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Target Factors In Attraction

The way that a potential target of attraction introduces him- or herself, and communicates personality and intentions, can affect whether attraction occurs. Men have traditionally been more likely than women to make the first overt move in relationship initiation. Although this may be changing, much of the research on attraction has focused on men as the initiators and women as the targets of romantic overtures. People are attracted to people who express liking for them; just knowing that someone is attracted to oneself tends to induce reciprocal interest. Reciprocal self-disclosure, in the form of taking turns in revealing details about oneself, can foster attraction. Reciprocal liking can also be indicated nonverbally (e.g., Grammer, Kruck, and Magnusson 1998). Women who maintain eye contact with a man, for example, or flip their hair, or lean towards him, may communicate their interest. Unfortunately, men may sometimes misinterpret casual female friendliness for sexual interest.

In first encounters, people often ingratiate, flatter, and praise people whose favor they are trying to win, and modify their self-presentations to be what the other person seeks (Rowatt, Cunningham, and Druen 1998). Although most people enjoy hearing praise, ingratiation can backfire and produce dislike if the flattered person suspects that the flatterer is self-serving rather than sincere. A second exception to the rule that people like compliments and flattery was offered by Ellen Berscheid and her associates. An evaluator who was initially critical of a target, and later changed his or her mind and expressed approval, was rated more positively than was an evaluator who was consistently positive to a target. The attraction to the re-evaluator may have been due to a sudden reduction of tension, because the effect was not observed when the same person was simultaneously exposed to a consistently positive evaluator, along with a second evaluator who shifted from negative to positive. Such complexities may help explain why "playing hard to get" does not reliably increase attraction.

A sense of humor is a positively rated quality, and being perceived as humorous can increase attraction. This is especially true for men. Duane Lundy and colleagues (1998) found that women rated physically attractive men who expressed humor as more desirable than they rated physically attractive non-humorous men. Physically attractive men who expressed self-deprecating humor were seen as more cheerful, and perhaps more humane and less threatening, than non-humorous handsome men. But, humor that people perceive as threatening can backfire. Michael Cunningham studied opening lines in bars. Humorously flippant comments (e.g., "You remind me of someone I used to date") were least effective in generating attraction, whereas direct (e.g., "I'm a little embarrassed about this, but I'd really like to meet you") or innocuous lines (e.g. "What do you think of the music?") were more successful. Such outcomes are consistent with research that indicated that women are attracted to dominant men only when the men are also agreeable and nice ( Jensen-Campbell, Graziano, and West 1995). Extremely dominant behavior, without kindness and gentleness, can be intimidating rather than attractive to women.

Physical attractiveness has a tremendous influence on first encounters, perhaps because it appears to convey a great deal of information about the person. The Multiple Fitness model of physical attractiveness, advanced by Cunningham and his colleagues (1995), suggests that five categories of features influence social perception and attraction. Babyish features, such as large eyes, a small nose, smooth skin, and light coloration suggest youthful openness. By contrast, sexual maturity features suggest strength, dominance, and fitness to perform sex-role tasks. Such maturity features include high cheekbones, narrow cheeks, prominent breasts, and a 0.70 ratio of waist to hips in women, and a wide chin, thick eyebrows, evidence of facial hair, a prominent chest, and a 1.0 ratio of waist to hips in men. Sexual maturity features that are asymmetrical, or that deviate substantially from the population average, may indicate low biological fitness. However, biological qualities, such as youthfulness, fertility, or virility, are not the only determinants of physical attractiveness. Expressive features, such as highly set eyebrows and a large smile, are attractive by conveying friendliness and supportiveness.

A combination of exceptional features, including ideal babyish, sexually mature, and expressive characteristics, were seen as attractive by whites, blacks, Asians, and Hispanics. By contrast, the desirability of grooming features tends to be seen differently across cultures. Grooming features, such as body weight, hairstyle, cosmetics, and tattoos, may be attractive in themselves, or may accentuate other attractive qualities. In addition, some grooming features may reflect a learned desire for status symbols or novelty, whereas other grooming features may reflect adaptations to the local ecology. Analyses of sixty-two cultures indicated that preferences for slenderness, for example, were associated with a reliable food supply and greater female social power (Anderson et al. 1992). Finally, senescence features, such as gray hair or baldness, reduced romantic attractiveness, but increased perceived social maturity, wisdom, and attractiveness as a mentor.

Early research observed that favoritism to the physically attractive extended beyond romantic dating to teacher evaluations, friendship choices, employment decisions, and jury verdicts. Subsequent research indicated that different dimensions of physical attractiveness may be responsible for such preferences. Individuals who frequently smile may make better friends than their gloomy counterparts (Harker and Keltner 2001).

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsAttraction - Situational Factors In Attraction, Target Factors In Attraction, Perceiver Factors In Attraction