For human beings, there are few things more compelling than physical attraction.
Cal Poly is regularly deemed an attractive campus, which creates a unique set of pressures on its student population.
“Cal Poly has had that reputation for decades,” psychology professor Laura Freberg said. “Even in the ’80s, when I started working here, there were ‘Poly Dollys.’ That reputation has built upon itself.”
“It’s much more affluent than it used to be, which is probably a result of the recession — a lot more wealthy families are choosing to send their kids to less expensive universities like Cal Poly,” she said.
For both men and women, one of the main factors in choosing a partner is physical attractiveness. Though this isn’t necessarily defined the same way among all people, there are certain consistencies and a general set of biological rules that determine what we find to be physically attractive.
The first rule is facial symmetry.
“Symmetry is a reflection of genetic health; you can almost anticipate somebody’s genetic health based on their objective symmetry,” Freberg said. “We’re not alone as a species. When you look at attractiveness to animals, they’re also tuned in on that symmetry. It’s just something we like to look at.”
Also pivotal in the science behind physical attraction is smell, which comes from the immune system.
“People find body odors similar to their own repulsive and body odors that are distinct from their own attractive,” Freberg said.
This likely discouraged inbreeding throughout human evolution, Freberg said, as odor could prevent you from partnering with someone too genetically similar.
Attraction is not all biological — some of it is cognitive.
“Usually what offsets physical attractiveness is economic stability, and that’s cross-cultural,” Freberg said.
Globally, females tend to be more attentive to their partners’ economic stability. Intellect and humor are also cognitive driving forces of attraction.
“There has always been a differential gender issue of intellect,” Freberg said. “Anything men can do to make themselves look more intelligent is a big plus. One of the types of behavior that falls into that is the use of humor. Humor is something that males specifically do when they’re trying to impress females.”
Men typically make use of more elaborate vocabulary when trying to impress women through conversational humor.
How we rank our own physical attractiveness also helps determine who we pair with.
“In our heads, we have a sense that we can put ourselves somewhere on a scale of one to 10, and people seem to know that they match up with others accordingly to that scale,” Freberg said.
Physical attraction aside, the binding element in partner bonding lies in what we know as chemistry, which is immediately noticed, though difficult to define and understand.
“One of the lessons I wish people all knew is that you can’t make somebody like you,” Freeberg said. “If you don’t have that immediate chemistry, it’s kind of a deal-breaker.”