Science of Sex Appeal
As humans, we are driven by forces of inherited behavior and instinct that has been passed down through thousands of years of evolution. We are genetically programmed to look for qualities in another person that we think would result in the best offspring. There are certain queues given off by the opposite sex that the brain subconsciously processes and then computes. From the way that person walks to the way their face is shaped, our brain is constantly processing the people we come in contact with to make one ultimate decision: Is this person a good genetic match for the most viable offspring, or not?
So how much control do we actually have when it comes to falling in love? The concept of having no control of who we fall in love with is frightening to some people, and rightfully so. As people, we want to believe that we have freewill, that the decisions we make are made on our own accord or are based off of decisions we have made previously.
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We want to believe that there are mystic forces at work bringing us to our ultimate soulmate, and above all, we want to believe that we have the ability to choose a partner on our own.
The more humans learn about the brain and the body, the more we can see that choosing a partner is less of choice than we would like to believe. While no one is certain about the meaning of life, we are certain that it is a process of constant progression. This process is known as natural selection. Animals mate and either thrive or die based on the Theory of Natural Selection, which says that animals will mate with an individual that will provide the most viable offspring. Humans are no different.
While we may not know it, our primal instincts are at work even when we don’t want them to be. Our brains are constantly scanning individuals to find if they are a suitable match to reproduce with. So what are driving these uncontrollable neurological sparks we call attraction? The answer is simple, hormones. Both genders have sex specific hormones that attribute to their reproductive health. In females, the hormone that indicates how fertile she may be is called estrogen, and in males the hormone that determines the amount of viable sperm he may have is called testosterone.
The higher the hormone level in an individual, the more reproductively healthy they are and the more likely they are to make strong offspring, thus making them more attractive. How does the brain determine who has a higher amount of reproductive hormones? And how much control, if any, do we really have? Let’s start at the beginning, where our first assessment of another individuals human reproductive health is initially determined, the face. Where does the science of sex appeal begin? How do these primal instincts get triggered? The first feature noticed by an admirer of any sorts is the face.
There are several criteria for an appealing face, but the foundation on which the decision of an attractive face is formed is on the proportions of the face (Taflinger). This concept is known as the Golden Rule, devised by the Ancient Greeks who referred to it as the the equation of perfection. ” Throughout nature this rule can be seen with everything from your fingers being divided into three parts to the ratio of plant to stem on a leaf. We’re drawn to figures that display their proportions in thirds, whether it be three equal parts or a one-third to two-third ratio, and the same is true for faces.
People tend to be drawn to individuals that display well proportioned taces, such as the width of one eye being equidistant to the space in between the eyes, and that distance being proportional to the lips (Science of Sex Appeal). After evaluating the roportions of the face our brain determines the attractiveness of the person based on their sex. Lisa DeBrine, a psychologist at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland researches different aspects of the face and has determined what makes mens faces attractive to females and vise-versa (Science of Sex Appeal).
Women with higher levels of hormones such as progesterone and estrogen appear to be more feminine, having a pointed Jaw, high cheek bones and eyebrows, and full lips. These qualities indicate that she has a healthy reproductive system and could have a healthy child ithout any problems. With men, a broad face with a strong Jaw bone indicates high levels of reproductive hormones, thus making men with these qualities more appealing to women. The more accentuated these qualities are, the more seemingly attractive that person is, making it easier to find a mate.
What do the individuals do whose faces don’t match the golden rule? Are they destined to be alone? Of course not. The Golden Ratio is merely a guideline for what is considered to be an attractive face, but if an individual doesn’t have the proportions set by the perfect equation, hey sense that and their brain will match them up with a person on a similar level of attraction (Los Angeles Times). To test this theory Doug Kenrick, a psychologist and researcher at Arizona State University, conducted a study to test if individuals would pair up with someone considered to be on the same caliber of sex appeal as them.
He pulled ten men and ten women, then dressed them as similarly as possible, making them all wear fitted swim caps and neutral clothing. He then asked each of them to rate the ten members of the opposite sex on a scale of one to ten, then averaged the scores of each subject ogether to get their mean sex appeal. The two groups then met in the same room and were asked to find a mate with a person whom they considered to be attractive. When the subject saw a person they liked, they extended their hand and if the person accepted their outreach then they were considered a pair.
After everyone had a match, Kenrick looked at the average score of each couple and found that each person was within a point of their mate, meaning that each person started with the most attractive and worked their way down until they found someone that was equally as attractive. This affirms evolution’s theory stating animals are meant to reproduce, and their bodies will let them know when they come in contact with someone that will provide the best chance of that reproduction. Obviously our faces aren’t the only contributing factor when it comes to determining if a person worthy of being our mate.
When we look at a person not only does their face help us determine if we think theyre attractive, but their body as well. Men and women alike can appreciate a fit body displayed by the opposite sex, but why do we find these body types attractive and what about these bodies make them attractive? Kerry Johnson, a human researcher at UCLA conducted a study to find what features men and women look at the most and why. Johnson showed several different men photographs of women and asked them to merely look at them. She tracked where the men were looking and for how long.
She found that the men spent a good amount of time trying to determine the width of the body, especially at the n ps The men typically s tarted at the tace and then went to either shoulders tracing back and forth, to the breasts, and then progressed down to the waist and hips where they to lingered for a while longer, then traveled back up to the breasts Science of Sex Appeal). Johnson believes that the width of the body is a good determinant of how fertile the woman may be. Larger hips indicates that the woman is more capable of bearing healthy children, and this quality is attractive to men whether they mean for it to be or not.
Larger breasts also indicate that the woman is past puberty and is probably very fertile, which is why fuller breasts are more desirable (Sprouse). Johnson conducted the same experiment for women and her findings were quite similar. Women tend to focus on the width of the man more than anything else, focusing on the broad shoulders. The broader the shoulders in men, the more testosterone they have, thus making them more appealing to women. Not only does the shape of the body appeal to our primal instincts, but the way our bodies move contributes as well.
Men are drawn to women with defined hips that sway when they move while women are drawn to men that sway their shoulders. The more healthy the walk, the more our brains tell us that this person is healthy and would be able to take care of potential offspring the best (Moy). Not only does our brain rely on sight when finding a good genetic partner, it relies n our other senses to contribute to this decision as well. Just like we can’t help what our eyes see and our brain processes to be attractive, we can’t help what our ears hear and if our brain will interpret that voice as being attractive or not.
Whether we know it or not, our brain can hear a person talk and know whether or not they are fit to be our mate. When a person speaks, sings, or even shouts our brains interpret the voice as being either desirable or undesirable based on the tones the voice gives off (Sullivan). Men who have deeper voices are more appealing to women because a eep voice gives a sign that the male released a lot of testosterone at puberty and would be more desirable to procreate with.
Men find women that have higher voices attractive for similar reasons. When a woman has a high voice, this means that the women had a flux of estrogen at puberty and is more fertile, making for a better mate (Science of Sex Appeal). If estrogen makes the voice more appealing, does this mean when a women has higher levels of estrogen her voice is more appealing? In fact, it does. According to a study conducted by David Fienburg men are more attracted to a oman’s voice more when she is ovulating because her voice is a bit higher.
This means that when a woman is at her peak time for conceiving a child, she is attracting more males because she is seemingly more attractive due to how fertile she is at that time of month. Our voice is something that we are born with, a feature of ourselves that we have no control over, yet it determines so much of how we live our lives. Not only are our voices being subconsciously processed by the brains of our potential mates, but the natural body odor we emit is also being analyzed by people we come into contact with.
This most primitive form of attracting a mate actually works out in the woman’s favor. The natural hormone our body releases are called pheromones, and our body secretes them to help while on the hunt for a mate. Men release a pheromone called androstenone that women typically find unappealing. To a woman, androstenone smells like musk at first and then proceeds to smell like urine, however when a woman is ovulating androstenone shifts from a repulsive smell to an appealing one (Wikipedia). However, the scent a woman picks up on a man is more complex than merely being attractive or unattractive.
The Major Histocompatibility Complex or MHC is a major contributor when it comes to finding a person we consider to be attractive. MHC is a section of our DNA that determines which diseases our immune system is equipped to fght. The more two peoples MHC differ, the more they are likely to be attracted to that person. This is because if two people with completely different MHC genes had a child, this child would be more immune to more diseases, making it strong and likely to thrive (Wikipedia). For men, the ability to distinguish smells from being attractive or not is very different.
When women are ovulating, they secrete a vaginal fluid called copulance and this secretion is found attractive by men, no matter who it’s coming from. In a study done by Rachel Hepworth, a pheromone research specialist at the University of Austria, she found that men rate women higher when they are subjected to low doses of copulance. She subjected men to photographs of women that were ranked as six’s and seven’s, and then asked them to put on a mask which was releasing low levels of copulance and look at a series of photographs of women who were ranked as three’s and four’s.
Despite the women having a significant lower rank, the men still ranked them as near perfect while inhaling the low amounts of copulance. This means if there are two women, one ovulating and the other not, a man that may have been more attracted to the woman not ovulating is genetically programmed to find the woman who is ovulating more attractive because she is more likely to conceive at that time. So why fall in love? What in your brain makes the feeling of love so intense that people keep coming back for the euphoric feeling that it offers?
This is a question hat until recently researchers thought they had the complete answer to, but as it turns out there is more to the brain and the feeling of love than we thought. When a person is in love, every time they see or think about the person that is the object of their desire, a small dose of dopamine is released in the brain, giving a small feeling of complete happiness. The part of the brain that is activated by this feeling of elation and released the dopamine is called the ventral tegmental.
This part of the brain is activated when you’re participating in happy activities with your partner, such as sex. When researchers first started discovering the power of dopamine, they assumed that the feeling dopamine offered was the same in a person who is in love as a person who is in lust (Fisher). Recently, it has been discovered that another part of your brain is working when you are truly in love with a person. The other system at work is called the caudate nucleus. This is where many factors from our past experience and present environment combine with dopamine to produce and experience.
This is the brain system that gets galvanized when you want, crave, and focus on something; when you try to win something. The mental difference between lust and love boils down to this one structure in the brain; lust is a thrill seekers high, one that fades with time. Falling in love rewards those who relentlessly pursue a goal- to be with their loved one. The ventral tegmental and caudate nucleus are two different brain systems, meaning you can feel the sex drive for somebody and not be in love with them, and you can be in love with somebody and never have had sex with them (Fisher).
It’s rare, but when both of these brain systems work together the out come is a strong love coupled with a sense of reward that you achieved a goal hat keeps people coming back tor more. A tremendous fear when it comes to love that people share is the possibility of their partner not stay faithful. This seems to be a common fear in women, however biologically women are more prone to promiscuous tendencies than society would like to believe. A common misconception in todays world is that when a person commits an act of infidelity in a relationship it is rarely the man who is the victim. Science contradicts this misconception.
When choosing a partner, women are biologically programmed to find a person who will provide the most stability and who xudes the best qualities to raise offspring. While these traits are biologically attractive to women, it doesn’t mean these qualities will be satisfactory forever. A woman may engage in unfaithful behavior if the long term partner she is with does not also possess those “sexy’ traits that are indicators of good genes, and she is ovulating (Perrett). Researchers have found that women who actually had a long term partner but went out dancing with a friend other than their partner, sent out the most sexual signals.
They exposed most of their skin, and moved most attractively. Women who were ovulating were the most flirtatious and women who were ovulating and had a steady partner were the most flirtatious of all. Does this mean there is always an underlying tinge of the desire to be unfaithful in a relationship? Just like there are hormones driving infidelity, there are also hormones driving monogamy. It’s very rare when a species mates for life, only mere three percent of animals participate in this kind of monogamy. An animal that is known to spend their lives with one mate is the North American prairie vole.
Scientists have conducted MRI scans on voles that had mates versus moles that did ot. After comparing the brains of monogamous male voles, they found high levels of a hormone called vasopressin; promiscuous male voles had drastically lower vasopressin levels. Likewise, vasopressin is the monogamy prone hormone in males too. Just like there is a monogamy hormone specific in men, there is also a a hormone specific in women called oxytocin (Science of Sex Appeal). This hormone is in all women that have tendencies of being in long term relationships.
The reason women are notorious for being heartbroken or are the ones being left is because the ajority of women release this hormone due to evolution telling us that women are designed to bare children. Women want to stay with their significant other as long as possible to fulfill their evolutionary duty to procreate and care for those children. Also, in most cases when women release dopamine they also release oxytocin, affirming they are happy and want to continue this happiness by staying with the person causing this release of Joyous hormones (Encyclopedia Britannica Online). It happens everyday.
Someone catches your eye for a reason that may be unknown to you. For some reason, you’re attracted to the shape of their eyes or the placement of their Jaw. Our most primal instincts are drawing us to these features and we have no control over it. The concept that we may Just be walking chemical reactions can be disheartening and frightening to some; However, fright shouldn’t be the first emotion that is associated with this concept. This idea should be elating to us. By biology and evolution driving your social interactions, all you have to do is be well equipped for conversation.
If the biology is right then everything else will fall into place. The mere sound of a voice, or that fact that a woman may be ovulating at that time could mean sne draws in many and can take ner pick. There are many aspects of the brain and sex appeal that have yet to be uncovered by biologists and researchers. We may never know the full scope of what truly attracts men and women to each other, and we may continue evolving to be attracted to completely different things centuries from now.
The brain is a very temperamental organ that will probably never truly be understood. What can be taken away from this issue is that it’s happening everyday, every time you look at someone and there is no topping it. The best we can do is appreciate the complexity of how the brain and body work together and to continue the lineage of people for generations to come. As Darwin said, “We are ever changing beings, evolving to survive and procreate–what happens in between in irrelevant. Abstract What draws humans to one another and what are the driving forces that bring people together? Everyone can agree that there are certain qualities that are more attractive to a person than others, but why those features are attractive is another story entirely. In this research, I will attempt to convey how the brain processes hysical features of a person and how it uses that analysis to determine whether or not they are a good fit for you form a biological stand point.
From this the real question arises: Do we have any control over how our mate is chosen? As people we want to believe that we do, but as humans the fact of the matter is, how attractive we are to another human being is predetermined in the womb and we usually have very little control over who deems us worthy to mate with or not. How do we cope with this fear of not having control? Is there a way to cope with it? These questions are the ones I plan on finding the answers to.