How Our Perception Tricks Us When We Are in Love

How can we know if someone loves us or at least finds us attractive? There are certain verbal and non-verbal expressions and behaviors that we recognize as mutual attraction (Karandashev, 2024). However, our perception when we are in love is biased. Once we love someone, we tend to believe that he or she also loves us, and that our attraction is mutual. Why does this occur?

Romantic love involves the idealization of the beloved and the relationship (Karandashev, 2019; 2022). It turns out that our love and romantic attraction make our perceptions positively biased. We tend to deceive ourselves in hopes of a mutual attraction.

Men are especially prone to overestimating the interest of others in them. When a man finds someone attractive, he is likely to believe that the other person is also interested in him.

A New Study on How Romantic Attraction Affects Our Perception

A recent study demonstrated how romantic attraction influences our attention and perception, as well as how we make choices when we find someone attractive. To explore these questions, cognitive psychologist Iliana Samara from Leiden University in the Netherlands conducted her project on the topic “How do we form romantic bonds?

Does a Long Gaze Indicate Attraction?

Speed dating experiments showed that people tend to respond faster to attractive faces. In four experimental sessions, the researchers paired 10 women and 10 men for a five-minute speed dating encounter with all participants from the opposite sex.

Prior to their actual meeting, researchers showed participants a picture of the person with whom they would later go on a speed date and asked them to rate their level of attraction towards them. Then, the participants’ speed dates followed.

Researchers observed the participants’ gazes using eye tracking technology and found that they lingered longer on the faces of those they previously rated as attractive.

How Our Excitement Blinds Us

Following the speed dating experiment, researchers asked the participants whether they were interested in a subsequent date. Researchers also asked participants whether they expected that interest to be mutual. It turned out that men often overestimated the likelihood that their date would desire to meet them again.

Researchers primarily observed this tendency in men who felt attracted to their dates. Men with a lower degree of attraction and interest in the other person were more realistic in their estimations of their chances for a mutual attraction.

Such sexual over-perception bias implies that the way we interpret social cues perceived in communication with other people depends on how aroused we are ourselves. Why do men, in particular, overestimate their likelihood of getting mutual attraction from others more than they really do?

As Iliana Samara, a Leiden University researcher, explains,

“A theory from evolutionary psychology suggests that women have to be more selective; if they have sex with a man who then does not invest in them, they may have to handle a resulting pregnancy and offspring on their own. Women are therefore more vulnerable if they make a wrong judgment in dating. On the other hand, men would rather risk some embarrassment than miss out on the opportunity to mate.”

How a Coy Smile Betrays Our Sexual Interest

The final experiment by Iliana Samara looked at how partners mirror one another’s nonverbal cues on speed dates. She explains,

“Mimicking each other’s facial expressions and body language has a social advantage; people who subtly mirror each other find each other more likable.”

Samara conducted a thorough analysis of more than a hundred videos from the speed dates to identify the expressions that were associated with a follow-up date. She rendered the videos without sound to focus exclusively on the facial expressions. During the coding process, it took her more than three hours per video to record the facial expressions and observe the speed at which they occurred consecutively.

Participants in speed dating who looked at their dates with the same expression for five seconds were probably subconsciously mimicking them. Samara commented,

“We assumed that imitating each other’s smiles would increase the chances of getting a second date. Surprisingly, that was only true for the coy smile, where, while smiling, you tilt your head or look away for a moment. This expression often indicated mutual interest. Conversely, people who mirrored a broad, genuine smile at each other during a date more often did not want to go on a second date with the other person.”

Conclusion

These findings add important pieces of knowledge about non-verbal cues of interpersonal attraction to the abundance of scientific publications that are available on the topic (see Karandashev, 2024, for review). Iliana Samara is going to continue this line of research on romantic attraction at Leiden University. In the future, she would like to adopt a different approach to this research.

How to Make an Online Dating Profile Appealing: New Research

The fact that the first dating websites appeared only in the 1990s might seem surprising. However, dating websites have developed significantly over the last three decades. This development had a significant impact on how partners met, fell in love, and developed their relationships. These days, over one-third of marriages start online. But this data differs depending on the culture.

Modern online-mediated cultures of relationships have changed intimate practices in online dating apps.

Research findings have shown the ambiguities and opportunities men and women experience using dating apps.

One of the challenging questions is how to create an attractive online dating profile.

Most people who are looking for love online will fill out their profiles with all the interesting things about themselves that make them stand out. They have a dog, three kids, or an iguana. On the weekends, they paraglide and do hot yoga, or something like this.

Sometimes, though, they forget to say what they want to know about a potential partner. They, however, are not always aware that others are not less but may be more interested “to be known” than “to know them as their partner.”

New Research on Dating Profiles Shows

A recent series of experiments conducted by Juliana Schroeder, Professor of Management Philosophy & Values at Berkeley Haas, and Ayelet Fishbach, Professor of Behavioral Science and Marketing at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, showed that the most important thing online dating users should keep in mind is that people are more satisfied when they feel like “they are known,”  rather than when they feel like “they know the other person.

Juliana Schroeder and Ayelet Fishbach recruited a group of research assistants to analyze dating profiles from Match.com and Coffee Meets Bagel. According to the information provided in the profiles, more than 50% of the writers were rated as desiring recognition from a potential partner, whereas only around 20% expressed a wish to know their potential partner.

Subsequently, the researchers requested a group of many online participants to compose their own profiles, with the option to emphasize being known or getting to know the other person. Then, they surveyed an additional 250 individuals to evaluate these profiles based on “how much they found them appealing and how much they would potentially want to contact them” using a rating system ranging from 1 to 7. Thus, their ratings evaluated the level of attractiveness and the likelihood of wanting to initiate contact with the individuals in the profiles.

What Do People Look for in Dating Profiles?

Consistent with their previous findings, Schroeder and Fishbach discovered that the raters exhibited a preference for the profile authors who placed emphasis on their desire to understand the other person.

These findings could provide valuable guidance for individuals seeking to enhance their attractiveness on a dating platform.

“What they want to be doing is saying, ‘I really care about you, and I’m going to get to know you and be there for you and listen to you and be a great partner,”

Schroeder says.

That makes sense, Schroeder says, adding credence to the notion that the phenomenon of a parent-child relationship is primarily about support.

 “It’s the one relationship where it’s very clear the parent needs to be supporting the child.”

A New Perspective for This Research

Schroeder and Fishbach’s next research task is to explore how individuals can redirect their attention towards utilizing their understanding of others to genuinely make them feel recognized. Then, it’s likely that experiencing a sense of being recognized may enhance both partners’ satisfaction with their relationships.

This positive perspective may also work in a workplace context, improving relationships with coworkers.

“To develop relationships with work colleagues, you might think not just about personal knowledge but also what are people’s habits and how they like to work,”

Schoeder says.

“While this was beyond the scope of our study, it’s possible that stronger workplace relationships could ultimately make a difference in terms of people’s satisfaction with their jobs.” 

Personal Qualities That Are More Attractive for Love Than Our Looks

Many believe that our looks are what matter most in attracting the love of a potential partner. Yes, physical attraction is what people desire in a loved one. However, desirable personality traits are what matter most.

According to the surveys of heterosexual and homosexual partners, appearance and sexiness are only in the middle of the preferred characteristics of a partner. On the other hand, such personality traits as extraversion, intelligence, and agreeableness are higher than physical attraction as the qualities that women and men in different-sex and same-sex couples look for in a partner.

As co-founder of the dating app So Syncd, Jess Alderson says, we do prefer personality over looks. For example, in the sample of more than 1,000 users, almost 90% preferred certain personality traits over looks.

Why Agreeableness Is Desired for Love

Agreeableness is among the indicators of someone’s interpersonal skills. It characterizes how compassionate and caring people are. This personal quality plays an important role for both men and women in their initial preference for a date’s desirability. This trait is also a strong predictor of current and future relationship satisfaction and durability. For men as well as for women, physical attractiveness comes together with agreeableness in their desire for a love relationship. “Agreeableness is kind of a necessity,” says Greg Webster, a psychology professor at the University of Florida. In relationships, agreeableness, combined with other attractive traits, can bring the best out of people. See more about this research here.

The factor of similarity also plays a role. We feel attracted to others who share values similar to ours.

How does it work in the case of agreeableness? More agreeable people tend to see others as kind and friendly, finding them similar. This is why we match with people who have personalities similar to our own.

Why Similarity and Familiarity Matter for Love

We tend to look for similar and familiar others in our pursuit of love, not only in agreeableness but also in other personality traits, such as openness to a new experience and conscientiousness.

Partners with high similarity in the personality traits of conscientiousness and openness to a new experience are better in their ability to solve problems and manage daily tasks.

Similarity and familiarity are important in many other things (Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Orbuch & Sprecher, 2003). We also find attractive the other person who is physically and genetically similar to us, how close they live geographically to us, whether we belong to the same social groups, and whether we approve of their friends.

Why Some Differences Are Attractive for a Relationship

Despite the importance of similarities and familiarities in traits, personality differences might also be appealing for love.

Partners with complementary traits match well with each other, according to the observations of Jess Alderson, a co-founder of the dating app So Syncd.

“It makes sense that we’ve evolved to be attracted to people who at least have a certain amount of differences to ourselves. We make a stronger team and would be more likely to survive. But again, you need that kind of intimacy that draws you together.”

“We pair couples who have just enough similarities to form a strong connection, and then just enough differences to create that spark of excitement,” says Alderson.

“If you are too similar, it can be a little bit boring. And then if you’re too different, it can just not be that fun on a daily basis.”

It turns out that similarity and equality between partners are not necessarily the best things for a good relationship. And the dominance quality of one partner can be a good thing for love.

For example, social psychologists Angela Bryan, Greg Webster, and Amanda Mahaffey looked at socially, physically, and financially dominant people and the effect agreeableness had on their appeal (Bryan, Webster, & Mahaffey, 2011).

Researchers found that social, physical, and financial types of dominance are attractive to others. Each can provide a kind of protection or access to basic needs, like food and shelter, through to more desirable needs, like lavish lifestyles.

Yet, dominance traits can be used for good and bad:

“We can think of dominance as being turned inward towards a relationship or as being focused outward away from the relationship. What people want are partners who are socially, physically, or financially dominant, but not necessarily towards their partner,”

says Webster.

When dominance is mediated by agreeableness, it is a combination of qualities appealing to interpersonal attraction. “It’s one thing if you’re able to dominate other people, but are you willing to share those resources with your romantic partner?” For attractive partners, agreeableness accentuates the benefits of other personal qualities.

What Can Our Body Language Tell Us About Love and Relationship?

The popular scientific and self-help publications widely advise us about our body language and what it tells us about our feelings, attitudes, and love. How valid are all these advices?

Subtle facial and bodily movements are often cited as giveaways in today’s media, whether it’s the tabloids or social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, or YouTube. They claim that our body language says a lot about us, our partner, and our relationships.

Do these pop media messages about body language have any basis in reality or the science of nonverbal communication?

What the Science of Nonverbal Communication Reveals About Body Language

The group of researchers from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and their colleagues from other universities, YALAN J. FRIDLUND, MILES L. PATTERSON, AND CARLOS CRIVELLI, say about several misconceptions about nonverbal communication.

The authors summarize these misconceptions in their recent blog on the Character and Context Blog.

They say that unfortunately, distinguishing between science and pseudoscience can be challenging at times, and it is frequently the latter that garners greater attention and clicks. So, they used their discretion to rectify the situation.

The Concept of “Body Language” Lacks Empirical Evidence and Scientific Support

Are people’s true thoughts and feelings conveyed through their posture, gaze, touch, tone of voice, and faces? There is an entire industry that promotes the notion that “you can see it in their body language,” but “it” can refer to a variety of things, such as whether someone loves or hates us, whether they are potential clients, innocent defendants, or foreign terrorists.

Are there any reliable indicators? If there was true body language, it would function like a language! Words in language have fairly precise meanings. “Lava” refers to molten rock emitted by volcanoes, and “eat” refers to putting food in our mouths. The words can also be combined to form sentences, such as “Aardvarks are quadrupeds.”

However, things are different in the science of nonverbal communication. There aren’t the kinds of precise meanings we see in language outside of gestures like OK signs and extended third fingers. If you ask a friend about the weather outside and she scowls, it could mean one of three things:

  • (a) It’s lousy outside;
  • (b) It’s so lousy outside that it’s ridiculous to ask; or
  • (c) She’s still upset from the argument yesterday and doesn’t want to talk to you, especially about the weather.

Which of these is it? We could look for other nonverbal cues, but the kicker is that we almost always have to use language—real language—to be sure: “Hey, what’s with the face?”

Our Personal Space Is Not Stable Across Time and Situations

It irritates us when people don’t “give us our space.” It’s a comforting notion that we have a secure, insulating personal space that we guard against outsiders, but we constantly violate it! Friends are allowed to be closer than strangers, and children are allowed to be closer than friends. It’s common to want no space at all with romantic partners. In some situations, a near approach can be intimate, but in others, it can be sexual harassment. You love being close to your children, but you’re also content to have them out of sight for a while when they misbehave. Furthermore, the boundaries established with other people are influenced by their gaze, posture, body orientation, and facial expressions, as well as their distance from you.

Electronic media makes it clear that emotional closeness does not imply physical closeness. What do you think of two individuals who are having video calls with people who are halfway across the world while seated a short distance apart in a coffee shop? To whom is closer?

Our Faces Do Not Reveal Our Inner Emotions

What about the posters on every preschool wall that show cartoonish faces with words like “Happy,” “Sad,” “Angry,” and “Scared” underneath? Everyone has been taught that certain expressions indicate that the people making them are experiencing specific emotions. But is that correct? Obviously not. It makes a difference whether the big smile is from a child at a birthday party or from a scammer looking for money. A person who approaches you with a tearful pouty face to announce, “My child has cancer,” may make the same face the following week and say, “She doesn’t have cancer after all!”

What do faces do if they don’t generally express inner emotion? If you ask someone, “How was the movie?” and he smiles, it is because of the movie. Faces are usually about things—things you know, things you want, and things you want from others. The “angry” face on the posters signals others to confess or leave; the “sad” face receives sympathy and hugs; and the “scared” face declares, “I give up.” People in different societies make different faces in ways that are very different from the preschool posters.

People’s Bodies and Faces Cannot Reveal Whether or Not They Are Lying

We’ve heard the expression “the body never lies”? That, of course, is a lie, but one reason people cling to it is that the truth about lies makes them feel so vulnerable. There are no telltale nonverbal signs of lying, as non-verbal communication research has demonstrated for decades. People may fidget, blink more or less, avert their gaze, twitch their lips or noses, stammer, and make fleeting facial “microexpressions,” but these are all symptoms of stress, not deception. People may exhibit these symptoms while lying, but it is not because of it.

And, contrary to popular belief, guilty people are often less stressed than innocent people. A habitual liar may be far less concerned about being accused again. Innocent people may experience overwhelming stress not because they are lying but because they are afraid of being wrongfully accused of it, resent the fact that they are suspected of it, or are simply nervous about being confronted with it.

In Real Life, Context and Culture Matter

So, what does nonverbal behavior indicate? It depends, as we hope we’ve made clear. You can only understand people’s nonverbal behavior if you know who the interactants are, where they are, what they’re saying to each other, and what culture they come from. When people succumb to the simplistic pseudoscience of “body language,” the stakes are high—in relationships, in the boardroom and courtroom, and in international affairs.

So, the reality of nonverbal communication is not so easy. It is more complex. It depends on the content, context, and culture in which people communicate their emotions and relationships.

Why People Love Romantic Comedies

Why are romantic comedies so popular among people? Do their narratives reflect men’s and women’s love?

Romantic comedies, also known as rom-coms, are among the most popular film genres. However, they have often been criticized for not being serious enough and for distorting people’s perceptions of love.

Anthropology of Romantic Comedies

Marianne Gabrielsson, a student from the School of Global Studies at University of Gothenburg studied these questions from an anthropological perspective. She explored:

  • Why do people watch romcoms?
  • In what way do people embody love as portrayed in romcoms?
  • How can we relate people’s perceptions of love to the romcom genre?

What the Study Revealed

Thus, according to the recent study conducted by Marianne Gabrielsson,

  • Romantic comedies have psychopharmacologic functions in the sense of escapism.
  • People embody romcoms in terms of EPIC love, disappointment, fear, non-realistic demands, resignation, false happiness, or joy.
  • Romantic comedies are often negatively loaded with ideals, traditionalism, stereotypes, and conformity.

The Functions that Romantic Comedies Have in People’ Lives

The concept of escapism serves as an indicator of underlying societal issues, wherein romantic comedies are often depicted as a potential solution rather than a contributing factor to these problems.

Paradoxically, romantic comedies present this solution in a stigmatized, negative tone, causing feelings of shame, blame, and belittleness, contextualizing romcoms as a ‘guilty pleasure’ for the female consumer.

As a result of this paradox, culture continues to rewrite cultural norms and reinforce stereotypes, reproducing the outdated idea of the Other. This way, romantic comedies divide people into intellectual, serious, and pragmatic consumers and the rest: the naive and stupid consumers of banal and superficial depictions of love.

This suggests a shift in the focus of discourse from a widely shared sentiment of love to a more practical and rational approach.

Nevertheless, the study found that love is related to pragmatism, disappointment, and love always being for someone else. The author conducted the interviews that revealed a prevalent views of love as aspirations, dreams, and a desire for a love that transcends societal norms and expectations.

Conclusions of the Study

The author concludes that the complexity exhibited by romantic comedies presents a promising path for future academic research. Within this realm, three specific aspects have emerged as particularly intriguing subjects of study:

  • 1) The phenomenon of culture consumption encompasses various forms such as film, literature, music, and social media. And it has its significant impact on society.
  • 2) The persistent practice of rewriting culture is an ongoing process that shapes and reshapes societal norms and values.
  • 3) Within the field of anthropology, there exists a notable gap in the discourse surrounding the potential universality of love as a human experience.

How You Feel You Are Loved

How do you feel you are loved? Do you?

Professor Mengya Xia and her colleagues from the University of Alabama recently conducted an interesting exploratory study on the core elements of love across family, romantic, and friend relationships. This research revealed how people know they are loved.

Their studies have shown the benefits of love across diverse populations. Love and being loved are both valuable feelings. Love is a complex concept with various types and constructs that research studies in various interpersonal relationships.

What Studies Explored?

In this study, researchers used a grounded theory analysis of 468 individuals. They revealed that love is an interpersonal process involving positive responsiveness and authentic connection. All participants in the study shared three core elements across family, romantic, and friendship relationships. This integrated theoretical conceptualization of love as a shared feeling and asset offers insights for love conceptualization, assessment, study design, intervention, and therapy.

This study explores love literature by identifying central features and examining core elements in various relationship types using qualitative, data-driven approaches.

  • What are the core elements of love, as perceived by lay people?
  • Are the core elements of love shared across family, romantic, and friend relationships?
  • Whether the weights of each element are the same or different across three relationships?

This study analyzed open-ended responses on love in family, romantic, and friend relationships, revealing three core elements: positive responsiveness, authentic connection, and stability. This theory contributes to understanding love as a feeling and asset in interpersonal processes. The theory informs strengths-based research, and sets the foundation for developing an assessment tool. The varying frequencies of love elements across relationships suggest that love in different relationships may have different distributions of the same components.

Grounded Theory on Core Elements of Love

The study reveals that love is an accumulative interpersonal process. In such love relationships, people consistently perceive positive responsiveness from others. They experience authentic connection with them, resulting in a positive sense of oneness. This grounded theory aligns with Reis and Shaver’s interpersonal process model of intimacy, which emphasizes mutual validation and understanding. The core elements of love include positive responsiveness, authentic connection, and a sense of stability. Positive responsiveness describes positive ways of responding to others’ needs, while authentic connection describes the process of forming a pleasurable, desired, and heart-to-heart connection. Mutual affinity emphasizes the enjoyable and mutually desired experience of togetherness, while being in tune with one another focuses on approaching and merging with someone to form a heart-to-heart connection.

A sense of stability describes the feeling that the interaction between two parties is durable, stable, and reliable, as echoed in attachment theory, unconditional love, and the commitment component. The study highlights the importance of considering the temporal history of interpersonal relationships and the need to incorporate the timing and dynamic components of love into the study design.

Comparison of Love Across Family, Romantic, and Friendship Relationships

The study reveals that love is a general feeling experienced in various interpersonal contexts, with core elements of feeling loved being more similar across interpersonal contexts than distinct between relationship types. The specific actions that elicit the feeling of love may vary depending on the type of relationship, but the message they convey is generalizable across relationship contexts. The frequency of each element across relationship types corresponds to how people typically conceptualize love in the respective relationship. In family and romantic relationships, “positive responsiveness” is most frequently mentioned, while “demonstrating affection” is more often mentioned in romantic relationships. In friend relationships, “authentic connection” and “a sense of stability” are most often mentioned, with spiritual union being the key to love in friend relationships.

The higher weight of “a sense of stability” in friend relationships is consistent with companionate love and friendship literature, where trust is viewed as an important component. While many categories weigh differently across three relationships, some similarities provide insights into the key aspects of love as a feeling shared across relationships. Support, mutual affinity, and being in tune with one another are at the core of several conceptualizations of love, emphasizing the importance of providing support, having quality time together, and truly understanding someone’s feeling of love. Additionally, “enhancing sense of worth” was mentioned by 23–30% of individuals in different relationships and did not differ significantly by relationship type.

Reference

Xia, M., Chen, Y., & Dunne, S. (2023). What makes people feel loved? An exploratory study on core elements of love across family, romantic, and friend relationships. Family Process, 00, 1-15. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12873

A Distinctive Smell Influences Our Emotions and Love

Smell is the most mysterious of the five senses, with an evocative power that can transfer us to different times, places, emotional states, and even the state of love. The scent of a particular perfume has a distinctive smell that may remind us of a loved one. The aroma of baking bread may bring us back to childhood. A whiff of hospital disinfectant may cause us to feel uneasy. However, the impact of scent on human behavior extends beyond these evocative moments.

This article, as well as others on this blog, will review the intricate relationships between human scent—a distinctive smell—and our feelings, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors.

The Science of Smell: Knowing the Power of a Distinctive Smell

Understanding the science of smell (olfaction) is essential when we explore the role of smell in our perceptions, emotions, and behaviors. The olfactory organs and neurons in the nose interact with molecules in the air when we take a deep breath through the nose. The brain receives data from these neurons and uses it to determine what we are smelling.

The special feature of this sensory processing is that the limbic system of the brain, which controls emotion, memory, and behavior, is directly connected to the olfactory neurons. Because of this direct path, smells can have powerful and immediate effects on our feelings, perceptions, emotions, and behavior.

The “Proustian Phenomenon” of the Effect of Distinctive Smell on Memory

Marcel Proust (1871–1922), the famous French novelist, portrayed a character who vividly recalled long-forgotten childhood memories after consuming a madeleine cake dipped in tea. This ‘Proustian phenomenon’ illustrates how aromas can evoke powerful and vivid memories.

The olfactory bulb, which processes smell, has strong connections to the amygdala and hippocampus, which control emotion and memory, respectively. This unique relationship explains why a specific scent can immediately evoke intense emotional memories.

A Direct Connection Between Smell and Emotion

Scent may have a significant impact on our emotional state in addition to how we remember the past. A certain smell can elicit a variety of emotions, ranging from contentment and relaxation to disgust and anxiety. For example, lavender, which has a calming effect, is frequently used in aromatherapy to ease stress and promote sleep. On the other hand, the smell of spoiled food or rotten eggs may cause disgust and a strong desire to leave the area.

The Subtle Yet Significant Effect of Smell on Social Connections

Smell is a big part of how people connect with each other. Animals use scents called pheromones to signal to one another. The scientific idea of ‘chemical communication’ through these scents is well investigated in various species. Pheromones determine the smells that animals give off to communicate with each other.

Researchers are still investigating the effects of human pheromones on their emotions and behaviors. Some studies show that smells do play a role in how people get attracted to each other and form relationships. Men and women are more likely to hang out with others who have a scent they like.

The Power of Scent Is Subtle in Its Effect on Us

The influence of smell on human emotions, perceptions, and behaviors is profound and intricate. It is still not fully comprehended, yet it is clear that our sense of smell is intricately connected to our emotions, memories, and behaviors. We can anticipate uncovering more fascinating insights into the subtle yet potent role of scent in our life and love.

Other posts on this blog show the role of various sensory experiences, including smell, on human preferences in romantic relationships. Some studies, for example, revealed the most attractive smells for love. Other studies explored the tactile and kinesthetic senses of love.

The Irresistible Attraction of Hugging in Love

Physical attraction and physical interaction of different kinds seem naturally involved in love relationships. Kissing, cuddling, and hugging are commonly associated with loving behavior. Why so? Is it culturally universal? Let us see why, for many loving and loved people, it is such a pleasurable experience of love.

The Physical Attraction of Hugging and Cuddling

Generally, love feelings and love relationships involve physical attraction. This is why lovers experience action tendencies such as a desire to be physically near a loved one, a desire for interpersonal proximity, and a desire to spend more time together. When people are in love, they feel a longing and even a craving for physical union, including cuddling, kissing, and hugging (Karandashev & Fata, 2014; Karandashev et al., 2020).

Many of us enjoy hugging and cuddling as well as being hugged or cuddled. Being in close physical relationships with loved ones is enjoyable. When we are down, another’s embrace provides comfort. When we are up, it increases our joy.

What about the person who is touching and hugging? Is their act incumbent and solely motivated by kindness, or does it also make them feel good?

The Evolutionary Origin of Loving Touching

Generally, friendly touching in the context of social interactions was viewed as an evolutionary remnant related to body hygiene and was regarded as secondary in importance. This is why in the societies of early evolutionary stages and some traditional cultures of the past, cultural norms considered physical intimacy in close relationships of low value. The touching that occurs when humans interact with the physical world was more important. However, recent studies have uncovered the important links between affectionate touch and the benefits this loving action brings to both children and parents. What about other types of loving relationships?

Findings like this have sparked recent research into how gentle physical contact influences the biological and psychological processes that promote the mental and physical well-being of lovers and loved ones. The review of studies like this is presented in the recent publications (Karandashev et al., 2016; Karandashev, Zarubko et al., 2020).

Do We Have Nerve Fibers Sensitive to Human Contact?

Scientific investigations have yielded numerous interesting findings. Among these is the discovery of a special sensory nerve fiber that appears to be particularly “interested” in human touch. This fiber is activated by gentle caress and feels more pleasant than other types of touch. Researchers believe that this human touch fiber, C-tactile afferent, is the key gateway into how physical contact produces positive feelings, reduces stress, and allows humans to thrive.

The Human Need to Touch

An interesting fact is that the special human touch fiber exists only in hairy skin, which means it is not present in the palms of our hands, which we typically use for touching. Researchers in the field continue to further investigate the role of touch in human development and health care. The question of interest is what touch does to a recipient and what the function of touch is for those who give it.

The fact that touching comes so naturally and readily frequently feels like an impulse, even in circumstances where there isn’t a clear need to console or encourage.

When we interact with a pet, child, friend, or romantic partner, we feel a pleasant natural tendency to reach out, rub, or poke. In the cases of dogs and cats, it is especially evident because they cannot return the petting they receive from us. So, the question is whether touching gives us direct, tactile rewards that are similar to those we get when we are touched. Prof. Dr. Annett Schirmer, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, along with her colleagues, attempted to answer this question. They conducted polls among young people in Germany and Hong Kong. Participants responded to two online questionnaires, one in the position of providing touch and the other in the role of receiving touch. In both surveys, participants had to explain a typical circumstance that led to tickling, stroking, or, for example, hugging. They also had to indicate the kinds of people with whom such touching felt comfortable and draw an outline of their body where they would feel the most comfortable being touched.

Who Benefits From Touch More?

According to those survey results, touch giving and receiving occur most often in positive situations and bring the associated positive feelings, such as affection, love, joy, and fun, to both. Surprisingly, greater pleasure is experienced by those who give than by those who receive touch. It is worthy of note that the feelings of comfort were higher with those in close relationships than with those in distant relationships.

The places on the body where a person feels comfortable being touched are similar to those for giving touch. Typically, prime comfort zones are the shoulders, upper back, and arms. It is likely that there is a natural correspondence between touchers and touchees, prompting both to engage in mutually pleasant and beneficial behavior. It is interesting that they are the same for both men and women in both cultures, in Germany and Hong Kong. Our extensive cross-cultural studies of recent years have revealed many other interesting findings on the role of touching, hugging, and other sensory experiences in romantic loving preferences (Karandashev et al., 2016; Karandashev, Zarubko et al., 2020).

Love Is Not So Blind as Many Might Think

Romantic lovers are not so blind in their perception of their loved ones. It was found that they can pretty accurately judge the abilities of their significant others. Some may believe that their partner knows them better than they know themselves. Is it really true? Does science support such a claim? The results of a recent study revealed something different. It appears that romantic partners are usually just as accurate about their partners’ abilities as they are about their own (Hofer, Macher, & Neubauer, 2022).

How Well Do We Know Others and Ourselves in Close Relationships?

People close to us can give us useful feedback on our skills, since we may not always have a clear picture of ourselves. Researchers have been interested in knowing how accurate we are at judging ourselves. Surely, different things can affect how we perceive other people.

Regarding this, researchers classify four categories for traits: open area, blind spot, hidden area, and unknown area. Open area traits can be judged correctly by both yourself and others. Blind spots can only be judged correctly by others. Hidden area traits can only be judged correctly by yourself. Unknown area traits cannot be accurately judged by either you or others (Vazire, 2010).

How Accurate Are We in Our Perception of Romantic Partners Compared to Ourselves?

The goal of a recent study conducted by Gabriela Hofer and her colleagues was to find out how accurate you are compared to yourself, a romantic partner, a close friend, and a stranger (Hofer, Macher, & Neubauer, 2022). Researchers studied participants ages 18 to 45 years old who were in a romantic relationship. The study was conducted in Austria, a German-speaking country. The results showed that people could evaluate their own abilities to a moderate degree of accuracy. Participants’ romantic partners were able to evaluate the participant’s abilities with a similar degree of accuracy. Thus, the researchers came to the conclusion,

“All in all, it appears that the increased interpersonal intimacy between partners and targets—as compared to other informants—might not necessarily be detrimental when it comes to accuracy.”

(Hofer, Macher, & Neubauer, 2022).

Surprisingly, participants were more likely to underestimate themselves than overestimate their abilities. As for numerical intelligence, people were especially accurate in judging their own abilities. When compared to close friends or acquaintances, romantic partners were more accurately able to predict their partners’ abilities in every single domain measured. The romantic partners were able to provide some accurate insight into the participant’s intrapersonal skills, whereas the other groups were not.

A Cultural Perspective of Interpersonal Perception  

The study has taken one more step toward figuring out how accurate self- and other-perceptions are. We should be aware, however, that the study was administered in Austria, a German-speaking country. So, the findings can be culturally specific in some respects. Cross-cultural studies of these perception phenomena in close relationships are needed for cultural validity.

Other studies have shown that interpersonal perception, judgement, and communication can vary from culture to culture (Karandashev, 2021a).

An Important Progress in the Understanding of Interpersonal Perception in Love

Thus, the results of the study conducted by Austrian researchers Gabriela Hofer, Silvia Macher, and Aljoscha C. Neubauer have advanced our knowledge of interpersonal perception in love.

“This study’s results suggest that people we are very well-acquainted with—like our closest friends or our partners—can provide at least moderately accurate assessments of a variety of our cognitive and non-cognitive abilities. Both types of sources might also be able to provide us with information about our abilities that we ourselves have no access to. In that, our partners also do not appear to idealize our abilities—at least not more than our close friends or acquaintances.”

(Hofer, Macher, & Neubauer, 2022).

The things we need to take into account in interpersonal communication:

“Indeed, people who we have just met or who we only interact with in very specific contexts—like at work or at university—are likely less accurate in their perceptions of our abilities. Our own knowledge of our abilities can be considered moderate across many areas and even high in the domain of numerical intelligence. Despite all that, the associations between our own and different types of others’ perceptions of our abilities and our actual standing on the same abilities are far from perfect. Thus, when we really want to know how well we are doing in a domain, our best option likely remains to take psychometrically sound performance tests.”

(Hofer, Macher, & Neubauer, 2022).

Physically Attractive Men and Women in Different Cultures

Many men and women expect to get into mating or sexual relationships with partners who are “physically attractive,” “looking good enough,” or at least “not bad looking.” Many cultures recognize the cultural significance of women’s feminine beauty to men. Nevertheless, the masculine beauty of men is also important for women (Karandashev, 2022).

How Important Is It to Be Physically Attractive in Various Cultures?

Most scientific studies of physical attractiveness have taken place in Western and industrialized Asian countries. People in mainstream North American and European societies, as well as those in Australia and New Zealand, highly value physical attractiveness for relationships between men and women. Cultural norms in these societies have particularly high expectations of female attractiveness.

However, far fewer studies have been conducted in other societies around the world. According to scientific studies from other countries and remote tribal societies, the importance of beauty is not universal, and beauty standards differ across cultures. People in different Asian and African societies, such as Korea in Southeast Asia and Ghana in Africa, place less emphasis on attractive physical appearance. According to cultural anthropology, people in tribal subsistence-based societies also pay less attention to the physical appearance of their mates (Anderson et al., 2008; Wheeler & Kim, 1997; see, for review, Karandashev, 2017; 2022).

Is the Stereotype “What Is Beautiful Is Good” True in Different Cultures?

In many societies, people have the widespread, persistent, and powerful stereotype that “what is beautiful is good” (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972; Hatfield & Rapson, 2000; Lemay, et al., 2010; Lorenzo, et al., 2010).

Many women and men believe that a partner’s attractive physical appearance reflects other positive characteristics such as kindness, a pleasing disposition, emotional stability, dependable character, maturity, and intelligence (Fugère, Madden, & Cousins, 2019; Yela & Sangrador, 2001).

Yet, according to other studies, this “what is beautiful is good” stereotype is less strong and less general than previous research has concluded (Eagly, Makhijani, et al., 1991).

Besides, this stereotype is culturally specific. Many cultures have such physical attractiveness stereotypes as “what is beautiful is good.” However, this stereotype can vary in its content depending on cultural values, for example, in collectivistic and individualistic societies. It appears that “what is beautiful is culturally good” (see, for review, Anderson, 2019; Anderson, Adams, & Plaut, 2008; Swami & Furnham, 2008; Wheeler & Kim, 1997).

What Is Physically Attractive in Women and in Men?

Researchers have looked into what makes other people’s appearances and bodies physically and sexually appealing. Since the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, studies of of what is “physically attractive” have been extensive (for example, Finck, 1887; Courtenay, 1922).

Many authors have published thousands of articles, books, and other publications about what is “physically attractive” in women and men. Many scientists have studied what is beautiful in the physical appearance of faces and bodies, as well as what makes them sexually attractive. This research has been especially prolific in recent decades.

How Similar and Different Is the Perception of Physical Attractiveness in Various Cultures?

Researchers found symmetrical features, certain body proportions, a low ratio of hips to waist, full lips, white teeth, lustrous hair, smooth and clear skin, and an absence of sores as attractive for many people across a variety of countries (e.g., Langlois et al. 2000; Sugiyama, 2005).

Studies have revealed that White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian men and women perceive attractive facial qualities cross-culturally relatively consistently when they evaluate White men and women (see, for review, Cunningham et al., 1995). For example, people judge women’s faces as attractive when they have

“high eyebrows, widely spaced large eyes with dilated pupils, high cheekbones, a small nose, a narrow face with thin cheeks, a large smile, a full lower lip, a small chin, and a fuller hairstyle.”

(Cunningham et al., 1995, p. 275).

These similarities are surprising because people have different racial and ethnic typologies of facial and body traits. So, these findings appear to indicate that men and women across these different cultures perceive the same features of facial and body beauty as similarly attractive. It’s hard to believe that, despite their obvious disparities in appearance, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, and Whites have the same standards of physical attractiveness.

Are Standards of Physical Attractiveness Cross-Culturally the Same?

Thus, it appears that across many societies, men and women within a culture and between cultures generally agree on who is beautiful and handsome and who is not. Nevertheless, according to other cultural studies, it is apparent that different attributes of physical appearance may look more attractive in some cultures but not others. Researchers have found that different facial and body features are more or less attractive to people in different cultures (Cunningham et al., 1995; Fallon, 1990; Langlois et al., 2000).

For example, big smiles, raised eyebrows, and neonate qualities look attractive across cultures, depending on the local ecology and fashion prevalent in those societies. The expressive qualities of a person and the appearance of sexual maturity vary moderately in their attractiveness in different cultures. The attractiveness of different body weights, hairstyles, and other grooming qualities varies greatly across various societies.

Among the Other Topics of Interest in this Regard Are: