People Who Say Looks Don’t Matter May Not Behave that Way

Researchers from Northwestern University and Texas A&M measured whether a participant’s implied preferences actually predicted how much they preferred attractive individuals. The study focused on physical attractiveness and the results were based on reaction time people had to various words flashed at them in the middle of a computer screen. The task of the people involved in the study was to quickly sort synonyms of “physical attractiveness” with some other words they seemed to like such as tequila, motorcycles or romance novels.

According to researchers the people who performed well on these tasks seemed to have strong inherent preference for physical attractiveness. In many of the cases a person’s consciously stated attitudes and preferences were a good predictor when it came to their behavior. When it came to attraction it seemed that a person’s unspoken and unconscious preferences seem to indicate their behavior even better.

There have been a number of psychological studies over the years that have shown a disconnect between stated preferences for partners and actual choices. In these studies what people consciously reported as to what appealed to them in a partner was recorded. In this latest study the implicit measure developed was able to predict just how much participants liked physically attractive potential partners. These findings may be a major advance in demonstrating that preference for a single characteristic may predict how much this characteristic inspires a romantic interest.

In a January 7, 2012 Press Release from Northwestern University, Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and co-author of the study is quoted as saying “People will readily tell you what they value in a romantic partner, but study after study shows that those preferences don’t predict whom daters are actually attracted to when they meet flesh-and-blood partners. Now we can get under the hood with this quirky methodology to see what people actually prefer in live-interaction settings.”


January 7, 2012 Press Release from Medical News Today

Study: Implicit and Explicit Preferences for Physical Attractiveness in a Romantic Partner: A Double Dissociation in Predictive Validity, from Northwestern University

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