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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Sunday, April 21, 2024
Science of Love

The science of love and sex appeal

SCIENCE

When we think of falling in love, we don't immediately think of science. But in reality, sex appeal, the rush of being in love, and even staying in a long-term relationship is heavily dictated by a combination of primal, genetic and chemical forces that draw us towards healthy partners.

What one finds sexy is not a matter of simple personal taste. Rather, we're hardwired to read genetic clues in a potential mate because we're programmed to provide our offspring the best chance of survival.

The second we meet someone, we make lightning-fast judgments about their face, body, voice and smell that determine whether we're attracted to them.

The face's symmetry and sexuality are usually the first clues we subconsciously read when we see someone. The more symmetric a face is, the more attractive it's typically rated.

Men seek women who have more feminine facial features, like a smaller jaw, thin eyebrows or high cheekbones. Conversely, women find men who have larger jaws, thick eyebrows and square hairlines to be more attractive.

Such features are determined by the surge of sex hormones one receives during puberty. The more estrogen or testosterone one produces, the more ‘feminine' or ‘manly' their facial features will be, respectively.

Furthermore, faces may even undergo very subtle changes from day to day. For example, women are rated as more attractive when they're ovulating, which helps them to find a mate when they are most likely to conceive.

The body is also a key indicator of how reproductively healthy a potential mate may be. Men tend to find curvaceous hips, a thin waist and long slender legs to be most appealing. Likewise, women are more attracted to broad shoulders, strong pectoral muscles and strong abdomens.

Moreover, the most important aspect we judge in a potential mate is not just the shape of their body, but how it moves. Women like men who have more shoulder swagger as a signal of masculinity, and men prefer women who tend to sway their hips because it indicates femininity.

There's a lot more to sex appeal than just what we take in visually. For example, voices can convey a lot about reproductive health as well.

Research shows that men favor female voices that are higher in pitch as an indication of youth and high estrogen levels. In addition to the changes in women's faces during ovulation, their voices become more appealing too. Male voices that are deeper, resulting from higher testosterone levels, project strength and manliness.

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Arguably one of the most important tools we use to find our best possible mate is our sense of smell.

When we sweat, our glands emit molecules that carry information about our genes via the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). This information from the MHC reveals which diseases our immune system is equipped to fight.

No two people have the same MHC combination and no two people have the same smell. Research shows that we tend to like the smell of potential mates that have significantly different MHC genes than our own. This ensures a mixing of different genes, which makes a much stronger combination to better protect offspring from disease.

While sex appeal is a powerful element we subconsciously use to find the most evolutionarily suitable mate, what keeps us with that person in the long-term?

Testosterone is responsible for much of the early lust in a relationship, but dopamine is what creates a strong feeling of love. A rush of dopamine elicits feelings of intense pleasure and creates a high that we desire again and again.

When research participants are shown a picture of a loved one, the ventrotegmental area of their brain becomes active. Not surprisingly, this area of the brain is responsible for pumping out dopamine.

Contrary to initial predictions, scientists have determined that the chemistry of love does not change over time. When couples that have been together for decades are shown pictures of their spouses, they still receive the same rush of dopamine. So while indicators of sex appeal initially work to help us conceive healthy offspring, the hormones involved create lasting feelings of attachment and security.

It's argued that humans are indeed biologically programmed to mate for life, even though 97% of other mammals are not monogamous. However, it takes something uniquely human to commit to raising children and to sustain a lasting relationship. Thus, science can only go so far when it comes to explaining the true complexity of love.

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