T F Be more likely to have an extramarital affair.
T F Have more opportunities and temptations to have an extramarital affair.
T F Be more vain.
T F Be more sexually warm.
How important do you think physical attractiveness is in initiating relationships? Most college students, particularly females, when asked what aspects of a person are important in a dating partner, put physical attractiveness near the end of the list. Researchers studying what attracted students to their randomly paired partners at a “computer dance” found, however, that physical attractiveness was the single most important factor determining how much they liked their date, how much they wanted to date the person again, and whether they actually did ask the person out again. Physical attractiveness was more important than personality, intelligence, grades, or similarity. This effect was the same for men and for women.
This effect of physical attractiveness goes beyond facial beauty. Mark Alicke, Richard Smith, and Marylou Klotz found that body attractiveness was just as important. It also goes beyond heterosexual dating experiences. Children who are physically attractive are punished less and perceived as smarter, more competent, and more sociable by both their teachers and their peers. One study even showed that college professors perceived phycially attractive students as more intelligent and motivated. Physical attractiveness also affects jury and job interview decisions and requests for help. The effect holds across cultures as well, as the research described in the text has shown.
After reading the preceding paragraph, you may no longer be surprised to learn that all of the statements in the T/F quiz were actually true. These factors make up the what-is-beautiful-is-good stereotype. This stereotype may be related in part to the just world hypothesis (Assignment 3). People want to believe that good things come to those who “deserve” them. There are some differences in the content of these stereotypes across cultures though, with beautiful people being associated with what is most valued in a particular culture.
This stereotype does seem to have some truth to it, particularly in the area of social competence. Physically attractive people tend to have better social skills and more satisfying interactions than less attractive people. Again remembering back to Assignment 3, however, this is due at least in part to self-fulfilling prophesies. The attractive are expected to have better social skills and treated that way, causing them in fact to demonstrate better social skills.
But even if you don’t look like a model, there is good news. Recent reviews suggest that, though physical attractiveness is still a significant factor in initial attraction, it may not be as important as originally thought. Different people also find different things attractive, and perceptions of attractiveness are affected by how much you like the other person. Attractive people don’t necessarily have happier lives than the rest of us (you only need to read the celebrity gossip columns to realize this). Finally, how attractive we are is influenced by how attractive we think we are. Posture, smiling, dress, and friendly attitudes go a long way toward making us seem physically attractive. And in the end, research suggests that thinking you are attractive may actually be more important in terms of social outcomes than being born with it.
We also talked about factors that make people more attractive—symmetry, waist-to-hip ratio, certain physical characteristics, and how these might relate to human evolution and biology. The evolutionary perspective also suggests that men and women should tend to look for different things in relationships and that they are likely to be most jealous for different reasons.
Initial attraction was the first area of relationships to be studied in part because because it was the easiest to do. We can’t randomly assign people to be married to this person or the other, to feel love or not, or to remain together. Love didn’t become a topic of much research interest until the 1970’s and 80’s. Companionate vs. passionate love divides love into two types based on whether we feel physiological arousal or not.
Attachment styles provide another perspective on how we love and suggest that the way we think about relationships is based on our experiences with our parents and in previous relationships. People may be more or less anxious and avoidant in relationships. The attachment styles approach proposed by Phil Shaver suggests that the way we respond to romantic relationships as adults is related to the attachments we formed with our parents as children. You may remember the concept of attachment (at least as it pertains to parent-child relationships) from your introductory or developmental psychology courses. The attachment styles approach suggests that there are three types of attachment styles--secure, avoidant, and anxious/ambivalent--and that your attachment style will determine how you react in relationships and to whom you are attracted.
Just as there are several perspectives on how to define love, there are several theories addressing why we fall in love and stay in love. Caryl Rusbult later added a variable to social exchange theory with her investment model. Her model predicts that commitment to a relationship is a function of 1) satisfaction (which in turn is based on rewards minus costs and comparison level, or what the person feels they deserve); 2) the magnitude of investments in the relationship; and 3) the quality of the person’s best alternative. Investments are things that the person has invested in the relationship and can’t get back—time, money, personal sacrifices. Moral imperatives (feeling that you shouldn’t get divorced), children, and joint goals also increase investment size. Alternatives here are not only potential partners, but may include friendships and hobbies as well.
Without the concept of investments, we would have to predict that when satisfaction is low and there is an alternative, people will leave the relationship. All relationships go through low periods, however, and many of them stay together through them. The investments variable predicts which relationships will stay together and which won’t during these down periods. If a person is highly invested in a realtionship, he or she will stay in the relationship even if satisfaction is temporarily low. This theory has received a lot of support, both in traditional dating relationships and in less traditional ones.