The Digest guide to … human attraction

10 years of the Research Digest

Dress like the person you want to date. If there’s someone in your class or workplace who you’d like to get to know better, try making yourself resemble them in some way. Obviously you don’t want to take this too far – that would be creepy – but research suggests that we’re more likely to sit next to someone who resembles us, so if you can find a way to strike a resemblance to the one you’re after (e.g. wear the same fashion brand; don glasses if they wear them), the likelihood is increased that they’ll sit down next to you in class or the meeting room at work.

Use the power of touch. When making the bold move to ask someone out on a date, try touching them lightly on the arm as you do so. Do not turn it into a grope or stroke. A study published in 2007 found that a man had far more success asking women for their phone number if he touched them lightly on the arm. A later study that involved recording brain waves suggested that this effect works because we’re more motivated by emotions that we experience at the same time as being touched.

Use a popular pseudonym. If you’re doing your wooing online and you have an unfashionable name, you might want to consider using a popular pseudonym. A study published last year found that people with unpopular names were far more likely to be rejected on a dating website; those with a popular name, by contrast, tended to receive far more contacts. Also, if you have your own website, you might want to consider where you position your photo.

Wear red. If you want to attract romantic attention there’s lots of research to suggest you should wear red. In 2010 a team led by Daniela Kayser found that when a woman wore a red shirt, male undergrads tended to choose to sit closer to her and to ask her more intimate questions. Another study (pdf) by the same researchers found that women rated men as more attractive and higher status when the men were seen wearing a red shirt.

Make strategic use of mimicry and temperature. Mimicking the speech and body language of another person can make a positive impression if you do it in a subtle way so that they don’t consciously notice. So don’t literally repeat back everything they say, but do echo some of their words and occasionally imitate their posture. Also bear in mind the psychological effects of temperature – there’s evidence that people rate others more positively when holding a hot drink, and that people feel socially closer when they’re in a warm room.

You are not hot as you think when you’re drunk. The beer-goggles effect, whereby other people seem more attractive after you’ve had a drink or two, is well known. Last year a study extended this idea to show that we also consider ourselves to be more attractive after we’ve had a tipple. Intriguingly, by using a placebo drink, the research suggested it’s not intoxication per se that makes us think we’re hot stuff, it’s the belief that we’re a bit merry. Either way, the result could help explain why your confident advances are thwarted when you’re tipsy.

Make strategic use of your friends. Jealousy is a powerful emotion. When in the company of the person whose amorous attention you’re after, ask your platonic girlfriends or boyfriends (depending on the sex of the person you’re targeting) to look and smile at you, thus giving the impression that you have magnetic charisma. A study from 2007 found that women rated a man as more attractive when they looked at a photo of him with a woman staring and smiling at him from the side.

A flashy car can make a good impression. Men are often ridiculed for using expensive cars to seduce women, but a 2010 study by researchers in Cardiff found that men shown sitting in the driving seat of a Bentley Continental (worth a cool £75000 at the time of testing) were rated by women as more attractive than when they were shown sitting in a Ford Fiesta. The reverse was not true – women’s attractiveness (as rated by men) was unaffected by whether they were shown sitting in the Bentley or the Ford.

Avoid cheesy chat-up lines. Making someone laugh is a tried and tested strategy for winning them over, but make sure you take the right approach. Be aware there’s research that suggests witty strangers are perceived as particularly suitable for a short-term fling (presumably because humour is seen as a signal of sexual interest). When it comes to men wooing women, research on chat-up lines found that rehearsed jokes were a dud, whereas statements conveying helpfulness, generosity, athleticism and culture were more welcome. Another study found that chat-up lines used by women are perceived as most effective when they are direct (e.g. “Want to meet up later tonight?”) rather than more subtle (e.g. “Hello, how is it going?”) or sexual/humorous (e.g. “Your shirt matches my bed spread, basically you belong in my bed”).

Finally, don’t take these tips too seriously. They could backfire. Actually just one more thing. If your dating efforts prove unsuccessful (even with the help of these top-secret psychology-based tips!) and you’re feeling lonely, try holding a teddy bear. Science says it will help.

This is the second in a series of six self-help posts drawing on the Research Digest archive to mark the tenth anniversary of the Digest launch in Sept 2003. The first was a guide to studying. Compiled by editor Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer).

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