1. We’re terrible at judging attraction.
A recent study found that men routinely assume their female friends are attracted to them (often they’re not), while women typically assume their male friends aren’t into them (often they are). So basically, friendships between heterosexual men and women are minefields of misunderstanding and thwarted passion.
2. Women’s tastes change depending on the time of month.
It may not affect their voting habits, but a woman’s menstrual cycle appears to affect who she finds attractive, at least in experimental settings. Several studies have found that women prefer men with more stereotypically masculine faces (the authors of one study used George Clooney as an example) when they’re most fertile, though they may be into less macho-looking men at other times. And at their most fertile times, women may even think masculine-looking men will make better dads.
3. Taking birth control might change them too.
A 2008 study found that while women who aren’t on the Pill prefer the scent of men who are genetically different from them, especially in certain genes that affect the immune system. But women who are on hormonal birth control like the smell of more genetically similar men. Since smell is a big part of attraction, this could affect who they date. But women are also less likely to be sexually satisfied with men who have similar immune-system genes, so it’s possible the Pill could be sabotaging some people’s sex lives.
4. Our attractiveness changes based on bizarre factors (like whether we give good directions).
A 2009 study asked people to look at faces, then spot a dot that appeared on a computer screen. The subjects found faces more attractive if they were helpfully pointing in the direction where the dot would later appear. Said study author Beena Khurana, “Note that we changed attractiveness ratings after one simple session of eye gaze cueing, so imagine what must be going on in real encounters.” People may be constantly ruining their chances simply by, say, failing to correctly point out the bar bathroom.
5. If you’re a man, looking happy could ruin your chances.
In 2011, researchers found that straight women found pictures of men less attractive if the men looked happy. They preferred guys “who looked proud and powerful or moody and ashamed.” At least this means that if you’re sad because no one will date you, pretty soon women will want to date you?
6. Same goes for confident-looking women.
Depressingly, the same study found that men were “least attracted to women who appeared proud and confident.” This sort of gives me a low opinion of the men in the study — but of course, we have no idea how they felt about confident women in the real world.
7. Cuteness can be a disadvantage online.
Lots of attractiveness studies use photos, so it’s unclear how applicable they are to face-to-face interaction. But online dating uses photos too, so it’s somewhat easier to study it in a systematic way. For instance, OkCupid’s data analysts looked at women’s profile pictures and found that the more men disagreed about their attractiveness, the more messages they got. So women who were generally considered somewhat — but not overwhelmingly — attractive actually got fewer messages than women who some men thought were ugly but others thought were hot. Their takeaway: online, “guys tend to ignore girls who are merely cute,” so women should “take whatever you think some guys don’t like — and play it up.” This particular study didn’t examine what men should do to make themselves more attractive, but avoiding everything these guys do would be a start.
8. We’re actually most attracted to ourselves.
In a 2010 study, researchers showed one group of people pictures of two strangers’ faces morphed together, and another group pictures of their own face morphed with a stranger’s. People who saw their own morph, but didn’t know it included their face, found the photo significantly more attractive than people who only saw strangers. The study authors said this supported the theory that humans are “subconsciously attracted to features reminiscent of our own.” So basically, we’re raging narcissists — maybe we deserve to be alone.