Terms of Endearment

June 1, 2008
Embraceable you: Cupid and Psyche by Benjamin West, 1808.

Embraceable you: Cupid and Psyche by Benjamin West, 1808. © The Corcoran Gallery of Art / CORBIS

On his blog, behavioral economist Dan Ariely talked about the research he did with colleagues on romantic relationships. Their particular interest: how one's own attractiveness influences his or her perception of, and actions toward, others. Here's his summary:

"The first question we had is whether people who are less attractive themselves view the attractiveness of others differently. Using data sets from HOTorNOT.com, we found that regardless of how attractive people themselves are, they seem to judge others' attractiveness in similar ways, supporting the notion that we have largely universal, culturally independent standards of beauty (e.g., symmetric faces). Moreover, we found that people prefer to date others who are moderately more attractive than they are themselves.

"We also found a difference in who they approached for a date, where less-attractive individuals approached others who were less attractive. So in essence, less-attractive people have the same sense of aesthetics. But being aware of their own attractiveness, they approach people who are in the same range as themselves.

"Finally, we wondered how less-attractive individuals rationalized to themselves their selection of less-attractive others. Using a speed-dating study, we found that more-attractive people placed more weight on physical attractiveness in selecting their dates, while less-attractive people placed more weight on other qualities (e.g., sense of humor)."

Paraphrasing the famous line from a song by Stephen Stills, Ariely noted that the lesson is, "People find a way to love the ones they can be with."