Attraction: to certain individuals? #psychology

What About Attraction

I often wonder why we are attracted to others around us and for what potential reasons attraction takes place.  I find there are many different aspects that could be considered. Within this essay I will try highlight what I feel are important factors.  I will begin by looking at the need to belong within society, the physical appearance of a person, the body language and possible culture as well as the person’s experience temporarily changing their traits.

According to Cherry (2013), humans have a ‘need to belong’, to be socially accepted and thus drives us to seek out meaningful, long-lasting and rewarding relationships.  Having social relations with another person(s) helps to keep us healthy and allows us to steer clear of ‘loneliness, depression and anxiety’ (Cherry, 2013).

Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow

The psychologist Abraham Maslow introduced a theory called, ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ in 1943.  He referred to humans having a set ‘hierarchy of needs’ and split them into two categories: ‘deficiency and growth needs’.  Deficiency needs must be met before a person can consider achieving a higher level of existence (Growth needs).  Deficiency needs contained a ‘love and belongingness’ stage, which involved ‘acceptance, friendship, intimacy and relationships’ (Atkinson et al, 2012 p.232-233).  According to Pinker (1999 p.479), these needs existed way back in ancestral times.  Part of the deficiency needs is ‘physiological’ (Cherry, 2013), and ancestral women would search for a mate that could provide for them and their future dependants by means of food and shelter.  The females would demand a reward (‘steak dinner’) in order for the male to have relations with them (Pinker, 1999 p.479).

With humans having this need to belong, we must therefore consider what it is that attracts us to another person if this deficiency is to be rectified.  According to Collins Concise Dictionary (2001), attract means ‘to exert a pleasing or fascinating influence’ and attractive means ‘appealing to the senses or mind through beauty, form and character’.  When considering the semantics of these definitions, a person could assume ‘beauty’ to mean ones physical appearance, ‘form’ to mean behaviours and ‘character’ to mean personality.

Physical Appearance
Physical Appearance

Physical appearance is of the utmost importance when considering a person to be attractive according to Pinker (1999 p.479-491).  When we first meet someone, their physical appearance is the only we truly know about them (Hogg, 2005 p.46), although, in modern society we would like to believe we are far too sophisticated to be ‘swayed’ by mere physical appearance.  The most common ‘appearance-based judgement’ is of whether or not the person is deemed attractive physically.  Hogg (2005 p.46) states that research implies humans tend to assume physically attractive people as ‘good’, exciting, extrovert and socially accomplished.  Physical appearance can involve aspects such as; clothing, hair colour and body size.  Beauty could therefore be deemed as a matter of fashion, yet we all might be familiar with the old saying, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’, which implies that fashion (physical appearance) is not the be-all and end-all (Hogg, 2005 p.497).

South Africa - Neck Rings
Portrait of a woman from the Ndebele tribe in Kwadlaulale Market, South Africa. 1/Jan/1985. UN Photo/P.

According to Pinker (1999 p.483), natives in National Geographic ‘file their teeth’, using rings around their necks to stretch them, burn themselves to scar their faces and use plates to enlarge their lips, yet those natives still gain partners, have relations and bear children.  This suggests that culture can have an effect on whether or not someone is deemed attractive.  Proximity in terms of familiarity can enhance the liking of a person because as we are more commonly surrounded by a stimulus, we tend to become more comfortable with it and increase our liking (Hogg, 2005 p.500 & Gross, 2005 p.478-479).  However, it is important to recognise that ‘liking’ often follows the ‘Reciprocity Principle’, that is, people tend to take a liking to someone who in return likes them back (Hogg, 2005 p.500-501).

Body Language
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in a bilateral meeting during the G20 Summit, Monday, June 18, 2012, in Los Cabos, Mexico. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Body language can play an important factor as to whether a liking is formed between two people.  Navarro (2008 p.130-131) states that body language can play an important role in forming a liking to a person.  Referring back to the culture prospective, in Latin America, the abrazo (a brief hug) is seemed as part of the male culture and most men understand the hug to signify a demonstration of ‘I mean no harm’.  It can be construed as an action that states, ‘I like you’ but if you are not familiar (proximity theory) with this custom and you become reluctant to perform this action, you can cause insult to the other person and therefore, increase the chances of them disliking you (Navarro, 2008 p.130-131).  According to Hogg (2005 p.509-210), this process is called the ‘Balance Theory’.  The idea being that a person will be likable if they are similar to the other person and having a disagreement (cultural rituals for instance) could create tensions and due to there being no previous liking to one another (strangers), in order to maintain a healthy balance those two people tend not to like each other (Hogg, 2005 p509-510).

Friends TV Series
Friends TV Series

According to Hogg (2005 p.533), literature, film and TV play a vital role in educating society with regards to how relationships are formed by use of such titles as, Sex in the City, Friends, When Harry met Sally, and Steel Magnolias.  These titles show excellent explorations of the complexities of friendships, attraction, sexual and love relationships, and this leads us to believe that the media has an influence on how we perceive our world and the people around us (Hogg, 2005 p.533).

However, Korem (2009 p.139) states that one of his top seven reasons for misreading a person is due to a ‘Life-changing experience’.  The person who is being read has been influenced by social conditions (possibly negative), which means what you see is not the true personality of the person but a mere reaction to a certain life event.  This can cause a person to operate in a manner inconsistent with their natural traits for a temporary period but in some cases this can cause a permanent change to that person’s personality make-up (Korem, 2009 p.139).

In conclusion, it is clear that we all see the world through our own set of psychological binoculars and each person we meet will appear different to us than to someone else.  Our life experiences and culture (among other aspects) can dictate to us what we are looking for in a person and what we are willing to accept as a good or bad trait in order to form a liking.  It would appear that a person’s physical appearance is still a key factor in liking someone, so for those that invest in modern cosmetics or are fashion trendy or just display a smile could be making a real investment in their future relationships.


Atkinson, S., & S. Tomley (Ed). (2012) The Psychology Book. London: Darling Kindersley Limited.

Cherry, K. (2013) Hierarchy of needs. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 June 2016]

Cherry, K. (2013) What is the need to belong? [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 June 2016]

Collins Concise Dictionary. (2001) 21st Century Edition. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers.

Gross, R. (2005) Psychology – The science of mind and behaviour – Fifth Edition. London: Hodder Education.

Hogg, M., & G. Vaughan. (2005) Social Psychology – Fourth Edition. Essex: Pearson Education Limited.

Korem, D. (2009) The Art of Profiling – Reading people right the first time. Texas: International Focus Press.

Navarro, J. (2008) What Every ‘Body’ is Saying. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Pinker, S. (1999) How the Mind Works. London: Penguin Books.

Further Reading:

Atkinson, R,. R, Atkinson,. & E, Hilgard. (1983) Introduction to Psychology – Eight Edition. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Inc.

Bilton, T,. Bonnet, K., Jones, P., Lawson, T., Skinner, D., Stanworth, M., & A, Webster. (2002) Introductory Sociology – 4th Edition. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cardwell, M., L, Clark., & C, Meldrum. (2003) Psychology for AS-level – Third Edition. London: HarperCollins Publishers.

Fink, A. (2008) Relationship Basics… What drives us and what doesn’t. [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 18 June 2016]

Fiske, S., & S, Taylor. (1991) Social Cognition – Second Edition. Singapore: McGraw-Hill.

Haynes, N. (2011) Psychology made simple. London: Hodder Education.

Jaffe, E. (2012) What do men really want? [Online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 June 2016]

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