The Psychology behind Attractiveness

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“I love how she’s so charismatic!” 

“He’s so funny, I think I’m in love with him!” 

Ever heard such sentiments being tossed around? Considering how it’s Valentine’s Day, I’m sure you’ve probably witnessed or experienced the above online or offline. In fact, you might be the one saying the above. No shade to you at all—it’s important to express our love and appreciation for our partner! Especially since it’s the day, it’s all the more salient to emphasise how attractive we view our partners to be. However, what constitutes attractiveness? And for anyone (not just singles) out there wondering how one could amp up their (interpersonal) attractiveness, this article’s for you. 

What does attraction even mean?

Based on the APA Dictionary of Psychology, interpersonal attractiveness refers to the interest in and liking of one individual by another, or the mutual interest and liking between two or more individuals.

Despite the general misconception that interpersonal attraction leads to merely romantic relationships, social psychologists have found that it, too, could spur the development of platonic relationships.

Without further ado, let’s dive into the 4 factors that contribute to interpersonal attraction, according to social psychologists! 

Physical Attractiveness 

It is undeniable that there is a consensus about what we deem attractive in terms of facial looks. Think large eyes, small noses, and small chins for females. Think large eyes, prominent cheekbones and a large chin for males. And of course, let’s not forget how visually appealing a symmetrical face is for both genders. These features are said to be universally and cross-culturally attractive.

Physical attractiveness increases attraction due to the what-is-beautiful-is-good stereotype. More commonly known as the halo effect, we often believe that physically attractive individuals possess desirable personality characteristics. We associate positive qualities such as being warm, sociable and mature with physically attractive individuals. This, therefore, causes us to be lured to them. 

However, fret not if you feel that you aren’t ‘attractive’ by conventional standards! Research has shown that smiling significantly boosts one’s interpersonal attractiveness. This is because smiling creates the social perception of an individual’s physical and personality traits. It has been said that positive qualities such as intelligence, warmth and trustworthiness are associated with smiles. These qualities induce warm and fuzzy feelings in us, thereby boosting interpersonal attractiveness. 


Propinquity refers to the physical or psychological proximity between people. I’m sure we all know what physical proximity refers to, but what about psychological proximity? Psychological proximity could mean a kinship between people, or a similarity in nature between things. 

Such proximity sees us interacting and meeting the same group of people consistently. The constant exposure results in us evaluating these people more positively because we are increasingly more familiar with them. This is especially so because familiarity breeds liking. Social psychologists term this as the mere exposure effect

Now, you might be wondering to yourself: it’s so challenging trying to constantly strike up a conversation with that special someone… It’s probably game over for me. Well, I’ve got good news for you! An interesting fact about the mere exposure effect is that no interaction is needed at all. The mere act of repeatedly seeing someone suffices! However, if you’d like to get to know someone better, I’d suggest you strike up a conversation with them. After all, you can’t form relationships without interaction. 


I’m sure that this isn’t a surprise given how the phrase ‘birds of the same type flock together’ isn’t foreign to us. Based on research, we tend to favour people who are similar to us in terms of personality, opinions, interests and appearance. This is because similarity suggests that we are right. Consequently, this makes us less vulnerable, which is something we, as humans, inherently strive for. Conversely, when someone is different from us, we tend to assume they possess negative characteristics. 

Similarity plays a huge role in interpersonal attraction. Take interests and experience for example. The situations we choose to be in are often populated by people who have chosen them for similar reasons. From thereon, such shared experiences and new similarities can be created and discovered. This further fuels relationships and interpersonal attraction. 

As for genetics and appearance, research has shown that we’re drawn to those who look like us, or have similar genetic constitutions as us. This explains why most of our friends or partners have more similar DNA to us as compared to strangers. 


Social psychologists have discovered that we tend to like people who fancy us in return. Attraction tends to be easier because of how we perceive such situations to be. In such scenarios, we believe that the time spent with such people would pay off as it seems to be easier to create a long-lasting, high-quality relationship. Less time and resources are wasted when trying to learn more about a person given how we’re clear of their intentions. The high rewards we stand to gain incentivise us to be attracted to that particular person. 

Reciprocity has proven to be a powerful factor compared to the factors above—It’s been said to be able to neutralise our basic tendency to pay more attention to attractive faces. Well, I guess you now know which factor to prioritise if you’d like to up your interpersonal attraction game! 

Closing Thoughts

Despite the aforementioned factors, I believe that being yourself lies at the core of being an attractive person.

Sure, having all of these factors can help boost your interpersonal attractiveness. However, beyond them, I believe that being at ease with yourself and possessing confidence plays a role too. After all, who wouldn’t be attracted to a charismatic and self-assured person? Sending you, my reader, much love and confidence this Valentine’s Day! 

*Concepts were derived from Social Psychology, Global Edition, 10th edition by Elliot Aronson, Timothy D. Wilson, Samuel R. Sommers