At its core, attraction is the inclination to chase the good feeling you get from someone else. That is to say ‘I feel good about you, so I want to keep that going’. It might be by hanging out with them, by talking about them with your friends, or pinning their photo on your wall. There are a number of ways a person can be perceived as attractive though, and you can often squeeze these into four broad categories.
So, you can have physical attractiveness which refers literally to those superficial and physical characteristics. The sparkle of our eyes, the set of our mouth, the lustre of our hair, the faint outline of muscles under downy skin. But within this category comes things that aren’t necessarily aesthetic in nature. For example the resonance of our voice or the body language we invoke and even the scent that trails us. When people talk about attraction (or ‘hotness’ etc) people are often referring to this.
Or more specifically, they could be speaking of what is often considered a subset of physical attraction, sexual attraction which can be considered a category all of it’s own. Our physical attributes sometimes combine into a force that turns some other lucky soul on. But sexual attraction also hinges on aspects of our social skills and desire to be intimate and external factors like our job, money and ability to get in places without lining up (it’s sad but true).
There’s also social attraction, which refers to the way someone conducts their self that makes you want to hang out with them (it’s a good chance that unless your secret love is unrequited, this is the think that binds you and your mates). This is sometimes referred to as someone’s ‘likability’. Yes, even in the research.
But, something that’s not often talked about is lifestyle attraction. A term which refers quite simply to our appreciation of someone’s savoir vivre, their skill at life. More often termed competence attraction or task attraction, this kind of attraction can be as simple as someone who’s really good at one particular thing. The quiet colleague who you always go to for help with the P&L statement. The boring classmate who writes most of the report for your group assignments. In fact, entire kinds of relationships are based on this kind of attraction. But it can also be more complex. We can be attracted to some people by virtue of their success in a larger domain, for example an artist or a musician (although, this often crosses the line with social attraction which explains our bizarre fascination with celebrities – their success and skill is enticing, but we sure as heck wouldn’t mind going to their lavish parties).
Lifestyle attractiveness is not often explored with depth in academia and is rarely discussed in the various blundering pop-psychology blogs, books and seminars out there. Why? Well, it’s not very sexy. You’ll notice that I’m calling it lifestyle attractiveness, something I’m doing to keep you reading even though ‘task attractiveness’ is the more common term (which is far less enticing, right?). But also, because the research suggests that when compared with the other kinds of attractiveness (most especially ‘likability’, or social attraction) it holds little sway over how we respond to people. But by discounting it because of it’s tenuous influence when compared with other kinds of attraction, you discount its rather startling effect when examined alone. It’s powerful:
- Being perceived as more competent in something like communication for example increases both your social and physical attractiveness, as well as making people think you’re more attractive to work with.
- Even children will rate someone significantly more attractive (interpersonally, not physically) if they are a high-performer (as opposed to a low-performer).
- When competence and task attractiveness are considered as two separate things (competence being one’s general skill in a domain, task referring to a specific performance on a task), they can influence each other too. Being more competent appears to generally make people think you’re better at specific tasks. Being better at a specific task seems to make people assume you’re more competent generally.
The secret then, is to not discount the value in being good at something. Not only does it mark you as one with great savoir vivre (something we could always use more of in this world), but it can encourage more positive perceptions of you physically and socially. My advice? Take up a hobby.
Get interested in something. Shake yourself awake. Develop a hobby. Let the winds of enthusiasm sweep through you. – Dale Carnegie
Speaking of things that’ll lend one an air of well-earned sagacity, learn four (tested) reasons you should meditate. Or learn something else that secretly influences who you like (and it might just be the single most important factor). Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and ‘the good life’ at The Dirt Psychology.