Psychology in dating

Social Psychology

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Interpersonal attraction refers to positive feelings about another person. It can take many forms, including liking, love, friendship, lust, and admiration.

Many factors influence whom people are attracted to. They include physical attractiveness, proximity, similarity, and reciprocity:

  • Physical attractiveness: Research shows that romantic attraction is primarily determined by physical attractiveness. In the early stages of dating, people are more attracted to partners whom they consider to be physically attractive. Men are more likely to value physical attractiveness than are women.
  1. People’s perception of their own physical attractiveness also plays a role in romantic love. The matching hypothesis proposes that people tend to pick partners who are about equal in level of attractiveness to themselves.
  • Proximity: People are more likely to become friends with people who are geographically close. One explanation for this is the mere exposure effect. The mere exposure effect refers to people’s tendency to like novel stimuli more if they encounter them repeatedly.
  • Similarity: People also tend to pick partners who are similar to themselves in characteristics such as age, race, religion, social class, personality, education, intelligence, and attitude.
  1. This similarity is seen not only between romantic partners but also between friends. Some researchers have suggested that similarity causes attraction. Others acknowledge that people may be more likely to have friends and partners who are similar to themselves simply because of accessibility: people are more likely to associate with people who are similar to themselves.
  • Reciprocity: People tend to like others who reciprocate their liking.

Many researchers focus on one particular form of attraction: romantic love.

Researchers have proposed that romantic love includes two kinds of love: passionate love and compassionate love. These two kinds of love may occur together, but they do not always go hand in hand in a relationship:

  • Passionate love: Involves absorption in another person, sexual desire, tenderness, and intense emotion.
  • Compassionate love: Involves warmth, trust, and tolerance of another person. Compassionate love is sometimes considered to have two components: intimacy and commitment. Intimacy is the warm, close, sharing aspect of a relationship. Commitment is the intent to continue the relationship even in the face of difficulties. Researchers believe commitment is a good predictor of the stability of a relationship.

Some researchers study the influence of childhood attachment styles on adult relationships. Many researchers believe that as adults, people relate to their partners in the same way that they related to their caretakers in infancy. (See Chapter 4 for more information on attachment styles.)

There are both similarities and differences among cultures in romantic attraction. Researchers have found that people in many different cultures place a high value on mutual attraction between partners and the kindness, intelligence, emotional stability, dependability, and good health of partners.

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Discover The Psychology Of Attraction

Is physical attraction a science or simply something we have to work at?

Ever wondered how and why you become attracted to someone or how to know if they're feeling the same way? And, for those of you with long-term lovers: How can you get back those first feelings of tingly chemistry? Beverly Palmer, Ph.D. and professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, whose area of expertise includes the science behind attraction, love, sexuality and flirting, answers these questions and more. Read on, as she reveals the number-one sign of passion and five ways to rekindle it once it fades.

Greatest Sign of Passion

"The most important sign of attraction is mutual eye contact," says Palmer, who is also a spokesperson for the American Psychological Association. "This is a brief glance, initially. It is not a stare, because staring is hostile." If a woman glances at a guy and he notices, he'll probably glance back. In turn, the woman will probably look again, and if he's interested, he'll look again. This repeated volleying of eye contact is an indication of mutual interest and can lead to more body signals.

"When people's fear is increased, they tend to have the same hormones activated as the ones that are activated in sexual attractions. And you can interpret that reaction as, 'Oh, I feel closer to this person I'm with in this fearful situation,'" Palmer explains. Whether you're on a rollercoaster ride or watching a scary movie, being frightened can give you that rush that can cause you to grab for the person you're with.

The actual environment that you're in can affect your level of attraction, no matter what relationship stage you're in, says Palmer. "You can manipulate the situation to make the attraction stronger." For instance, when comparing dilated pupils to contracted pupils, people find the first—or wider pupils —to be a sign of interest and attraction. A candlelit setting or sitting by the fireplace—traditional romantic staples—can have this affect on eyes, says Palmer.

Not to fear if you're past the two-and-a-half year mark when passion may begin to fade—there is a way to recall those initial moments of stolen glances and tingling hand-holding. You have to remember to tune in to those sensual elements of touch, taste, sight, sound and smell. "A lot of times we just tune out—because we're so focused on our anxieties, stresses, thoughts—that we don't tune in."

1. If You Hate His/Her Voice (Body Odor, Taste, Etc.):

He may have made you swoon and get weak at the knees at one point, but by now you’ve seen him at his best and his worst – and those not-so-appealing characteristics and habits you may have once overlooked may be grating on your last nerve. “Try to make those features that you are attracted to outweigh those that you’re not attracted to,” suggests Palmer. “When characteristics you overlooked initially come out more and more, there are such a wide range of sensual characteristics that you can focus on that you can be attracted to those.” Focus your attention on them instead.

Those feelings of initial attraction and chemistry can remain in long-term relationships and marriages, but they may not always be at the forefront. The reason, Palmer explains, is that because when emotional intimacy comes into play, people realize that commitment and understanding usually trump physical attraction. However, says Palmer, when there's any indication that one partner's level of attraction, emotional connection or commitment is waning or has disappeared, it sends a message to the other: "My partner is not as attracted to me as she or he used to be. Uh-oh the attraction is gone."

What people are really looking for in a long-term partner—not consciously—is someone they feel will complete them or fulfill unmet needs, says Palmer. "If you feel that you're not good at making initial social contacts, you'll be attracted to someone who you feel is very socially skilled." Or, if you have unfinished business with a parent, ex or other person from your past—maybe you never felt like you earned their approval—you then become unconsciously attracted to a person that will set up that dynamic with you, so you can earn the approval that you never felt. "That's why people could appear to have 'types' if the person is similar to the person they dated before."

Honest and homely, helpful with a radio face? If you think you're destined to a life of soul-searching singledom, results from a 2007 study on attractiveness and personality published in "Personal Relationships" may give you hope. Psychology researchers found that people who have positive personalities were rated as more attractive than average, and conversely those whose personality traits were judged to be negative—such as unfair or rude—were less appealing physically.

With the number of colognes, perfumes (thank you Britney and P. Diddy), deodorants and body lotions available on the market, you would think fragrance was the number one determinant of sex appeal and relationship success. Maybe, but probably not, says science. Pheromones, chemicals that travel through the olfactory system to the brain, can trigger either a biological or behavioral response, and may account for changes in libido. But this does not necessarily provide an explanation as to why you find one person more appealing than another. "There is some research that says pheromones could play a part in attraction, but it's more complex than that. It's usually sight," that triggers attraction, says Palmer. And often, people are attracted to the stereotypical standards of beauty, she says.

Around the same time that preening behaviors are occurring, mirrored actions may appear between a pair, reaffirming mutual attraction. "If one crosses his legs, the other will cross her legs. It is an additional body language that says 'I'm interested in you,'" according to Palmer. At this point, both players become aware of their behavior and ask, "Should we go to the next level?"

After initial eye contact, if two people are attracted to each other, one or both people will engage in "preening" behaviors—they will touch a part of their body that accentuates what they think is particularly sexually attractive, says Palmer. A woman might throw back her shoulders, lick her lips or touch her legs. A man may straighten his tie, stand with his hips jutted forward or put his fingers through his belt loops. "These kinds of initial, nonverbal gestures occur at a less than conscious level, not in a manipulated or conscious way." Preening behaviors, however, are noticeable to the person on the observing end. Witnessing these behaviors could be an indication that this person is attracted to you. You may also become aware of the attractive physical features that they are "preening."

From the first stage of relationships—passion—there is a progression towards what relationship experts consider the second and third levels of being a couple—emotional intimacy and commitment. "That passionate part really only lasts a maximum of two and a half years, if people are in continuous contact," says Palmer. This stage relies heavily on nonverbal attraction. Emotional intimacy can develop very early on, but that's "what can grow and keep partners attracted to each other."

Even if you feel like you've passed the engagement stage, "being in a honeymoon setting will further the chances that you'll be sensually connected to each other," says Palmer. Participating in outdoor physical exercises together is another way to get closer and help you tune in to your senses, which in turn will help you tune in to your partner's senses and begin exploring sensuality together.

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