Dating & Relationships

5 Important Things Science Has Taught Us About Sexual Attraction

October 31, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller

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What is it that attracts us to other people? Can you fall in love at first sight? Can computer algorithms successfully predict who will make a good match? Read on for the answers to these and several other fascinating questions about sexual attraction, according to science.

1.) There’s a lot of research in social psychology finding that people seem to be attracted to others who are similar to them. Online dating companies have run with this idea and designed algorithms that match people based largely on similarity, with the presumption being that attraction is a rational, predictable process. However, it turns out that the effect of partner similarity on relationship success is actually very weak and researchers increasingly believe that we may not be able to predict in advance who is likely to make a good match.

2.) Part of the reason matching algorithms may not work all that well is that people themselves may not even know what it is that really attracts them others. For example, some speed dating research has found that the traits people say they’re attracted to on surveys don’t correspond with the traits of the people they go for in real-life encounters. In other words, we may not know as much about what attracts us to other people as we think we do.

3.) One factor that seems to have a big impact on attraction is reciprocal self-disclosure—in other words, when people open up about themselves to one another. Researchers have found that they can generate intimacy and attraction between strangers in a lab simply by having them engage in a self-disclosure exercise in which the disclosures gradually increase in intensity.

4.) Age seems to play an important role in sexual attraction, but it differs based on our gender and sexual orientation. Research has consistently found that heterosexual men tend to be more attracted to partners who are bit younger than them, whereas heterosexual women are more attracted to partners who are a bit older. By contrast, gay men and lesbians appear to be less selective about age and are attracted to partners within a wider age range. People’s age preferences also appear to change as they themselves get older.

5.) The concept of “love at first sight” appears to be a myth. Although people often use this term to describe strong feelings of initial attraction, research suggests that what they’re experiencing doesn’t seem to be the same thing as true love. Instead, the feelings that people report when they experience “love at first sight” are about lust more so than love. True love doesn’t build up in a matter of moments.

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Image Source: 123RF/Peter Bernik

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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