September 17, 2007
People Pay More Attention To Good Looking People

More fun with human sexuality and attraction.

Whether we are seeking a mate or sizing up a potential rival, good-looking people capture our attention nearly instantaneously and render us temporarily helpless to turn our eyes away from them, according to a new Florida State University study.

“It’s like magnetism at the level of visual attention,” said Jon Maner, an assistant professor of psychology at FSU, who studied the role mating-related motives can play in a psychological phenomenon called attentional adhesion. His findings are published in the September issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The paper, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You: Attentional Adhesion to Mates and Rivals,” is one of the first to show how strongly, quickly and automatically we are attuned to attractive people, he said. FSU graduate students Matthew Gailliot, D. Aaron Rouby and Saul Miller co-authored the study.

In a series of three experiments, Maner and his colleagues found that the study participants, all heterosexual men and women, fixated on highly attractive people within the first half of a second of seeing them. Single folks ogled the opposite sex, of course, but those in committed relationships also checked people out, with one major difference: They were more interested in beautiful people of the same sex.

Why the attention paid to same sex attractive people? Jealousy.

In the experiments, study participants -- 120 people in the first study and 160 and 162 in the second and third studies, respectively -- completed questionnaires to determine the extent to which they were motivated to seek out members of the opposite sex. They then took part in a series of “priming” activities before they were shown photos of highly attractive men, highly attractive women, average-looking men and average-looking women.

After a photo of one of the faces flashed in one quadrant of a computer screen, the participants were required to shift their attention away from that face to somewhere else on the screen. Using a precise measure of reaction time, Maner found that it took the participants longer to shift their attention away from the photos of the highly attractive people.

Maner said he was surprised that his studies showed little differences between the sexes when it came to fixating on eye-catching people.

“Women paid just as much attention to men as men did to women,” he said. “I was also surprised that jealous men paid so much attention to attractive men. Men tend to worry more about other men being more dominant, funny or charismatic than they are. But when it comes to concerns about infidelity, men are very attentive to highly attractive guys because presumably their wives or girlfriends may be too.”

So then can one measure loss of attraction to one's own mate by measuring how much people pay attention to same sex attractive people? Do people who are ready to file for divorce pay less attention to same sex attractive people?

Also, when people become involved in a relationship do they become more averse to spending time with their more attractive friends?

I'd also like to see this phenomenon measured as a function of blood sexual hormone levels. Do people with more testosterone pay more attention to same and opposite sex attractive pictures?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 September 17 11:47 PM  Brain Sexuality

Shay said at September 18, 2007 8:12 AM:

Is there a linear relationship between the amount of time it takes to move the eyes to the designated region compared to how attractive the person in the photo is? If so, I'd like to include photos of the study participants in subsequent trials. You could then categorize the attractiveness of the participants and see how their attention relates to others in their relative "class" of attractiveness. Does a person self regulate their attention toward attractiveness based on their own level? Would their be a clear "winner" on the hot scale among all the participants? A lot of fun things could come out of such a study.

David Govett said at September 18, 2007 11:56 AM:

And people wear cleaner clothes. Big surprise, that.

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