Most people will tell you what they prefer in a car or a house or a career, and for the most part, these preferences will predict which car or house or career they will choose. However, when people claim that physical attractiveness does not factor into their search for a partner, their claim may be less accurate in predicting who they will be attracted to. A new study reveals that what people claim to desire in a partner may bear little resemblance to what actually attracts them to potential mates.
Researchers at Texas A&M and Northwestern University have developed a new way to measure the responses of participants and use the measurements to predict to what extent their level of attraction to a potential partner will depend upon how sexy they find the candidate. The study was led by Paul W. Eastwick, along with co-authors Eli Finkel, Alice H. Eagly and Sarah E. Johnson.
Previous studies have indicated that, although people are usually very clear about what they want in a partner, those traits have little to do with who they find themselves attracted to in a face-to-face encounter. The new methodology allows researchers to figure out what a person really wants, even if the person does not know.
The study measured how quickly participants were able to identify words that represent different ways to say “physical attractiveness.” Those who were good at the task, it turns out, were also the most likely to fall for a potential partner who they considered to be physically attractive, regardless of whether the potential mate exhibited traits the participant previously identified as important in a partner.
This is not the first study to find that what people want in a partner often has little to do with what they choose in one. However, most prior studies based their results on what participants told the researchers regarding what they want in a mate. Investigators who conducted the current study were able to use their measurements to accurately predict how great a role physical attractiveness would play in the response a participant would have to potential partners in an actual encounter.