The Science of love

While there is no one definitive answer that explains what makes humans attracted to one another, there are a few explanations that may shed some light on what we believe is uncontrollable. Dr. Aras Petrulis and Dr. Kenneth Sayers, both professors at Georgia State, provided some insight on why humans are attracted to one another.

Body (Physical):

Evolution has played a large part in what we as humans find attractive in one another. The phrase “survival of the fittest” can explain why certain physical traits are attractive and others aren’t. Humans seek traits that are desirable; looking at features of potential partners and deciding if those features are good enough to introduce to our gene pool.

For example, human females have larger breasts than other mammals because breast size is a sexually selected trait.

“One possible explanation [for the evolutions] is that [breast size] is an honest indicator of body fat,” Petrulis said. “It doesn’t sound like something we look for these days because we live in a land of plenty, we have to look at our predecessors. Having actually body fat indicates that you are pretty healthy. I suspect that most people would argue, from an evolutionary perspective, that’s why women have noticeable breasts and why men of all cultures are interested in breasts. But the preference in size is culturally specific and even time specific.”

These traits don’t serve as a survival trait, but as a way to attract potential mates. A trait like breast size can be likened to the colorful feathers of a peacock as they’re used as a display in an attempt to allure peahens.

When it comes to physical appearance, sophomore Sarah Weaver prefers athletic women.

“I like a chick that looks fit; a good set of teeth with a big grin are preferred in terms of facial features. Thick thighs and strong looking legs are also attractive,” Weaver said.

Preference in athletic body types may be influenced by evolutionary mating habits. Athleticism is an indicator of health and could possibly introduce good genes into your gene pool.

The evolution of human canines is also an indicator of human sexual behaviors as well. In humans, males and females have canines of similar sizes. Sayers said that this evidence “…suggests that there is a reduction in the amount of overt male-male competition for access to females.”

“Unlike other anthropoid primates, [humans] also lack a honing complex for our canine teeth,” Sayers said.“Based on the fossil evidence in relation to the canine teeth, there is some suggestion there is a shift away from a polygamous mating system and a shift to pair-bonding.”

Petrulis said men are also more attracted to women who have more youthful features. Large eyes, small noses and relatively small mouths are features men tend to find most appealing in women. The idea of a juvenile, young mate is found to be preferred irrespective of culture.

Mind (Psychological):

Dopamine, commonly referred to as “the love drug,” is not the sole reason why humans experience love. Dr. Pretulis said he believes dopamine has a role in love, it“… pushes you to seek rewards, but is not the reward in and of itself.”
“The ‘high’ you get from some sort of success often isn’t mediated by dopamine. Your drive to get that object can be mediated by dopaminergic influences on the brain.”

Endorphins have more of an effect than dopamine. However, research on this subject poses a bit more difficult on humans than on lab mice.

The amount of receptors in one’s body can also affect the effectiveness of hormones, among others.
Prairie voles experience positive affect when vasopressin is released. The male prairie vole, under the influence of the vasopressin, is physiologically compelled to bond with a particular individual.

In order to study vasopressin, prairie voles were given added copies for receptors of vasopressin. The voles were then given a choice between a partner it had bonded with before and a stranger female vole. The voles with the increased amount of receptors increased time spent with those previous partners over the strangers.

“[Vasopressin] is influencing, but not causing sort of a shift towards monogamous behavior in these voles,” Sayers said.

Behavior, whether conscious or unconscious, can be indicators of attraction as well. When flirting, there are many cues that show interest in a mate.

“Looking forward but giving a sidelong glance is seen in so many cultures. Playing with your hair is a very common feature and is cross-cultural,” Pretrulis said.

Humans rely on both visual and auditory cues to evaluate others. Because humans communicate through sound and sight, these are the most heightened of senses.

Soul (Sociological):

Culture and background can have a considerable impact on attraction. The phrase “opposites attract,” it’s usually less than true. Assortative mating, which is mating with those who are similar to you, is something humans tend to follow. This can include physical attributes, such as skin color or physical size, and ideological values, such as religion or political views. Humans seek mates that reinforce values and serve as a support system.

How one is dressed or body type is an example of cultural preferences. These are not affected by evolutionary or psychological means, but are shaped by our backgrounds.

Personality and preference in certain personalities are culturally chosen and defined.

Justin Windom, a senior, said “I like a woman with a good personality as well; she needs to be insensitive and have a sense of humor.”

On the other hand, Donovan Johnson, a freshman, prefers different attributes.

“In terms of personality, I like charming, and mysterious qualities, but I also like honesty and ambition,” Johnson said.

While there are many instances where two completely incompatible people “work,” finding that something in common with a mate makes it much easier to hit it off.

“Your mating pool, historically and even now, is usually limited to certain group of people,” Pretrulis said. “It’s not every possible person in the universe.”

With the advent of online dating, dating outside of your social circle has become easier, which can also change the way attractiveness is defined. Petrulis said online dating is potentially a “game changer” in human dating habits.