Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Do Attractive People Threaten Our Relationships? Findings

A tall single good-looking stranger moves into your building. The new young female teacher is turning the heads of most of the faculty? Should you worry about your partner’s response?

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There is no doubt that men and women are both equally drawn to look at what would be conventionally deemed as attractive. Supported to some degree by evolutionary studies that suggest that physical attractiveness served as a potential sign of high genetic fitness or fertility and buoyed by cultural norms, the fact is that we are drawn to attractive people. It is what makes some people desirable to the media and what often draws us to films, magazines, art and the advertising of products from make-up to vitamins. It is what researchers call “attentional adhesion” to attractive people — it is hard to take our eyes off them.

That said, while commitments may falter for many reasons, noticing or looking at the attractive person in the building or on the staff does not equate to the loss of love or commitment. User Alert:

  • Staring non-stop at the attractive person is not recommended for job or relationship security.
  • Accusations, interrogations, insecure predictions that your partner will now no longer be interested in you or that your relationship has now been threatened are not recommended for relationship security.

Expected Reasons Why Commitment Holds in Face of Attractive People

There are many expected reasons that commitment to our romantic partners wins out over conventionally attractive temptations. For one, the love we feel in a committed relationship is usually based upon mutual chemistry, unique intimacy, acceptance and is much more than skin deep. Partners, who commit to each other, be it for one year or 20 years, usually share a trust that they are known and loved for whom they are as people, comrades, confidantes, parents, friends. They share history, respect, and a unique sense of “we.” They may look but that is all.

Research Findings of Why Commitment Holds in Face of Attractive People

It may surprise you to know that in addition to the state of heart and spirit that keeps you committed to your partner, research finds that we protect our commitments with a state of mind. Commitment to a romantic partner seems to unconsciously change our perception of attractiveness.

In a study described in the New York Times article, “The Science of a Happy Marriage,” it was reported that psychologist John Lydon asked highly committed married women and men to rate the attractiveness of people of the opposite sex in a series of photos.  As expected, they gave the highest ratings to people who would be typically viewed as most attractive. Later, when shown similar pictures and told that the person was interested in meeting them – something changed. They gave the pictures lower scores than they had the first time around!

  • It seems we may instinctively need to find someone less attractive when they become a potential threat to our commitment.
  • Adding to this is a finding that we may also protect our commitment by “automatic inattention” to attractiveness on levels below our conscious control.

Automatic Inattention

In a 2008 study reported in Evolution and Human Behavior, psychologists, Maner, Rouby and Gonzaga found that after non-married committed romantic partners wrote about the strong love feelings they had for their partner, they unwittingly protected their commitment by “automatic inattention” to attractive alternatives.  Thinking that they were being tested on a cognitive performance task for categorizing objects, those who had written about their love feelings, showed by their response time the least attention to one variable — pictures of the most attractive people embedded in the task.  Their visual processing attention seemed repelled rather than captured by attractive members of the opposite sex.

What Does this Mean About Relationship Security in Face of Attractive People?

  • On a very basic level – most of us will instinctively look at attractive people.
  • Regardless of attractive temptations, most people want to stay committed to their romantic partners.
  • Consciously and even at levels below consciousness, people will shift their perception of attractiveness or use inattention to reduce the threat of temptation and protect their commitment.

Our energy is best spent on focusing and nurturing the romantic love and threads of connection we feel for our partner. When a relationship is working, it doesn’t really matter who moves in next-door or who teaches in the next classroom.

Love Is In The Eye Of The Beholder And Much More

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