The science behind what really attracts you to someone — at first
If the eyes are the windows to the soul, the face just might be the window to sexual chemistry. It's a fact, and there are plenty of studies to prove it: We are more attracted to people with symmetrical faces.
"People find facial symmetry more attractive," says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a.k.a. "Dr. Romance," a licensed psychotherapist and the author of Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences. "There is a clear link [between attraction and facial symmetry]."
So does that mean we're superficial creatures who should look no further than skin-deep to find our one and only? And what's behind this whole symmetry-is-sexy thing, anyway?
The answer to the first question is not exactly, but more on that in a bit. As for the second, studies have shown that it's because symmetrical faces are associated with good health in a potential partner.
"From a biological point of view, men and women are seeking mates who are 'developmentally stable': pathogen resistant, healthier and not damaged by psychological or genetic distress that suggests flaws in the person's potential to protect, provide for and support a family," Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D., a licensed couples therapist and the author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don't!, explains, citing a review of the research published by Symmetry 2010. "They use appearance as a way of judging for these characteristics, and symmetry seems to be the best overall cue."
So what parts of the face are most important when it comes to symmetry and attractiveness? Raymond says it's the eyes, nose, lips, cheekbones (for women) and chins (for men). Voices considered to be attractive are also associated with a greater level of symmetry.
One 1998 study titled "Facial symmetry and the perception of beauty" had researchers manipulating photos of faces to be slightly more or less symmetrical, then showing them to the subjects and asking them to rate their attractiveness.
"Attractiveness increased when we increased symmetry and decreased when we reduced symmetry in individual faces," the authors wrote. "Similar results were found when subjects judged the faces on appeal as a potential life partner, suggesting that facial symmetry may affect human mate choice."
To further confirm the biological, rather than cultural, explanation for why symmetrical faces are perceived as more attractive, it's interesting to note when women find symmetrical faces most appealing in men.
"Women are more likely to go for symmetry in males when they are ovulating," Raymond says.
High testosterone in men is believed to be what creates more symmetry in the body, including in the nose and nostrils, chin, ears and even the stomach, Raymond says, citing the existing research. Even the ratio between the index and ring fingers is an important measure of symmetry.
"Testosterone levels also indicate dominance and industriousness," she says. "Those men who have the appropriate symmetry have higher athletic ability and musical abilities."
When it comes to women's bodies, the waist-to-hip ratio is significant, as are the lips, cheekbones and chest.
"Waist-to-hip ratio is a symmetrical feature that spells out a woman's child-bearing ability, and that is one cue men are primed to look for," Raymond explains. "Symmetrical breasts, lips and high cheekbones are attractive to men, as they spell sound health."
In other words, it isn't just facial symmetry that's a turn-on and signifies a healthy, good mate.
"Overall body symmetry is strongly linked to attractiveness in both sexes," says Raymond. "It's not just the face but overall symmetry that signals health, resilience, better emotional and psychological health, the ability to run and show prowess and the ability to work hard and offer good genes."
A downside of going for a symmetrical guy? He might not be the most faithful.
"Men with high symmetry are more likely to have affairs," Raymond says.
All that said, we aren't necessarily aware that we're drawn to people with symmetrical faces and bodies.
"All this happens at an unconscious level," Raymond says. "We don't know why we feel excited or why there seems to be chemistry. Unconsciously, we go for symmetry, but we overlay fashion, culture and style [as cues for attractiveness]."
And as for whether we're just superficial beings who choose life partners based solely on whether their faces are symmetrical, well, that isn't really the case. While we might find those people enticing and attractive, we don't always act on that chemistry.
"We're way more complex than that," Tessina says. "Because we are formed by our families of origin, we tend to be drawn to similar looks, whether they are symmetrical or not. People don't always feel a connection to the most attractive. In fact, it's often intimidating, and we'd prefer to worship it from afar. We tend to really make connections with people who are more similar to ourselves."
So if we're choosing mates who are like us, we're not really being superficial, are we? But narcissistic? Maybe.