Getting to Know You

Psychology Of Love – Part 5

We don’t like to believe that physical attractiveness accounts for much in life, particularly since we can’t do much about it. Many people argue that beauty is only skin deep and when it comes to falling in love it takes more than a handsome face or a curvy shape. Indeed, when asked what they looked for in a potential date, most people put physical attractiveness at the bottom of their list.

Countless surveys have been conducted that suggest the inner person is more important than looks when it comes to love. Qualities like personality, intelligence, sensitivity, warmth, shared values, and a sense of humour are frequently cited as more important than physical appearance. Indeed, some people argue that making decisions based on beauty is very shallow. But, according to psychologists, beautiful packaging not only influences what we think of people but who we are likely to date and who we might date for a second time.

Tolstoy wrote, ‘it is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness”, a sentiment that research appears to support. Scientists tell us that we perceive physically attractive people as possessing a host of positive qualities, simply because they are ‘beautiful’. This is referred to as the ‘Halo Effect’. Both sexes believe that those who are attractive are more interesting, sociable, independent, exciting, sexual, intelligent, well adjusted, socially skilled and successful; handsome men are perceived as more masculine and beautiful females more feminine. As if this wasn’t bad enough, attractive people earn more money and are more likely to get promoted. Just to add insult to injury, when they appear in a court of law they pay less bail, are less likely to get convicted and if they do they are more likely get shorter sentences. So, in the case of the ‘beautiful’ people, there seems to be a pretty unrestrained ‘halo’ effect. We see a pretty/handsome face and believe that they are ‘superior’ beings on every level – making it oh so easy to be blinded by looks and believe we are in love.

That the power of physical appearance has far reaching effects can be seen in the Frizzy Wig experiment. In this study scientists found that we really, really care about the opinions of attractive people. This experiment used an attractive woman to interview men and, following the interview, give them her own personal clinical evaluation of their personality. For half of the interviews she was made to be more attractive, for the other half she was made to look ugly, dressed in frumpy clothes, with bad make-up and a frizzy wig (hence the name of the experiment). In both conditions (attractive/unattractive) she gave the men either favourable or unfavourable personality evaluations. How do they respond? Well, when she was made to look unattractive they didn’t really care what kind of feedback she gave. However, when she was made to look attractive they were delighted when she gave them positive feedback but really upset when the feedback was negative. Besides being upset, these men tried to find ways to prove to her that she was wrong about them. So, the opinions of physically attractive people matter to us. If they compliment and flatter us we could easily fall for a pretty/handsome face. If they don’t we might try even harder to earn their approval and fool ourselves that our efforts are because we are truly, madly, deeply, ‘in love’.

But, if you never get a second chance to make a first impression how much does this initial attraction predict love or is it what is on the inside that counts? To answer this question scientists conducted a study referred to as the Blind Date experiment. This research was designed to find out what was more important, looks or personality. In this experiment a lot of people were sent out on blind dates and researchers looked at what predicted a second date. Despite the fact that people say that personality is important, it wasn’t intelligence, masculinity, femininity, dominance, submission, dependence, independence, sensitivity, sincerity, warmth, compassion or sense of humour that predicted a second date. What was it? Looks. We might like to believe that looks don’t matter but unfortunately they do – if we aren’t attracted to the outward appearance of the people we meet we are unlikely to get to know the inner person. Therefore, while Beauty fell for the Beast their chances of a long-term relationship would be slim.

While the research on love and attraction indicates that looks are more important than personality it has been almost exclusively conducted using young participants. Since few people (young or old) find grey hair and wrinkles attractive what are ‘mature’ daters falling for? Given the boom in anti-ageing produces and plastic surgery it could still be physical appearance. If it is, we can be grateful that Mother Nature blesses those of more advanced years with poor eyesight so that we can find our prince or princess by simply leaving our glasses at home.

In Blog 6: Be Still My Beating Heart

Dr. Lori Boul gained her PhD at the University of Sheffield in the UK and the research for her thesis, into ‘male menopause’, attracted worldwide media attention. Dr Lori is probably one of the most outspoken speakers on the topic of human sexuality and in writing her book DIY Sex and Relationship Therapy has dared to challenge the need for face-to-face therapy. According to Dr Lori, “Good therapists can be hard to find and for many people a good spoonful of common sense is all that is needed”.

Whether speaking to the general public or professionals, Dr Lori’s expertise, sensitivity and humour inspire new ways of thinking about relationships, sex and psychology. She has presented talks at national and international conferences, provides training courses and executive mentoring, and is featured as a regular guest speaker with Cunard.