The Importance of Physical Attractiveness in Dating The Importance of Physical Attractiveness in Dating When it comes to dating, we would all like to believe that we choose partners based on compatibility or personality traits like intelligence, confidence, or social skills. In this system, anyone who works hard enough for long enough will eventually climb up the social ladder, no matter their attributes. However, our track records as social creatures indicate that we place more of a premium on beauty and physical attraction than we realize.
Even when on a purely platonic level, people tend to be drawn to others that they perceive as similarly attractive, especially men Feingold, This begs the question: Physical attractiveness in and of itself is am ascribed status that is largely culturally determined and changes often over time and location, but apparently we still consider it as an indicator of romantic compatibility for many reasons.
The purpose of this paper will be to determine the role that physical attractiveness plays in dating and how this has come to be in a time where we are supposedly more oriented towards personality than ever.
According to research done by Miller and Rivenbark as cited in Eastwick, , college students believe that negative evaluations are made about people who rely primarily on physical attractiveness in choosing a partner, especially in the case of females choosing male partners Hadjistavropolous, A possible reason for this may be gender socialization, where males may be more influenced and conditioned by societal norms that make it appropriate for them to value physical attractiveness.
Women, on the other hand, are taught to value other traits like potential earning prospects and desirable personality traits over looks alone Feingold, Others postulate that people are often unaware of what motivates their choices in a romantic partner Nisbett, as cited in Eastwick, The subjects simply chose their mates based on their level of physical attractiveness.
This was further supported by follow-ups with the subjects that showed a strong correlation between the physical attractiveness of the subjects and their partners and how long they continued to date. This idea of physical attractiveness as a determinant of dating progress is shown to be strong in both casual and serious daters White White explains possible reasons for this using two different theories: Using the social exchange theory, a relationship could be viewed as a partnership where both sides bring something to the relationship to establish equilibrium.
This is accomplished by adding some kind of input that is viewed as socially valuable, like physical attractiveness or financial security. A good example of this theory would be a man who is not considered attractive establishing a relationship with a physically attractive woman by giving her financial security.
This relationship is viewed as equal because both people bring something of value to the table. On the downside, failure to input something of value into the relationship may cause tension and stress, especially for the partner who is comparatively lacking in some way.
Using this theory, it seems that people may choose to date people of similar attractiveness or that can at least offer some other kind of socially valuable input because they are, so to speak, bringing the same things to the table White, Another theory White uses to explain physical attractiveness and relationship progress is the marketplace analogy.
This view suggests that relationships are open to competition, especially in the beginning stages. Early in the relationship, assets like physical attractiveness are valued not only by the partners, but possible suitors and rivals as well. Viewing relationship progress through the collective lens of both the social exchange and marketplace analogy theories, the point of commonality that both share has to do with the similarity of attractiveness in the initial stages of dating.
The evidence to support this idea was found to be moderate for the female subjects, who were influenced by both probability of acceptance and the physical attractiveness of their potential date. The results of the study were mixed and therefore inconclusive. Further experimentation would be needed, but these inconclusive results could be explained by other factors that were not accounted for in the experiment, such as compatibility i. It can be inferred from these experiments that physical attraction alone does not work alone in winning a date, but is simply one facet of overall attractiveness Shanteau, Reasons for these findings are hard to nail down because of how far reaching the effects of physical attraction can be.
Even if one does address it in the romantic realm, it can easily be seen in other social situations like the workplace and everyday life in general. It is no secret that attractive people often enjoy social benefits outside of the bedroom. They are often attributed with possessing positive and therefore more desirable traits like intelligence, warmth, social skills, and occupational success, among other things Langlois, as cited in Eastwick, This is in comparison to less attractive people, who are often associated with more negative personality traits like aggressiveness, less competence and less social skills this can be seen in many movies and TV shows where the hero is cast as an attractive and competent person in contrast to the ugly or scarred villain who never fit in with his peers as a child.
In other words, we may be hardwired for pursuing beauty in a partner. Research supports the idea that both genders value physical attractiveness to a certain degree especially within short-term contexts , but males may have more incentive for pursuing a woman they perceive as beautiful, even for the long-term. According to this evolutionary imperative, men may highly value physical attractiveness in a female because it serves as a truthful indicator of health and fertility Eastwick, Conversely, a woman may value a male more for his financial prospects in the long run because he would supposedly be better equipped to provide for both his partner and subsequent offspring.
Any children they conceive would have a better chance to survive to carry on their genes. This may help to explain why there are couples present that may not be similar in physical attractiveness but experience a successful intimate partnership also, refer back to the social exchange theory. Simply put, men and women are both driven to search for physically attractive males and successful females mates in order to ensure the best chance of reproductive success.
They are both implementing different strategies to achieve the same end result Eastwick, Many college students could attest to this when studying in preparation for a final exam, where they may face an overwhelming amount of stress, despite the obvious fact that there is no actual danger present to fight against or flee for survival.
Instincts and dating are not immune to the difficulty of translation into modern day. We know this at some level, as illustrated by Miller and Rivenbark as cited in Hadjistavropolous, in their survey that concluded negative evaluations are made about people who place too high a value on physical attractiveness in a partner.
However, our actions reflect choices that are influenced heavily by appearances in all aspects of daily living Feingold, This leads me to question the absolution of genetics as our motivation behind all of our actions and choices that we make. In addition to this biological component, the importance of physical attractiveness must persist today not only as part of our genetic code, but also as part of a culturally reinforced idea of what constitutes the best partner Eastwick, I would even go so far as to say that valuing physical attractiveness as evidenced by actions, not by word choice is part of an informally enforced code of ethics that determines what is acceptable in a partner and what is not.
It is a social norm that goes unquestioned as an integral part of choosing the best mate. This especially rings true for males who pursue attractive females. While females may choose a partner who is less attractive, many people would assumer that their choices are based off of factors such as compatibility, desirable character traits, or even financial security. It is not questioned as harshly as it would be for males. In fact, a woman who places too much emphasis on the importance of physical attractiveness is viewed in a more negative light than a man would be.
On the other hand, it is highly frowned upon- and maybe even considered a dating taboo- for an attractive male to choose an unattractive female for a partner, regardless of the reason behind it. It is an affront to his masculinity and a sign that he is unable to provide for a suitable mate, so he therefore must be settling for a less attractive partner.
These kinds of unspoken social rules that go unquestioned may reflect a lack of introspective awareness. It is quite possible that people simply do not think about what they truly desire in a partner. Rather, they rely on preconceived notions of what a good partner is Eastwick, People are often unaware of the reasons behind their decisions and judgments in everyday living situations, much less in the world of romance, where the likelihood of having to choose between potential partners is a much rarer occurrence.
And this is something that occurs everyday! This lack of reflection that shows up in experimentation may occur for several reasons. People may display deeper insight into their own judgments in a setting that promotes calm and cool rationality while completing a survey in the highly controlled setting of a laboratory, for example , but this may not accurately reflect what would happen in an interaction between real, live human beings that may stir actual desire, rather than their idea of what they desire Wilson, as cited in Eastwick, People may go into a social situation carrying these ideas I like a man who is nice and reliable , but once a situation with a potential suitor arises, the desired traits may change this guy is so mysterious and exciting Eastwick, Other subjects may have their own thoughts on the qualities that a good partner possesses, but they may not compare their potential partner to them until they have started dating.
This shift occurred even in relationships where the subjects had only been dating for a relatively short amount of time. I would like to see research in the future that goes further in depth on the reasoning behind mate selection and mate retention, especially with subjects that are not already in an established relationship that could skew their ideas of the best partners.
Physical attraction is a curious quality that is extremely pervasive in all aspects of our society, but it seems that research has found quantifiable data to be quite evasive. Even when we do find strong evidence that puts a spotlight firmly on its presence in our choices and judgments about others, we then are faced with the task of finding out exactly how its impact is exerted in social situations. This is further complicated by misinformation and the stark differences between our self-stated preferences and preferences that we show when interacting with live people.
Also, our progress in finding out more about its influence over us is further hindered by our reluctance to admit its presence and acknowledge that looks, in fact, do matter to us for whatever reason. Even though the results may prove somewhat weak or inconclusive in some cases, overall findings provide solid evidence that physical attraction does not operate alone.
It is intertwined with many other traits that are presented as part of a package of attractiveness. The studies done on attractiveness and other determinants like probability or earning prospects gave us a great start Shanteau. This study makes me think that people today may be at least attempting to explore other avenues for choosing the best mate, and that they are becoming more aware of how ineffective partner selection is when based off of physical attraction.
Even though our choices still show a strong preference for people we find physically appealing, it makes me hopeful that people are rising above their baser instincts and realizing that looks alone do not make a great partner.
I hope to see future experimentation done on this subject. I think it would be worthwhile to see how our efforts to check our unquestioned social sanctions are progressing over time. Sex differences in mate preferences revisited: Do people know what they initially desire in a romantic partner? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Probability of acceptance in dating choice. The underestimation of the role of physical attractiveness in dating preferences: Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science.
Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior. Physical attraction and courtship progress. Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms.