The Quest for Charisma Chapter One cover image

The Quest for Charisma Chapter One

Dorian Minors • April 21, 2015

This is an archived article from our predecessor website, The Dirt Psychology. The idea there was to take psychological scholarship and turn it into wisdom. The Armchair Collective tries to go a little further than just psychology. As such, these articles live here in archive form, until they're updated.

Why do some people captivate us? Where within us lies the ability to exude the kind of warmth, grace and presence that draws one ineluctably in? Here, we examine this question. And what better way to explore the characteristics of charm than through the stories of the most winsome characters ever created or remembered.

The initial allure

Nineteen Twenty-Two. The midst of the glamorous 'Roaring Twenties', or as the French put it; l'années follies, the crazy years. Our hero, Nick Carraway forlornly recounts the extraordinary (and eventually tragic)  adventure he took part in that year when he made the move from the isolated US Midwest to the razzle-dazzle of New York city. Renting a ramshackle house in neighbouring Long Island, Nick unwittingly finds himself a member of a community of 'new money'; young, sophisticated and profoundly wealthy party animals. Of which, the most intriguing is his neighbour; the 'great' Jay Gatsby.

Those ethereal elements

As Nick begins to move through the local circles, he notices that almost everyone treats Gatsby's name with a certain kind of awe. Gatsby is a mysterious force, unseen and unknown even at the frequent, extravagant parties he throws. Yet, Gatsby is ubiquitous. Not only does everyone know of him, everyone speaks of him constantly. You see, Gatsby has nailed all three of the keys to attraction. He is similar to the community's wealthy youths, he's close by, and everyone is familiar with him, all of which are thought to be crucial to the development of attraction.

The three keys to attraction?

But Gatsby's magnetism is much more than simply that. Nick stumbles every so often across a thread of confusion about Gatsby's wealth. You see, Gatsby appeared from virtually nowhere and had somehow amassed a fortune. Yet no one knew him personally and couldn't account for his sudden rise to prominence. People, therefore, assumed that Gatsby was some kind of financial genius. Alongside this assumption, is the pervasive hype surrounding Gatsby's parties. Frequently, Gatsby invites a select crowd of hundreds to his mansion for an evening of raucous drinking, dining, dancing, and (as the movie would have us believe) confetti. Gatsby's parties are the most sought after events in the entire community. In these ways, Gatsby has fully realised two of the four types of attraction. He comes off as someone wholly successful in business and in his personal life (at least early in the book), which scientists describe as a feature of people we are extremely attracted to for their lifestyle capabilities. But those parties depict him as a consummate socialite, another feature we find compelling.

The four types of attraction?

That first meeting

Eventually Nick is invited to one of these parties. His excitement is palpable. Finally, an opportunity to meet the enigmatic figure that seems to pulse through the veins of this small community. He hands his invitation to the security at the wrought-iron gates to Gatsby's impractically fabulous mansion. As he walks through the gates and moves through the crowds he reflects on his nervousness. Fortunately, he's distracted before his thoughts spiral out of control but one can see the elements of approach anxiety appear.

Tell me more about approach anxiety

He's distracted by an acquaintance, the enticing Jordan Baker (with whom Nick eventually shacks up), known through his effervescent cousin Daisy. Together, they suddenly stumble across Gatsby himself. An attractive man with an absorbing smile. A rigid posture, a firm handshake. A bespoke suit that enhanced a muscular physique. All in all, an imposing and memorable figure. However, Gatsby is rather aloof and Nick struggles to make small talk with the man, despite Gatsby recognising Nick from his Unit in the War.

What makes small talk so hard, anyway?

Soon after, Gatsby takes Jordan away to talk and Nick, now bereft of company, goes home. However, as time goes by, it appears that Gatsby did in fact take a shine to our Nick. He invites him to ride with him in his expensive (and iconic) yellow car and makes mention of going out in his seaplane among other festivities. It becomes apparent that Gatsby and Nick are becoming fast friends. As Nick reminisces on Gatsby he touches on many of the things that drew him to Gatsby. Although Gatsby spent a great deal of time telling enthralling stories about his past (again, touching on that lifestyle attraction), Nick muses on Gatsby's ability to make Nick feel heard and the lavish attention Gatsby bestowed on him. That, along with his expressive first appearance made for an impressive first impression.

Those are the things make a good first impression?

Past the first impression

However. It soon becomes apparent that Gatsby has something of an ulterior motive. Gatsby, Nick's eventual romantic liason Jordan relates, maintains a burning love for Nick's debonair cousin Daisy since a failed amour five years previously. In fact, his lavish lifestyle and flamboyantparties are simply an attempt to return Daisy to him. Gatsby begins to request that Nick pass on information about Daisy and her now-husband Tom. This develops into a request for Nick to invite Daisy to dine with Gatsby's attendance to remain a secret. I must now digress to explain some of the nature of relationships. It could be seen here that all along, Gatsby has been seeing this as a relationship based on worth - Nick is only valuable because of the link he provides to Daisy. This relationship certainly does not breed attraction. In fact, this relationship often breeds resentment. But in fact, the truth is that Gatsby becomes more and more reliant on Nick. In a world in which many people are eager to get their hands on his fortune, and many of his business partners are shady at best and openly related to the mob at worst, Gatsby is able to share with Nick his musings on the world. This lends itself to a relationship based on exchange, if not a relationship based on shared needs.

What are the types of relationship?

Relationships based thus create strong feelings of reciprocity which, if we hark back to the second lesson learned in this story, embodies the true definition of attraction - 'if you do something positive for me, I'll feel positively about you'. And it is this, in fact, that psychologists believe truly creates what we commonly refer to as love. As Gatsby finds he relies on Nick to fill those needs he trusts to no one else, Gatsby begins to love him more. As Nick finds a compatriot and friend in Gatsby as no one else in his new neighborhood has been, Nick can't help but love him more.

The true measure of love

the-great-gatsby-47-600x251 And let's be honest friends. Who wouldn't love this man.
Unfortunately, like many great relationships, life complicates things. And so it was with the 'great' Gatsby and our hero, Nick.

To be continued...

This is the first 'chapter' in our quest for charisma. Join us and be the first to know about new chapters to this story as we continue to tie together the elements of what makes a relationship last, as well as the latest Dirt each week as we build our knowledge on our journey to 'the good life'.

Turning scholarship into wisdom we can use at The Armchair Collective.

Questions? Comments? Comment sections are a pain to moderate. But this inbox is always read, so send an email. You'll get a reply. Your question might even get a whole article of its own.

More articles? View them all, or check these out:

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.