12 biological factors that make you attracted to someone
Attraction is notoriously difficult to understand.
It can come down to a mixture of biological, psychological, and experience-based factors.
Here are some of the most common reasons people are biologically drawn to each other.
Attraction is impossible to understand. Sometimes there's no telling what brings you close to one person over another, or what it was that made you realize you can't stop thinking about them.
No two people are going to agree on what's attractive and what isn't.
Lisa Lawless, a clinical psychotherapist and sex educator, told Insider attraction is multifaceted and "includes visual cues, scent, hormones, genetics, and evolutionary factors."
"It's crucial to acknowledge that physical appearance constitutes merely one aspect of a person and doesn't define their essence or worth as a human being nor define how attractive they are to others," she said.
Jacqueline Fae, a dating coach and the founder of IDL Match Club, told Insider all five senses factor into a couple's compatibility too. "You need all of them to have like the ultimate attraction," she said.
Here are some of the ways people are biologically drawn to each other.
A study in 2018 found women with certain scents are more attractive to men. It turns out they were most appealing when they had high estrogen and low progesterone levels. This balance of hormones indicates high female fertility, the researchers explained, so it makes sense that men would find women more attractive while they are at this stage.
Fae told Insider scents can also take people back to a familiar time, such as the body spray their first boyfriend used to wear. It may even be related to something that isn't romantic at all, like the smell of gasoline, because it reminds them of feeling comfortable hanging out with their dad at a garage.
"It's really weird things that will attract people to someone, based on scent," Fae said.
People transfer about 80 million bacteria when they kiss each other, and yet they keep doing it. Not only does kissing stimulate the release of oxytocin, but the taste of another person also helps with biological attraction.
"Humans don't have strong olfactory skills and kissing allows you to smell and taste a person and see if you have different immune responses as we tend to feel more attracted to someone with a different immune response," Sarah Johns, an expert in human reproduction and evolutionary psychology at the University of Kent, told The Independent.
According to Fae, it can be much simpler than that, though.
"Have you ever dated somebody with bad breath?" she said. "You kiss them and you're like, ugh, that was terrible. I never wanna do that again."
What you eat could also have an impact on how attractive you are. A small study from 2017 found that women were more attracted to sweaty men who ate diets high in produce than men who had more refined carbs like pasta and bread. Essentially, the researchers concluded, when we eat healthy, we might smell healthy too.
Being fertile doesn't just make you smell attractive, but it can affect how you look too. One study from a few years ago found that men would rate women's faces and voices as more attractive when they were at the most fertile phase of their cycle.
However, a study in a speed-dating setting from 2021 found that women closer to ovulating were actually no more attractive to men. They were more likely to ask the men out on a date, though.
Some research has suggested our hormonal balance might impact who we desire. For instance, men with high levels of testosterone may be more attracted to women with more feminine faces, meaning big eyes, high eyebrows, and a smaller jaw. But higher levels of testosterone may not make men seem any better-looking.
While testosterone and estrogen are characterised as male and female respectively, they both play a role in men and women. Testosterone, for instance, increases libido in pretty much everyone.
6. More hormones
Love is connected with several hormones that make us feel warm and fuzzy. Dopamine is the reward hormone that is released when we do something that makes you feel good, such as spending time with loved ones and having sex.
Attraction is also associated with higher levels of serotonin, the happy hormone. And physical contact — hugging as well as sexual contact — has been shown to increase oxytocin, the love hormone. So it makes sense that spending more time with someone, enjoying their company, and touching them more would make you feel more attracted to them.
If someone is kind, it can make them seem more attractive, and can also make them more likable. A study showed that putting positive character traits against someone's photo meant people rated them as better looking.
Altruistic behaviour is also attractive, possibly because it was one of the qualities our ancestors favored in a mate.
"It would have been important for our ancestors to choose mates both willing and able to be good, long-term parents," Tim Phillips, a psychiatrist at the University of Nottingham, told The Independent. "Displays of altruism could well have provided accurate clues to this, and so led to a link between human altruism and sexual selection."
One study found that women prefer men with low voices, especially just before they start ovulating. There could be something inherently biological in this, as deeper voices have been linked to producing healthier children, and in the wild, lower pitch is associated with being bigger.
According to another study, people who reported being more sexually experienced and sexually active were rated to have more attractive voices by strangers.
It can also go the other way. Fae told Insider she has had clients who have been put off their match because of how they sound, despite being physically attracted to them initially.
9. Being similar
Research points to us being attracted to people who are similar to us — both physically and in personality. For example, research from St Andrews University in Scotland showed we are attracted to the features that our parents had when we were born, such as eye color. This could be because we see them as our first caregiver, and associate positive feelings with their features.
Research published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spouses tend to be more genetically similar than two individuals chosen at random. And an article published in Psychological Science found that if someone looks similar to ourselves, we are more likely to trust them.
10. Being different
But sometimes, opposites do attract. For instance, if you've lived a sheltered life, you might gravitate towards people who have had extremely different experiences.
Fae said often her clients who are fair-skinned with blonde hair and blue eyes will prefer a partner who has darker skin and features, and vice versa.
There may be some biological basis to opposites attracting, too. When it comes to reproduction, a bit of variety works in your favour. For instance, the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a part of the immune system that helps cells recognize foreign molecules.
When your MHC is vastly different from your mate's, this decreases the danger of mating with someone you're related to, and increases the genetic variability of any offspring you have — meaning they're more likely to be healthier with a better immune system.
As people mature, they tend to learn more about themselves. This can work in your favour when looking for a partner, because you're more likely to know what you want and what's important to you.
"If you're looking at people when they're younger and dating, they might be attracted to the entire external package and not so concerned with the internal package, meaning somebody's values or their ideas, or the way they treat other people," counselor Michele Kerulis told Elite Daily. "When you start maturing, I think people look more at the overall picture and not just the way somebody looks or that initial sexual attraction."
12. Facial traits
There are certain facial characteristics that are proven to be attractive much of the time. Sometimes it's facial symmetry, but other times it's a crooked smile or unique beauty spot that makes someone stand out. Averageness and simple faces are often considered most attractive, possibly because standard faces represent a more diverse set of genes.
On the other hand, familiar faces tend to be most attractive, because people may be influenced more by their personal experiences in life than anything else.
Overall it's unlikely to be just one thing.
Attraction is an incredibly complicated thing, and science probably won't be able to determine all the reasons you find someone attractive, or vice versa. Often, what's most important is your compatibility, and you're unlikely to be able to quantify that. But there are a few questions you can ask yourself before settling down.
Lawless told Insider one person doesn't determine another's overall value or attractiveness in any way — it's all subjective.
"There are numerous factors to consider, and it's unwise to rely solely on physical appearance as an indicator of someone's worth," she said. "Interestingly, sometimes people find others more attractive as they get to know them better, and this can also happen in reverse."
This article was first published in October 2018 and was updated in February 2023 to include more experts and new information.
Read the original article on Insider