Why you should care
Because you hear plenty about why people cheat.
Want to keep the fire burning in your relationship? Or eager to up your Tinder ratios? This story is part of OZY’s series on the Science of Dating — check out the rest here. Because numbers don’t play games.
Monogamy can feel as passé as corsets. But researchers, not typically known for encouraging romance, may offer a spark of hope for couplehood. According to the results of a small survey:
Those in happy relationships see others as less attractive than their significant other.
What the three New York University psychologists who led the study have discovered is a commitment mechanism called “perceptual downgrading.” Their findings complement those of previous studies demonstrating that people in love overestimate the appeal of their romantic partners and do the opposite when it comes to potential competitors’ personalities. The research, which was released in May, indicated that “downgrading” applies to physical attractiveness, not just personality.
The researchers first presented a group of 54 heterosexual college students with two sets of images of male and female faces. Each set consisted of eleven replicates of the same face, manipulated to vary attractiveness. When lovestruck participants were shown a face and asked to find the matching face out of the 10 remaining morphed ones, they constantly selected ones digitally manipulated toward unattractiveness.
Psychologist Madeleine Fugère says that cognitive dissonance can explain downgrading as dissonance reduction. At the biological level, Darwin is always there. “Downgrading attractive others may have added benefits in an evolutionary sense,” says psychologist Viren Swami. To facilitate the passing of our selfish genes, our brains release oxytocin, a hormone often referred to as the “love hormone.” When researchers injected monogamous men with oxytocin in 2012, those doped stood farther away from potential paramours.
People in relationships are still starving for the same sense of butterflies in the stomach.
Zac Perrion, Canadian pickup artist
If our hormones want us to stick together, how do we explain infidelity? On Ashley Madison, an adult dating website with 55 percent of members self-identifying as being in a relationship, the majority of clients indicate they are satisfied with their current lover, according to company spokeswoman Debra Quinn. Then why do they flirt with Ashley? “People in relationships are still starving for the same sense of butterflies in the stomach,” says Zan Perrion, a Canadian pickup artist. (The researchers behind the NYU study did not reply to request for comment.)
Although provocative, the NYU study is limited in scope. The research subjects were psychologists’ favorite guinea pigs — college students, whose relationships tend to be ephemeral. And with a paltry sample size comes limited results. “Academia seldom is of use in the real world,” says American pickup artist Ross Jeffries. Particularly true in this case for those looking to sharpen their game through research.
Lest you feel cheated about reading this far, here’s a nugget of wisdom from Perrion: “Men fall in love with their eyes, and women fall in love with their ears.” So if you’re a dude, being visually downgraded may not matter as you can still seduce with your charisma. Don’t play games, though; as Perrion notes, “honesty is a great aphrodisiac.”