The importance to males and females of physical attractiveness, earning potential, and expressiveness in initial attraction

Abstract

In an experimental study, male and female university students were asked to indicate how attracted they were to an opposite gender stimulus person after being presented information about the person's physical attractiveness, earning potential, and expressiveness. As hypothesized, subjects were more attracted to a physically attractive person than to a physically unattractive person, more attracted to a person with high earning potential than to a person with low earning potential, and more attracted to a high-expressive person than to a low-expressive person. Of these three characteristics, physical attractiveness had the greatest effect on attraction. Contrary to sex role stereotypes, males and females were similarly affected by these partner characteristics. Gender differences, however, did emerge in the subjects' estimates of the effects of these characteristics on their attraction. Consistent with sex role stereotypes, males placed greater emphasis than females on physical attractiveness, and females placed greater emphasis than males on earning potential and expressiveness. The discrepancy between the experimental results and the subjects' perceptions of how the factors affected their attraction were interpreted to indicate that people may not be aware of what attracts them to another and may use “implicit causal theories” provided by the culture to explain their attraction responses.

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Correspondence to Susan Sprecher.

Additional information

An earlier draft of this paper was presented at the Second Iowa/International Network Conference on Personal Relationships, Iowa City, May 1989. The author would like to thank all of the following people for reading an earlier draft of the paper: Elaine Hatfield, Kathleen McKinney, Sandra Metts, Glenn Reeder, and Eric Rice.

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Sprecher, S. The importance to males and females of physical attractiveness, earning potential, and expressiveness in initial attraction. Sex Roles 21, 591–607 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00289173

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Keywords

  • Gender Difference
  • Great Emphasis
  • Physical Attractiveness
  • Attraction Response
  • Causal Theory