Science of Attraction
Flushed face, racing heartbeat, shaking hands and dilated pupils may sound like a sickness needing an antibiotic, but in this case, there’s no such cure for the symptoms of attraction, except your crush paying attention to you.
“At the beginning, you just notice it,” junior psychology major Ana Kellermann said, “Your body starts acting different. You may be flustered or nervous around the person. Then you go through the mental process of realizing, ‘oh!’”
Whether you’re swiping right or crushing on that one person in chem class, attraction is something everyone experiences. But have you ever wondered why? According to experts, attraction is more than blushing and stuttering in front of your crush - there is a science to attraction, and it’s all about getting close, whether it’s emotional intimacy or on a molecular level.
Katherine Wu, a researcher at Harvard University, states attraction starts in the brain - ironic, since it seems like we lose our minds when we see someone cute. Our hypothalamus (a part of the forebrain which also controls when you’re hungry, thirsty and how you sleep) releases “feel-good” hormones like dopamine and norepinephrine into the bloodstream. These chemicals are the reason we get the giddy “high,” racing heartbeats and tell-tale blushes.
“I become a little bit more nervous than usual [when I’m attracted to someone],” Kellerman said. Dopamine and norepinephrine are responsible for this too - they activate a ‘fight-or-flight’ response in your body, making you want to hide under rock or turn the flirt dial up to 10.
Ever felt like you’re so in love it’s hard to eat or sleep? Wu has found attraction can lead to decreased appetite and insomnia. Another chemical, serotonin, also called the “sex” hormone, can be blamed for the infatuation you have with your crush when you can’t stop refreshing their social media.
When you’re attracted to someone, your brain begins to produce less serotonin. This is a trait shared with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. It has lead researchers to believe the decrease in serotonin is why you have that pesky obsession and infatuation with your crush.
Attraction is more than chemicals and hormones; if it wasn’t, it’d be far easier to find someone you have chemistry with.
“We’re talking about fundamental, evolutionary, human prime-directive survival issues,” Dr. Mark Mormon, a visiting professor from Baylor University, said. Mormon spoke to a mass communication class about interpersonal attraction - what it is, why we have it and what use it plays in our lives. According to Mormon, attraction allows us to thrive.
“We’re hardwired to be attracted to each other … to need each other … to want to be in relationships with one another,” Mormon said, “It’s in our DNA.”
Mormon said attraction ensures the human race’s survival. His theory says we must have an affinity for one another - not only to mate and reproduce, but also to provide protection, extra resources and companionship.
Attraction isn’t always about the person you find cute; it’s also about attachment. This could be friends, family or finally getting out of the honeymoon phase with your partner. Oxytocin, the ‘love-drug’, is released during bonding activities, such as sex and breastfeeding. These are both wildly different, but they both revolve around bonding with the other person - whether it’s your babe or baby.
Attraction among friends and family is more about affinity (the general “do I like you?”) more than anything. Mormon said friendships are important in the evolutionary sense. For modern society to stay together, it must have “cohesion,” which is based entirely around the concept of attraction.
But what makes a person attractive, romantically or not?
“I think at the beginning it may be physical, but once you get over the physical...it can become more about whether you get along or not, whether you have characteristics in common, do you complement each other, do you contrast and stuff like that,” Kellerman said.
Scientifically, attraction depends on how close the person is to you, how much time you spend with them and the fear of dying alone - morbid, but true.
Other things make people attractive, too - skills, physical features and personality traits, to name a few.
“We’re [attracted to] mystery,” Mormon said, “‘I wonder what this person looks like? I wonder what this person is really like?”
Mystery solved: the more positive personality traits a person has, the more attractive they are.
“I think [the most attractive thing is] if they have a good heart,” Kellerman said.
Attraction is a wacky science. It teaches us the biology of feelings, but also has found we can judge how attractive a person is by smelling their dirty t-shirts.
We can look at social trends and what studies say, but it comes down to this - people have their own preferences. Our brains may work the same, and we may have a evolutionary drive to be attracted to people, but at the end of the day, we each have our own type. Whether your type is guy, girl, neither, all, tall, short or the half-price chocolate the day after Valentine’s day - containing phenylethylamine, a chemical simulating the feeling of love - know that your attraction is uniquely yours.