Women (Also) Find Familiarity Attractive -- There Is More To Being Good Looking Than Looking Good

What else might matter [to women in terms of what they find attractive in men]? One consideration is familiarity. In one study, researchers got a team of women to attend different classes at the University of Pittsburgh. These women never spoke during the lectures and never interacted with the students. But the number of classes they attended varied -- 15, 10, 5, or none. At the end of the course, students were shown pictures of the women and asked what they thought of them. The women judged as most attractive were those who had attended classes 15 times; judged least attractive were those the students had never seen before. This is a small study, but it fits the voluminous literature in social psychology on the "mere exposure" effect -- people like what they are familiary with, which is a rational way for the mind to work given that, other things being equal, something you are familiar with is likely to be safe. Mere exposure applies to attractiveness, then, explaining some of the appeal of the girl (or boy) next door.

In another study, experimenters had people rate the photographs of classmates in their high school yearbooks for how much they liked them and how attractive they felt they were. Strangers of the same age also ranked the photopgraphs for attractiveness. If liking had been irrelevant the ratings by classmates and the ratings by the strangers should have matched -- but they didn't. The classmates' attractiveness ratings were swayed by how much they liked each person, further evidence that there is more to being good looking than looking good.

-- Paul Bloom

from "How Pleasure Works: The New Science of Why We Like What We Like"

Quoted on Wed Jul 13th, 2011