Looking for love this Valentine’s Day? Let science help you out. UBC’s Alec Beall, a PhD candidate in psychology, sums up the research into sexual attraction and offers a few tips for enhancing your appeal this weekend.
What do men and women find most attractive?
Consistent findings in romantic attraction literature suggest that women generally tend to be attracted to masculine men who have ample access to resources. Men, on the other hand, generally tend to be attracted to feminine women who appear approachable and non-threatening. There are all kinds of evolutionary reasons for these preferences.
A couple of years ago, we did a study looking at how these preferences may have implications for the sexual attractiveness of distinct nonverbal expressions of emotion. We found that women were consistently most attracted to men showing expressions of pride, an emotion display that connotes high status and dominance, while emphasizing attractive masculine physical features such as upper body size.
We also found that the happiness expression, which connotes approachability and sexual receptivity, was found to be highly attractive when displayed by women, but relatively less attractive when displayed by men. This latter finding may seem a bit surprising, however other past work has shown happiness to be associated with femininity, and this gender-inconsistent message might be what’s causing happy guys to finish last.
What role do clothing choices play into sexual attraction?
Women are perceived as most attractive when they’re wearing red, or surrounded by red in pictures. This is true across cultures—we found that even in Burkina Faso, where the colour red carries negative connotations and is considered unlucky, women in photos with a red border were still perceived as more attractive.
We have also found that women are more likely to wear red or pink during ovulation, a time of peak fertility when they are particularly motivated to attract men. Given the strength of the redness-attraction link and how evolutionary processes can often influence cultural practices, it’s no big surprise that the colours associated with Valentine’s Day are red and pink.
How can people increase their attractiveness for Valentine’s Day?
If you’re a woman, wear something red. However, there is research suggesting that women who are looking for short-term romantic flings rather than long-term relationships tend to wear more red and pink. So you may look more attractive, but you might also be perceived as more of a fling than serious relationship material. If you’re a man, perhaps smile a little less and appear confident and proud of yourself. And if you’re a little bit overweight, you might want to hold off on offering candies or a big meal; a 2006 study in the U.K. found that men preferred larger opposite-sex partners when they were hungry.