When a word enters the lexicon of the everyday, it tends to lose its original meaning. In the case of “attraction”, it tends to force people to think about relationships in a particular way; one that sometimes limits our ability to make connections.
When you hear people talking about how attractive someone else is, you can be fairly sure the conversation is mostly revolving around how many tingles they send down our spine. But when we only use a word one way, it tends to stop us from thinking about the other meanings. The way we use words have long been known to interfere with how we think.
The study of attraction isn’t just limited to Neil Strauss and the seedy, sexually frustrated, underbelly of the “pick-up artist” community and the darker segments of the co-opted “men’s rights movement“. It’s not just about how much someone else makes us hot under the collar. The study of attraction is the study of the forces that draw people together (or pushes them apart) in whatever form that takes. Our friends, our families, even our colleagues or communities. Attraction is the word we use for the glue that binds us.
Attraction in a sentence – and don’t forget it…
Put very simply, in psychological terms; when someone is attractive it’s because they are doing something positive for you, so you feel positively about them.
That’s it. That’s what attraction comes down to and put this way, we can break it down even further into the four fundamental ways people make us feel good:
- Physical Attraction – literally what our physical impression of a person is. How well they dress; how neat and tidy they look; how nice they smell; the way they use their body language, voice and eye language to communicate confidence, fun and power to us. Basically, our impression of someone based on what we can immediately see, hear and feel about them. Physical attraction isn’t just about how sexy someone is though (we’ll get to that). We’re motivated to hang out with people who are more physically attractive. We vote for leaders who present a charismatic physicality (think Obama, or JFK). Physical attraction is the superficial sign that this person is probably healthy, strong, and capable. Plus, they’re easy on the eyes. We like that.
- Sexual Attraction – this is usually conceptualised as an extension of physical attractiveness, but don’t be fooled. It’s definitely a physical reaction, but it’s hardly limited to physical characteristics, especially for women. It refers to the primal, basic, evolutionary needs we look for in a sexual partner and they aren’t always what you’d expect! In fact, one of the leading investigations into what makes us hot for someone else ends up with warmth and intelligence right up there with physical features (for both men and women).
- Social Attraction – how easily can I talk to this person? Are they funny or interesting? Do they keep me engaged, happy and comfortable in a conversation? When we’re socially attracted to someone, we love to talk to them. It’s the girl or guy who can walk into a party knowing no one and come out with ten new friends and a ride home.
- Lifestyle Attraction – simply how good a person is at life. This is termed ‘task’ or ‘competence’ attractiveness by psychologists. These are the people with the crazy stories about how they volunteered in a typhoon overseas or started up a company at the age of 25. The person we go to when we need help with an assignment or project. The person we wanted to be paired up with in high school or travel overseas with.
By working on all four types of attraction we can really build our social circle and meet new, exciting people. How good looking we are is such a tiny part of what makes us attractive. Of course, the stunners out there get a bonus, but for the rest of us, studies show that our looks pale in comparison to how well we can talk to people and keep them interested or how confident we are. Looks are a random variable that don’t matter, if we impress people with our style and our conversation and our stories.
Want to know about a few random things that boost our attractiveness? Or maybe you’d like to know how being selfish can actually make us more attractive? Turning scholarship into wisdom without the usual noise and clutter, we dig up the dirt on psychological theories you can use. Become an armchair psychologist at The Dirt Psychology.