“Humans interacting with other humans must be able to understand their interaction partner’s affect and motivations, often without words. We examined whether people are attracted to others whose affective behavior they can easily understand.” – Anders, S., et. al: “A neural link between affective understanding and interpersonal attraction.”
Ask someone what they find attractive in another person, and you’re likely to get a wide array of answers; from the physical – eyes, shoulders, legs, butt, hair, etc., to the internal – ambition, sweetness, sense of humor, intelligence, spontaneity…and so on.
Attraction, as with most anything psychological, is a very mysterious thing. Attraction involves a mix of physical, mental and emotional components that is inordinately difficult to articulate.
Here’s what researchers had to say about attraction, and what you need to be attractive to others. Some of the finer details of the study are absolutely fascinating.
Let’s get to it then!
“…the neural mechanisms that control human interpersonal interaction and the selection of cooperation partners are not well-understood.”
This short snippet concisely explains the research study’s rationale. Noting the importance of social interaction and collaboration – in both relationships and other interactions – scientists and professors from the University of Lubeck wanted to understand the brain mechanisms involved in interpersonal communication.
Here’s a short overview and explanation of the study:
– The research team recruited 92 volunteers (49 women, 43 men)
– Two experiments were conducted. Experiment One comprised a behavioral study; Experiment Two used a combined behavior-fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to measure brain activity
– Both groups of participants watched short video clips of six different female “targets,” who had “experienced and facially expressed two emotions, fear or sadness.”
– After the video clips had ended, researchers asked each participant to evaluate each of the six female targets affective state (sadness or fear); along with how confident the participants were in their evaluation.
– In Experiment One, researchers measured interpersonal attraction using both a motivational-behavioral framework and the participant’s self-reported attraction to each target.
– In Experiment Two, researchers measured the participants’ brain activity during each clip. fMRI imaging was used to observe neural activity in areas associated with the brain’s “reward system.”
– An “emotional experience task” was administered after Experiment Two, allowing researchers to compare the self-reported experience task results with observed neural activity
Emotional Understanding = Attraction
Fascinatingly, the research team discovered that participant confidence in perceiving, or successfully reading, the woman’s emotional state directly correlated with increased activity within the brain’s reward system. More specifically, fMRI scans displayed increased activity within the ventral striatum – the region associated with interpersonal attraction.
Silke Anders, author of the study and professor of Social and Affective Neuroscience, had this to say about the findings:
“What I believe makes our findings really exciting is the fact that understanding and personal attraction seem to depend on both the sender’s brain and the perceiver’s brain, and on how well they match.”