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Perceived Nervous Reactions during Initial Attraction and Their Potential Adaptive Value



We sought to examine perceived nervous reactions when first interacting with a particularly attractive person/potential romantic partner. From a theoretical standpoint, we cogitate on the possible adaptive nature of these reactions that appear seemingly counterproductive for future mating success.


We documented 280 participants’ retrospective self-reports of experiencing a variety of physiological, vocal, and behavioral reactions during an initial encounter with a person they found highly attractive. We also asked participants to rate the reactions of others that they used to determine if another person was attracted to them.


Participants reported most frequently experiencing increased attentiveness, smiling, staring, heart rate, giggling/laughter, blushing, and difficulty concentrating during this first encounter. Both sexes reported speaking faster and being less able to express themselves clearly, and women reported using a higher pitch and having a more unsteady tone of voice during an initial encounter of attraction. Further, participants reported observing similar nervous reactions by others whom they perceived were attracted to them. These findings were examined while considering individual differences in sociosexual orientation (i.e., propensity toward uncommitted sex), self-perceived mate value, empathy, and gender.


Participants reported that they did, indeed, experience a cluster of anxiety-related physiological and behavioral reactions during an initial encounter with someone they found highly attractive. Although appearing nervous and awkward during an initial encounter with an attractive other may seem counterproductive for future mating success, we discuss potential adaptive functions for displaying these responses.

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We wish to acknowledge the Albright Creative Research Experience (ACRE) program for their support of this work.

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Correspondence to Susan M. Hughes.

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Hughes, S.M., Harrison, M.A. & de Haan, K.M. Perceived Nervous Reactions during Initial Attraction and Their Potential Adaptive Value. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology 6, 30–56 (2020).

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