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Most People want a Sexy Partner, Despite What They Might Say

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Psychologists find many people really want a sexy partner, despite what they say

Maybe you’ve told your best friend that looks aren’t everything when it comes to choosing a mate. A new study suggests you’re wrong and you don’t even know it. Psychologists say we really are looking for a partner who is “hot and sexy”, despite what we might be saying to the contrary.

Researchers from Northwestern University and Texas A&M University devised a test that shows what people really prefer in a partner is not what they initially describe.

"People will readily tell you what they value in a romantic partner," said Eli Finkel, associate professor of psychology at Northwestern and co-author of the study.

But he explains repeated studies show when we actually meet someone tests fail to predict what sort of romantic partner people really choose.

Apparently, we have ‘unconscious’ preferences that better predict what kind of person we’re more likely to date.

To find out that many people want to date a sexually attractive mate, despite what they say they value in a partner, the researchers devised a test based on reaction times to words flashed on a computer screen. The test implicitly matched synonyms relating to physical attractiveness.

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Paul W. Eastwick, assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University and lead author of the study says the results of the study raises questions about how people decide what characteristics they really want in a romantic partner.

"If a person tells me, for example, that she doesn't care about how attractive a guy is, our research suggests that her claim isn't worth all that much. Instead, it would actually be more useful to measure her reaction times on this new task”, says Eastwick.

Alice H. Eagly, professor of psychology and faculty fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern, and Sarah E. Johnson, a doctoral graduate of Northwestern also participated in the study that is published in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology”.

According to Eagly, “In many cases, people's consciously stated attitudes and preferences predict their behavior quite well. But in the case of attraction, people's implicit, unconscious preferences seem to do a better job.”

The authors say a number of studies show we can talk about what we want in a romantic partner, but when it comes down to it we often choose someone different. Eastwick says the reasons we’re attracted to someone may be “hovering just outside of conscious awareness”.

What people say they want when it comes to romance, and what they really want, might be two different things. Finding a ‘hot and sexy’ partner may be more important than what people say it is.

“Implicit and explicit preferences for physical attractiveness in a romantic partner: A double dissociation in predictive validity.”
Eastwick, Paul W.;Eagly, Alice H.;Finkel, Eli J.;Johnson, Sarah E.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 101(5), Nov 2011, 993-1011. doi: 10.1037/a0024061

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