Three random things that make you more attractive cover image

Three random things that make you more attractive

Dorian Minors • January 29, 2015

This article has been updated, but first appeared on our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and make it intelligible. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. This article was fun enough to keep.

Attraction isn't just looks. It's really just about how someone (or something) makes you feel good. Here, I want to talk about some of the more random (and far-fetched) ones. Quite literally, these are things that will make you like people that are pretty much independent of who they are, what they look like, or how black their cold, cold heart is.

The colour red

Let's start with colours. Do colours turn you on? I wouldn't think so. Maybe if you were a Synesthete and someone you met had a voice that dripped gold (that is not a metaphor). But outside of those delightfully odd people, one might think that colours had very little to do with how much you liked someone. You'd be wrong, of course. Quite a few scientists from various universities have pretty conclusively found that wearing red will make you more attractive to men and women across a bunch of cultures.

Why? Well, we're not sure. People love to speculate from the evolutionary perspective: we look at animals and see monkeys flaunting big red butts to tell each other they're in heat, or we see that lips kind of look like a vulva and lips, like the vulva also get red and swell when we're turned on. So maybe red indicates fertility to our primitive brains and we have evolved along those lines. Or, maybe it's to do with the fact that red is associated with aggression and somehow we like that. We should keep in mind that evolutionary theories like these have their problems. Regardless, whatever the reason, red makes me like you more regardless of how I might have felt before and that gives me an excuse to refurbish my wardrobe.

The taste in a kiss

Moving on. You know how everyone has a scent that's unique to them? Sometimes it's nice, sometimes it's neutral, sometimes it's gross. I'll tell you what's grosser. Thinking about how everyone's saliva has a different scent. Have you ever wondered why we like to kiss? Well, some scientists believe that we kiss in part because major histocompatibility complex, a bunch of genes that produce molecules which may be present in our personal smell and our saliva, are used to determine how attractive we find our partner. This is because to have awesome babies, we have to give them the best chance at survival and by tasting each other's genetic makeup we can make sure we're making sure to get a good mix. In particular, major histocompatibility complex is involved in our immune system and by making sure I have one batch and you have another our kid is going to have a great spread and hence a great immune system. So there you go. Every time you're kissing, you're tasting your partner and weighing up how good your babies will be. You're more grown up than you thought!

Scary things

Alright, now you're all decked out in red, ready to make some big decisions with your next kiss, so why don't I tell you where to take your next date. I've talked before about an evolutionary approach towards sexual arousal. Basically, we can be strongly influenced on a very primal level by very instinctive drives. In fact, that's what this article is about. And although there are plenty of social and emotional factors that feed into our arousal, it's important to consider the basics. One unusual thing about our instincts is that they can be easily tricked. Specifically, our brains can be tricked into thinking we have the hots for someone because our body is going through something that seems similar. If our heart rate increases, our palms start sweating, our pupils dilate and so on, our brain might think it's because we're sitting next to that awesome tasting date we're sitting next to. What we've done is activated our autonomous nervous system; something that kicks in for both our sexual arousal and our fight or flight reflex. Funnily enough, fear and exercise elicit a pretty similar response as those goofy butterflies do in our bodies and our brain sometimes can't differentiate between them (hence the versatility of the word 'arousal'). And according to one theory, our brain just tacks a likely emotional justification onto our jitters after they've begun. This link between fear and attraction has been explored often; for example young men who are asked to rate a woman's attractiveness during a fear inducing event will rate much higher than those in less unstable surrounds. Although, not things are too scary.

To conclude

This article is more for fun than application. But it is useful to consider just how much of what makes us like people is environmental in nature, and thus outside of our control. It's not always possible to know all of what makes us like someone, and I'm not so sure it's necessary to. But it can't hurt to know what you're in for as a pliable human being.

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Dorian Minors

I mostly do brain science. Sometimes I train honeybees. I promise they're related. I made this site because there's no reason why scholars should be the only ones to own knowledge. My special interests are interpersonal relationships, the science of community, spirituality and the brain, and the neural basis of complex behaviour. I hope this stuff is as interesting to you as it is to me. You can find out more about me here.