What makes people attractive? And sometimes really, really attractive?
Hotness is devilishly hard to generalise. A person’s mood, cultural upbringing, and ability to get along with someone, for example, add up to radically different ideas about who’s sexy and who’s not.
That said, researchers have found some commonalities that seem to make people more attractive than others, and they can be helpful in thinking about how we present ourselves to the world.
We’ve rounded up some of the more compelling science here. Before you dig in, though, keep in mind that a lot of psychological research is heterosexually biased, and we live in a world where people seek mates based first on their farmer status — so don’t fret if you don’t see yourself described in this list.
Drake Baer contributed to a previous version of this article.
It makes sense -- laughing feels good! -- but the advantage seems weirdly uneven. Women who make men laugh, for example, don't gain anywhere near the same kind of advantage. In other words, men aren't paying enough attention to whether their female mates can give them a giggle. What gives, men?
There's some speculation as to what the cause of this disparity might be.
'The effect of a great sense of humour on women's attractions might be partially explained by the fact that funny people are considered to be more social and more intelligent, things that women seek in a mate,' anthropologist Gil Greengross writes at Psychology Today.
But, as far as we're concerned, if you're a funny person -- no matter your anatomical sex -- keeping is unlikely to hurt your chances.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes bands are sexy, but their individual members aren't?
Well, you can stop wondering why. A 2014 study from the University of California at San Diego found that people almost always look more attractive when they're in a group.
Writer James Hamblin does a pretty good job of exploring this funny effect for The Atlantic. It most likely happens because our brains process the faces of a group of people in aggregate, making each face look more 'average' -- and thus more attractive -- as a result.
'Having a few wingmen or wingwomen may indeed be a good dating strategy, particularly if their facial features complement and average out one's unattractive idiosyncrasies,' authors Drew Walker and Edward Vul write in their original study.
I wouldn't spend too much time worrying if your bar mates' faces average out your unattractive idiosyncrasies. The go out with friends bit is probably good advice.
In short, uncross your arms.
Researchers have shown that open, physically confident postures give you an attraction advantage when you first meet someone. And try standing comfortably, since that might help, too. (Also good advice for when you're not dating.)
Most people are attracted to power.
A 2014 study found that people in a group think their group's leader is more attractive than do people who aren't in the group. For example, a company's CEO may seem more attractive to employees than to people outside the company.
'In contrast with research traditions that treat physical attractiveness as a static trait, our findings highlight the importance of group membership as a lens for perceiving familiar leaders' physical attractiveness,' conclude lead author Kevin Kniffin and his colleagues.
Telling people to smile more is the most annoying thing ever. Women in particular get told to smile way too often.
However, in two experiments, researchers in Switzerland examined the relationship between attractiveness and smiling. They found that the stronger the smile, the more attractive a face looked. In fact, a happy facial expression compensated for relative unattractiveness.
All of which is to say: In your day-to-day life, carry whatever expression you damn well please. But if you're trying to woo a boo, flashing them a frequent grin probably wouldn't hurt.
We like this one because it's also common sense.
A 2014 Chinese study of 120 people found that when people hear about how nice somebody is, they find the person's face more attractive.
'Personality characteristics may be linked to facial attractiveness, such that positive personality characteristics can promote facial attractiveness, whereas negative personality characteristics can reduce facial attractiveness,' write authors Yan Zhang, Fanchang Kong, Yanli Zhong, and Hui Kou.
So if you like someone, be nice to them. In fact, be nice to people you don't like, too. It will make you more attractive to the people you do like. Also it will make the world a better place.
There's a wide body of research that attempts to understand why people tend to agree that certain faces attractive, even without all of the other factors listed here. Evolutionary psychologists have suggested that symmetry and the presence of exaggerated secondary sex characteristics (like plump lips or a strong jaw) may play some role.
But this research is still fuzzy and quite controversial, and for good reason: It's devilishly difficult to sort any kind of universal ideals of attractiveness from ingrained norms that vary across place, time, ethnicity, culture, and individuals.
If you were to pick one feature from all of that research that does seem to have some universal value though, that would be skin health. There's a lot of robust research to suggest that taking care of your skin (with sun screen, sleep, and healthy eating) can boost your good looks across the board.
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