The Science Behind Attraction

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By Ally Lopez > Senior > Journalism > University of Maryland, College Park; Photo by AR > Sophomore > Graphic Design > UMBC
What does it take for a special someone to catch your eye? Her nice smile? His green eyes? Whatever your preferences may be, according to Jena Pincott, author of Do Gentleman Really Prefer Blondes?, the odds are he or she got your attention in a blink of an eye—literally.

“Some parts of the brain are faster than others,” she said. “To consciously realize you’re physically attracted to someone … happens so quickly you wouldn’t even know you saw a face.”
Pincott administered a series of experiments that tested what types of faces people found attractive, asking volunteers to judge pre-rated faces as either “gorgeous” or “homely.” What she found was that it took less than one second – about the amount of time that passes during one blink – for subjects to reach their decisions, which were unanimously in favor the pre-rated “attractive” faces.
So is attraction a conscious act, or isn’t it? College Mag asked students to weigh in alongside the results of these experiments. While Pincott believes much of who we find to be good-looking occurs unconsciously, Penn State University student Camille Bennett expressed an opposite sentiment: she said she consciously seeks out guys with “dark hair, wide jaw, light eyes, and a muscular build,” acting upon her own “type of guy or girl that we go after,” she said. She described all of her previous love interests as possessing those same physical traits.
But it’s not all about looks – genetic, internal traits also play a key role in a person’s attractiveness, Pincott reminded. “A man's humor and intelligence may be a way of advertising his good genes. Good chemistry comes from the mutual fulfillment of expectations,” she said. Her studies have revealed that a person is most likely to be physically attracted to someone who is, unknowingly, of similar genetic makeup to his or herself.  
“It's interesting to me that, for instance, liking or disliking a person's body odor is a meaningful clue about compatibility on a genetic level,” she said, or that “subtly mimicking” another person's body language and speech makes you more attractive to that person.
Ever wonder why you can’t stand the guy you once drooled over? “Science helps us understand the reasons why,” Pincott said, arguing that evolution also plays a role in our internal reactors.
“From an evolutionary perspective … who we're attracted to in 13 milliseconds [blink time] isn't necessarily the same person we're attracted to after 13 minutes or 13 hours,” she said. “An example of this comes from a body language study that I love:  An average-looking woman at a party who makes eye contact, smiles, dances, and so on gets hits on much more often and may be considered more attractive than a gorgeous woman who doesn't appear receptive.”
George Mason University student Lee Martin agreed with Pincott’s assertion: “Attraction isn’t just based on looks, of course. I think it’s important for any relationship to have a special connection right from the start. Looks alone aren’t going to keep my interest and attention.”

College Magazine Staff

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