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21 September 2007
Attractiveness: The Evolutionary Aftermath
by George Atkinson

Good-looking people capture our attention nearly instantaneously and render us temporarily helpless to turn our eyes away from them, a new study from Florida State University (FSU) has found. Interestingly, it's not just women that have this effect on heterosexual men, but also good-looking men. "It's like magnetism at the level of visual attention," said FSU's Jon Maner. His article about "attentional adhesion" appears in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Maner found that the study participants, all heterosexual men and women, fixated on highly attractive people within the first half-second of seeing them. Single folks ogled the opposite sex, of course, but those in committed relationships also checked people out, with one major difference: They were more interested in beautiful people of the same sex.

"If we're interested in finding a mate, our attention gets quickly and automatically stuck on attractive members of the opposite sex," Maner explained. "If we're jealous and worried about our partner cheating on us, attention gets quickly and automatically stuck on attractive people of our own sex because they are our [potential] competitors."

Maner says that through biological evolution, our brains strongly and automatically latch on to signs of physical attractiveness in others in order to both find a mate and guard him or her from potential competitors. "These kinds of attentional biases can occur completely outside of our conscious awareness," he added.

And it seems that men aren't the only sex to ogle potential mates. Maner was surprised that his study showed little differences between the sexes when it came to fixating on eye-catching people. "Women paid just as much attention to men as men did to women," he said. "I was also surprised that jealous men paid so much attention to attractive men. Men tend to worry more about other men being more dominant, funny or charismatic than they are. But when it comes to concerns about infidelity, men are very attentive to highly attractive guys because presumably their wives or girlfriends may be too."

Biology or not, this phenomenon is fraught with potential romantic peril. For example, even some people in committed relationships had difficulty pulling their attention away from images of attractive people of the opposite sex. And fixating on images of perceived romantic rivals could contribute to feelings of insecurity.

According to Maner, modern technology has enhanced these pitfalls, and the old saying that "you're just too good to be true" may be the case when it comes to images in magazines or on the Internet. "It may be helpful to try to minimize our exposure to these images that have probably been 'doctored,'" Maner said. "We should pay attention to all of the regular-looking people out in the world so that we have an appropriate standard of physical beauty. This is important because too much attention to ultra-attractive people can damage self-esteem as well as satisfaction with a current romantic partner."

Related articles:
The Mating Dance: The Eyes Have It
The Conspicuous Penis: Crotch Watching
Glasses A Handicap For Picking Up The Opposite Sex
When Choosing A Husband, Size Matters

Source: Florida State University

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