It’s kind of an odd question for people in our fields because we’re so trained to ask ourselves these questions about ourselves, like: what am I doing now that makes me more attractive to other women? What’s going on in my head that makes me more attractive to another woman? And so I think people in neuroscience are a little less familiar with the kinds of questions that we might consider in the psychology of attraction because we use a lot of the language that you find in evolutionary anthropology, where we’re trying to figure out what would make you more likely to survive in the environment, like what kind of food would work best for you to maintain you for long periods of time? So that would be a lot of research for psychologists. And then when it comes to psychology of attraction, we tend to think about this as an abstract concept and we don’t really ask a lot of questions about how it might be applied in the real world. As much as possible we avoid that.
And then you also have to remember when you’re working with people, especially under a deadline, they’re all trying to meet that deadline. If they know if they do that well they can get some more work done. So I think that’s kind of a barrier.
So one thing I would like to have seen in your book is that you had the opportunity to talk about the psychological mechanisms of the “beauty competition” phenomenon you describe; and what you found is surprisingly that we actually don’t know very much about this phenomenon at all, except what your research has shown. So do you know what it is that people perceive as attractive?
I think it’s a very important question. I think it’s certainly clear that there’s one big reason we can observe the beauty competition between men and women, especially after they get older, is because they’re trying to find a partner for reproduction. And we know because for a long time we were saying things like, “It’s really important for women that men be sexually attractive. If someone is sexually attractive to women, they like them.” And so we sort of assumed that the beauty competition mechanism was part of that. And then when we did a really interesting study that was like the largest, the first large study that I can recall looking at attractiveness, it showed that actually it’s not.
But we didn’t just do one study. It seems like there’s a whole collection of research that looks at what’s happening in the brain, what the mechanisms of the desire for physical affection are
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