Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Unconscious sources of attraction

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Unconscious sources of attraction:
What are the unconscious causes of romantic and sexual attraction?

 Overview[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Everyone has a love story

Love isn’t a fairy tale story of two people meeting and falling in love at that very moment and live happily ever after. Love is a process and it begins with physical attraction.

What causes us to be attracted to the people that we are attracted to? Lets dive into the research and see what we find!

Theories[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

"The most important, and by far the largest, component of mental life is the unconscious. The unconscious is the mental storehouse of inaccessible instinctual impulses, repressed experiences, childhood (before language) memories, and string but unfulfilled wishes and desires."

Sigmund Freud, Understanding Motivation and Emotion, 1915, Page 473.

  • Or some neurochemistry aspects from the article posted on the "Talk Page"
  • psychological need for relatedness and implicit need for affiliation and intimacy

Drive[edit | edit source]

Drive was a grand theory that was understood [missing something?] serve biological bodily needs. Drive is a conscious motivation used to fulfill underlying physiological needs when a homeostatic disturbance occurs within the body. "When salient enough to grab the individuals attention, drive motivationally readies the individual to engage in goal-directed thoughts and behaviors that are capable of yielding drive reduction," (Reeve., J. 2015).

Freud's drive theory:[edit | edit source]

Freud believed all behavior had a motivation behind it. Behavior was initiated by motivation to fulfill a biological need within the body.

Hull's drive theory:[edit | edit source]

Hull focused on a few essential needs that constituted to the total body need such as, food, water, sex and sleep. The need of the body was the what initiated the motivation behind a behavior.

Arousal theory[edit | edit source]

Generally men and women experience and become aroused differently. Men often have a high correlation of physiological and psychological factors. Women have a low correlation. Arousal is expressed in a bell curve illustrating the levels of arousal increases and then decreases after time has passed.

Incentive theory[edit | edit source]

Incentive theory is an incentive or motive to do something. When the result leads to a positive outcome, that encourages the person to do the act again, looking for a similar outcome. The most common incentive would be a reward. Rewards can be tangible or intangible, and in this case the reward would be climax and satisfaction. For this example, a sexual incentive triggers sexual motivation. When sexual motivation is triggered this also triggers the endocrine system, nervous system and the reproductive system by engaging hormones. This brings a level of excitement by bringing memories and past experiences to mind. A conditional stimuli excites sexual motivation and the body is sensitized by hormones anticipating satisfaction. Sexual motivation is linked to behavior causing the individual to act on the urge via the somatic nervous system (voluntary control of body movements). The autonomic nervous system (unconscious bodily functions) is activated causing the events to occur at the genitals to initiate sexual contact. After stimulation, information from the act of behavioral and genital reactions feeds back to the brain to affect motivation. If the experience was good it encourages the act to occur again, (Toates, F. 2009).

Factors of unconscious attraction[edit | edit source]

When it comes to sexual motivation many factors are incorporated behind this physiological need. These factors include different hormones, smells (external stimulation), facial structures, (external cues), and biological makeup. So lets take a look at how all of these factors contribute to unconscious sources of attraction.

Facial Metrics[edit | edit source]

When looking for a potential mate the first thing people tend to notice is if and how attracted they are to that person. Generally the first place a person will look to judge their level of attraction is the face and subconsciously evaluate their facial symmetry to decide whether this person would make a suitable mate or not[factual?].

Facial attractiveness contributes to the overall attractiveness of a person; more so than bodily attractiveness, (Currie and Little, 2009 and Peters et al., 2007). Facial attractiveness is often determined by a variety of facial cues such as symmetry, averageness, sexual dimorphism (Rhodes, 2006 and Thornhill and Gangestad, 1999) and skin condition (Fink, Grammer, & Thornhill, 2001). When it comes to faces and attractiveness, men and women have different structures and differ in their tastes that they find attractive. Biologically for females, the masculine look in a man is when men tend to have square hair lines and jaws, sharp features, and thicker eyebrows[factual?]. For men, the ideal woman would have softer and more feminine features such as high cheek bones, narrow faces, wide eyes, and big lips[factual?]. These are features that men and women tend to look for in one another[factual?]. A study was done and the results showed that people with symmetrical faces were considered to be more attractive which is a subconscious perception[factual?]. This study originated by a philosophical viewpoint that Aristotle created. The philosophy is called, “symmetry and definiteness.” It is explained in The Encyclopedia of Stanford by an expert, Sartwell. He explains Aristotle’s idea, by possessing a symmetrical face, it illustrates that the individual is physically and genetically healthier compared to the people without a symmetric face, (Sartwell, 2012). Faces are the initial thing that attracts people to one another, then what comes next? If the face is attractive, people tend to continue to judge the attractiveness of a person based on their physique.  

Physique[edit | edit source]

Figure 2. [missing something?] ideal female figure is a small waist compared to hips

Bodies are the billboard or advertisement of what a person wants the world to see. For many it is the first thing seen and generally determines whether the person is attractive or not. In the book, The Psychology of Physical Attraction, authors Swami an evolutionary psychologist teams up with Furnham who is an expert in applied psychology and creates a scientific writing on the role of evolution in the development of what it means to be “attractive” in modern day society. This book provides an overview on mate choice and evolutionary psychology. It goes into depth and focuses on physical characteristics such as body shape, weight, and youthfulness. The book goes into detail about the theory of ‘beauty’ and the evolution of it. It answers the question what does modern day society consider beautiful? With the experts in separate fields this book addresses both evolutionary and social perspectives within the writing. In the book it talks about how bodies illustrate to potential mates genetic and physical health of offspring. It is a norm that a majority of the population find slimmer people more attractive compared to those who are of the thicker build. In women, men look for the hour glass shape. This means that women have a busty chest, a small waist, long legs and wide hips. Women develop this build after puberty. By the widening of her hips it is then she is able to bare a child. The visually sexiest look is when the waist is 7/10 as wide as her hips, ( Swami, 2008). The masculine body type is called the upside down triangle which includes broad shoulders, strong pecks, wash board abs and a narrow waist. Throughout history it has been believed that body types signify health and fertility. Both men and women subconsciously judge bodies on sway and the way they walk. A masculine walk is one where men have a solid torso and inflated chest and arms and a feminine walk is one with an exaggerated hip sway. By these signs it signifies that the human brain is always on the hunt for the healthiest genes and bodies that are capable to reproduce the strongest offspring. By having strong offspring, it gives them a better chance of survival. Face and bodies are not the only physical traits of attraction, voices also subconsciously are important to a person’s attractiveness ability.

Voice[edit | edit source]

It often comes as a shock that people are attracted to voices. Studies have shown that men are interested in high pitch voices which signifies that the female with the high pitch voice has high estrogen levels[factual?]. Women are obviously opposite. Women are attracted to low, deep voices which comes off as very masculine[factual?]. The depth of the voice determines how much testosterone was received during puberty[factual?]. Again, this is one of those things that people sense unconsciously, it is just how attraction works. For women their voice changes during ovulation[factual?]. When this happens men find that woman significantly more attractive because she is most fertile at that particular time.

External Stimulation- Scent[edit | edit source]

The face, body and voice all have been evaluated so that means the next step would be the scent. Fox explains in her book, The Smell Report, that scent is considered to be an efficient mating radar. Like everything else men and women react differently to scents. Fox explains, “Men possess a specific pheromone called Androsterone. The higher amount of Androsterone that a male possess, the more masculine he is considered,” (Fox, 2001). When Androsterone and sweat some together it forms a unique smell. The skin is a microscopic breeding ground that gives every man his own scent. Most women find the smell of fresh sweat attractive but the ‘macho’ older sweat smell distasteful unless they are currently ovulating or attracted to his scent specifically. Fox explains that odors for both males and females originate from the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) which is a protein sequence within DNA that detects which diseases and bacteria the immune system is able to fight. The immune system can determine which bacteria can live on the skin which initially is what makes sweat smell and gives people their individual scent. Generally, it is preferred that a mate tends to find someone that smells completely different then they do and their MHC sequence is nothing alike; no two people have the same MHC combination and no two people smell the same. Women are sexually attracted to men and how they smell, but it is not the same for men. When men are exposed to the smell of vaginal secretion they lose the ability to distinguish between attractive and less attractive women. The smell of women, which is the hormone Copulance, isn't something they can pinpoint, it is subconscious and it turns on their sex drive by spiking their testosterone levels generally making that female “attractive” whether she is or not. Scent is what attracts women and lets a man know when it is time to mate. A man’s scent is such an important factor for attraction, but in my opinion there is no connection more powerful than a kiss.

External Stimulation - Kissing[edit | edit source]

Figure 3. Kissing is an important way of expressing love.

The kiss can say a lot about the person and the connection that can be shared. Explained by Sole in the article The Science of Kissing she explains that, “when you're super attracted to someone, his natural, unique scent smells intoxicating and you may find yourself deeply inhaling while you kiss. Digging each other’s scent means your bodies are subconsciously responding to each other’s genetic codes- a sign you'll produce healthy offspring. Sadly, when you've been in a relationship for awhile, you may not kiss as passionately because you (and you body) know he’s the one,” (Sole, 2015). When a passionate kiss is shared amongst two people, it could be the first indicator that one has found their soul-mate.

Internal Stimulation - Needs[edit | edit source]

All of these traits are looked for in men and in women but which of the two sexes tend to look and portrait themselves being more physically attractive? In the animal kingdom it is the makes that tend to look physically more attractive, for instance the peacock. The male peacock is the peacock with the very colorful, elaborate, beautiful tail and he has it to attract females. Humans work in a way that is similar to this one. Men compete for women and then mate with them. Human beings are amongst the many species that tend to generally mate for life. Men tend to flirt with their facial expression. When watching a man and a woman interact it is easy to tell if a man in interested by his facial expressions, women on the other hand are a lot more complex and one cannot tell just by looking at her. Women flirt with their eyes and body language. Men are interested in the physical attraction and women are the ones digging deeper to see if the man would be a suitable mate by being able to reproduce healthy offspring and be a suitable father figure. Manly and domineering men are the ones I tend to be most attracted to. Jen Pincott explains in, Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes?, that when women are ovulating they tend to find these types of men more appealing. “You find yourself opening up like a flower when talking to cocky, domineering guys, even though they're not normally your type when ovulating,” (Pincott, 2009). Physical attraction is generally what initiates a partnership but after the chase is over then what, what happens after attracting your mate? Attraction will get people only so far, now the next step would be to reproduce. In order to understand human desire and wants, it is important to recognize where it comes from. Sexual desire comes from an innate motivational need, want, desire, instinct, or urge known as drive (sex drive). Similar to hunger, thirst, and exhaustion sex and pleasure is considered a biological need. All species participate in an act of sex whether it is for pleasure and/or reproducing offspring. The motivation behind engaging in the act of sex exists under the incentive motivation theory. Incentive theory illustrates the drive behind peoples actions towards sexual activity. Depending on the outcome of the stimuli will determine the strength of the incentive will be desired in the future. Incentive motivation is what can cause a person to want to repeat a behavior. The need for pleasure and intimacy is often considered the incentive behind sex. Males and females differ in arousal. Men often become aroused with correlation of physiological and psychological factors. When a sexual desire is initiated in males, it is initiated from an arousal trigger i.e., seeing something that they were attracted to causing sexual thoughts and desires developing an urge to be sexual. Females are sexual desire does not only consist of physiological needs, but they often require emotional intimacy. Women tend to be more responsive to relationship factors and become more open to sexual stimuli when emotional intimacy is present. (Reeve, J. 2015). The traditional model for the human sexual response cycle: Desire --> Arousal --> Orgasm (Reeve, J. 2015). This is an example of a triphasic sexual response cycle. Desire leads to and enhances long-term relationship intimacy rather than resolution (climax).

Internal Stimulation - Sex Appeal[edit | edit source]

The Discovery Channel Documentary, The Science of Sex Appeal, discusses the truth behind chemistry. Throughout the duration of this film several different things were discussed and pinpointed in taking a role in sexual attraction and desire. Some of the attributes that were discussed included: sounds/voice, physical appearance and smells. It is also evident in this documentary how genetic, hormonal, and neurological factors can create the spark between two people. It documents the evolution of not only human attraction but also of the human brain. In the film, it talks about the science of sex and is occurring throughout the body emotionally and physically. Sexual behavior is influenced by hormones, androgens testosterone, estrogen, progesterone, and oxytocin. It all begins with the hormone testosterone. Testosterone is the hormone of sexual desire. This specific hormone is produced in the Sexually Dimorphic Nucleus (SDN). The SDN in males is approximately 2.5 times bigger than in females. This is located in the hypothalamus and is where sex drive is initiated. Testosterone is also at the heart of a women’s sex drive as well. But once sex is initiated from the increase of testosterone, the hormone dopamine takes over. Dopamine is considered as the “pleasure chemical” and can be addicting. But the hormone that plays a major role in sexual behaviors and rewards is oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during orgasms, childbirth and lactation giving women that 'attachment/bonding' sensation. Young and Alexander do a great job in their book The Chemistry Between Us explaining the reality of addiction and love and how it soon simmers down after some time of being together. “People who become regular drug abusers, and transition into addiction, soon to find they enjoy the drug less. Likewise, the nature of love changes with time. We enjoy it less as the wild urgency recedes. Yet we remain in our relationships as initial passion turns into durable social monogamy because we've become addicted to each other,” (Alexander and Moore 186).

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Is it a personal preference, sexiness, or a complex biological make up that causes sexual attraction? Through a series of tests there has been proof that love is made up of all three of these things. Sex appeal comes down to individual taste and is a biological imperative. A relationship without sexual attraction ultimately would be challenging and most likely impossible. Attraction is more of “what meets the eye” concept. Studies show that human beings are hardwired to find potential mates by reading and interpreting genetic clues subconsciously such as face, body scent and voice. This information is important for people who want to understand why they are attracted to the people that they are attracted.

Let's get quizzical[edit | edit source]

Show what you know below:

1 Desire enhances long-term relationships?


2 What is considered an attractive size for a females waist?


3 Which hormone is the bonding hormone?


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Currie and Little, 2009 T.E. Currie, A.C. Little The relative importance of the face and body in judgments of human physical attractiveness Evolution and Human Behavior, 30 (2009), pp. 409–416

Fink et al., 2001 B. Fink, K. Grammer, R. Thornhill Human (Homo sapiens) facial attractiveness in relation to skin texture and colorJournal of Comparative Psychology, 115 (2001), pp. 92–99

Fox, Katie. "The Smell Report - Sexual Attraction." Social Issues Research Centre, n.d. Web 01 Nov. 2013. URL = <>

Peters et al., 2007 M. Peters, G. Rhodes, L.W. Simmons Contributions of the face and body to overall attractiveness Animal Behaviour, 73 (2007), pp. 937–942

Pincott, J. Do Gentelmen Really Prefer Blondes?: Bodies, Behavior, and Brains-- the Science behind Sex, Love, and Attraction. NewYork: Delta Trade Paperbacks, 2009. Print.

Reeve, J. (2015). Understanding motivation and emotion (6th ed.). Hoboken, NJ, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Rhodes, 2006 G. Rhodes The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty Annual Review of Psychology, 57 (2006), pp. 199–226

Sartwell, Crispin, "Beauty", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2012 Edition), Edwards N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

Sole, Elise. "The Science of Kissing." Yahoo Shine. Oxford University, 11 Oct. 2015. Web. 24 Oct. 2015.

Sukel, Kayt. "Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships [Hardcover]." "Dirty Minds: How Our Brains Influence Love, Sex, and Relationships: Kayt Sukel: 9781451611557: Books. N.p., n.d. Web 24 Oct. 2015

Swami, Viren, and Adrian Furnham. The Psychology of Physical Attraction. London: Routeledge, 2008. Print.

The Science of Sex Appeal. Perf. Alan Dunn Farrah Shaikh and Landon Ashworth. Discovery Channel, 2009. Documentary.

Thornhill and Gangestad, 1999 R. Thornhill, S.W. Gangestad Facial attractiveness Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 3 (1999), pp. 452–460

Toates, F. (2009). An Integrative Theoretical Framework for Understanding Sexual Motivation, Arousal, and Behavior. Journal of Sex Research, 46(2-3), 168-193. doi:10.1080/00224490902747768

Young, Larry, and Brian Alexander. The Chemistry between Us: Love, Sex, and the Science of Attraction. New York: Current, 2012. Print }}

External Links[edit | edit source]

Media[edit | edit source]

Prints[edit | edit source]

  • Do Gentelmen Really Prefer Blondes?: Bodies, Behavior, and Brains-- the Science behind Sex, Love, and Attraction By Jodi Pincott