Science is not something you’d usually associate with romance or seduction. It can be quite a boring subject that uses many strange and esoteric words that only scientists understand. However, thanks to the nerds in white lab coats, there are a number of awesome studies that provide some insight into the way men and women get together. I’d like to share two experiments that I’ve learned about which were conducted in the 1970s. One dealt with the self-fulfilling prophecy, the other experiment dealt with attraction in dangerous situations.
One of the most fascinating experiments was the ‘shaky bridge’ study by Dutton and Aron (1974). Men were randomly assigned to walk across either an extremely dangerous bridge, or a relatively safe bridge. At the end of the bridge was a very attractive female research assistant who got the men to fill in a questionnaire in which they had to describe pictures. She also gave them her phone number in case they had any difficulties and needed to ask questions. The men who crossed the dangerous bridge described the pictures as more erotic than the other men, and were more likely to call the experimenter after the experiment. This is known as misattribution of arousal, a fancy way of saying that we do not know what arouses us, in this case the anxiety of a dangerous situation makes us more attracted to the opposite sex.
Is attraction to the opposite sex explained by appearance? It is certainly a very important factor for men, another 1970’s experiment (Snyder, Tanke & Berscheid, 1977) casts some light on this. Male participants were given photographs of either an attractive female, or an unattractive female. The men were told to make a telephone call to who they thought was the female in the photograph, but in reality it was a randomly assigned woman. The men who thought they were talking to an attractive woman were rated by the woman as more friendly, flirtatious, warm and outgoing than the men who thought they were talking to an unattractive woman. The same can be said from the perspective of the men, they rated themselves as more interested and friendly when it came to the attractive woman. For those of you who thought the self-fulfilling prophecy was some new-age bullshit, think again, our expectations are often confirmed by our own behaviour.
I think these two studies are far from your boring typical science and actually have some practical insight into the real world. For one, attractive people raise preconceptions in our minds that they have fantastic personalities, and are all round great people, which might not be right, but we believe it. We treat attractive women better than unattractive women because we think they are better. That might be obvious to some, but less obvious is that we are more likely to see things in a sexual way under conditions of non-sexual arousal, such as being on a dangerous bridge. It doesn’t necessarily have to be dangerous bridges, it could be anything that evokes arousal: fights, accidents and fear, to name a few. I’m not advocating getting into fights, what I am saying is that high anxiety in the right situation can lead to sexual attraction without us even knowing it.
By Glen Clive[social_share]
Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual
attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 510-517.
Snyder, M., Tanke, E. D., & Berscheid, E. (1977). Social perception and interpersonal behavior: On the self-fulfilling nature of social stereotypes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35, 656-666.