick that we use to stay faithful.