RTR3XDJGSource: REUTERS/Vincent West
What is it that determines who we are sexually attracted to? This is a surprisingly complex question to answer because attractiveness appears to depend upon a number of factors.
Some of these are biological, others are psychological, and yet others have to do with our social environments. Below are ten of the most interesting findings scientists have documented when it comes to attraction.
1. We tend to be attracted to people who look like us. For instance, in one study, researchers asked heterosexual men and women to rate the attractiveness of several faces [1]. Included among the photos was a picture of one’s own face that had been digitally morphed into the other sex. Participants found this morphed face to be more attractive than all of the others!
2. This may sound creepy to some of you, but we also seem to be attracted to people who remind us of our parents. For example, research has found that people born to older parents tend to be attracted to older partners as adults.
3. If you’re already physiologically aroused (e.g., from having just exercised) and you meet someone new, you’re more likely to develop an attraction to that person. Why? You may mistakenly attribute the source of your elevated heartbeat to the stranger instead of the true source of your arousal. Learn more about the role of arousal in attraction here.   
4. “Beer goggles” really are a thing. Research has found that the drunker people get, the higher the attractiveness ratings they give to strangers. Alcohol also changes how attractive we perceive ourselves. You can learn more about the science of beer goggles here.
5. Playing hard to get seems to work—at least if you’re looking for a long-term relationship. All else equal, less available people are seen as more desirable romantic prospects. However, if you’re looking for casual sex, playing hard to get might backfire.
6. When it comes to pick-up lines, both men and women prefer it when people open with a simply “hi” or “hello,” or lead with an innocuous question (e.g., “Do you want to dance?”). Cutesy and crude pick-up lines (e.g., “Hey, baby. What’s your sign?” or "Do you wash your pants in Windex? I can really see myself in them!") tend to be seen as pretty undesirable. For more examples of good and bad pick-up lines according to science, see here.
7. Attraction is a multi-sensory process. Who we’re attracted to depends not just on how another person looks, but also how they smell, how their mouth tastes, and so on. Check out this short video for a closer look at the role the senses play in attraction.
8. The things that heterosexual women find attractive in men vary across the menstrual cycle. Specifically, when women are at peak fertility, they tend to be attracted to “manlier” men (e.g., muscular guys with deep voices). Click here to learn more.
9. Heterosexual men tend to find women wearing red clothing more attractive than women wearing any other color [2]. Why? Some theorize that men have evolved a tendency to become aroused by this color because women’s bodies naturally become red/pink during sexual arousal (e.g., many women experience a “sex flush” or reddish rash that appears primarily on the chest during arousal). A recent study suggests that women may subconsciously capitalize on this by dressing in red when they are most fertile.
10. Our patterns of sexual attraction appear to change seasonally. For instance, heterosexual men report greater attraction to women’s bodies and breasts in the winter months than they do in the summer months. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but it may be because skin is more of a novelty in the winter when everyone is constantly bundled up. Learn more about this research here.
[1] Penton-Voak, I. S., Perrett, D. I., & Peirce, J. W. (1999). Computer graphic studies of the role of facial similarity in judgements of attractiveness. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues18, 104-117.
[2] Elliot, A.J., & Niesta, D. (2008). Romantic red: Red enhances men’s attraction to women. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1150-1164.