Think of the person you’re most attracted to. It could be your girlfriend or boyfriend, a crush you’ve only met a couple times, or one of your friends. What is it that pulls you to them? Is it their hair? Smile? Voice? Smell? Or a combination of all of the above? What if I told you that the reason you’re attracted to someone is actually all a part of a mating game that you’re completely unaware of? You probably think everything that attracts you to a person is surface level or just “your type," but in actuality, your body chemistry is playing matchmaker more than you realize, and all for the purpose of reproducing.
All of your senses are involved in attraction more than you might think. Three of the most prominent and responsible ones are sight, smell, and hearing. Obviously, looks play a huge role in attraction. Although the definition of beauty varies among cultures, there are some characteristics that scientifically, everyone is more or less drawn to. Traits such as long hair and smooth skin are universally desired because they are signs of good reproductive fitness. They broadcast that the person is healthy, youthful, and fertile. Although I can’t scientifically prove that blondes have more fun, research has shown that blonde hair is a sign of youth and therefore indicates greater reproductive value. Blonde hair darkens with age, so the lighter one’s hair is, the younger your body perceives that person to be.
Also, your sense of smell is incredibly important. No one wants to be around someone who smells terrible, much less get physical with them. But your nose picks up on physical or genetic information much more complex than the perfume or cologne your partner is wearing. In a study done at the University of Texas at Austin, men smelled t-shirts worn by women in different stages of their ovulation cycles and were asked to rate the smell of each one. The t-shirts worn by women in their most fertile stage of their menstrual cycle were ranked the “sexiest” smelling of them all, which makes sense considering fertility is a high priority in the mating process. Women’s noses, however, are acutely tuned to pick up on MHC molecules, or major histocompatibility complex molecules. These are basically disease-fighters in your DNA. In this case, “opposites attract” applies. Women will want men that have different MHC molecules than them, so that their offspring will be immune to a greater variety of viruses and bacteria. For example, if I am immune to disease A and my partner is immune to disease B, I will be more attracted to his scent than that of someone also immune to disease A because I want my child to be immune to both diseases, not just one.
People’s voices also have an effect on attraction. Typically, men prefer women with higher pitched, breathy voices, indicative of femininity and fertility, while women like men with deep voices, showing masculinity and the ability to raise a family. Ariana Grande is a good example of someone with a high pitched voice, and Josh Turner or Chris Hemsworth are good examples of men with low voices. Ladies, if you’ve never heard Chris Hemsworth speak, watch a movie or interview of his and you’ll know what I’m talking about…but the British accent doesn’t hurt him either.
Once the match has been made, hormones come into play. When you’re into someone, your body releases a certain group of neurotransmitters called monoamines to encourage you to continue pursuing that person. These three are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin.
Dopamine, one of the main “pleasure hormones”, is released throughout the body. Its functions have to do with motivation and rewards, and it is responsible for our desire to acquire something, whether it’s food, drugs, an achievement, or sex. These hormones incite feelings of intense energy, bliss, and exhilaration. Dopamine has the exact same effect on the body that cocaine does, and you can easily become addicted to it. (so yes, love is indeed a drug.)
Norepinephrine creates the same feelings that adrenaline does; it’s your fight or flight instinct. It causes you to be more alert, energetic, and focused on the task at hand. If you’re talking to the person you’re attracted to, it helps you to say the right things and pay attention to what the person is saying, so that the end game will work out in your favor and the attraction will be mutual. Norepinephrine levels increase during the first kiss as well; you probably remember your first kiss with someone pretty vividly, right? This is because this hormone increases your ability to remember the moment, as the fight or flight instinct prepares your body for more, sending signals throughout your brain that something exciting is happening.
Serotonin is also released. Serotonin is the natural chemical that makes you happy, and it affects things like mood, appetite, sleep, memory, and sexual desire. Low serotonin levels can cause depression and decrease libido. It is one of love’s most important chemicals and can actually make us temporarily insane. So to all the crazy girlfriends out there: just blame it on your serotonin levels and thank me later.
Now that you know a little about how your senses and hormones are involved in attraction, you can appreciate all the different ways your body is playing cupid for you the next time you set eyes on that beautiful stranger!