Examine biological

Examine biological, psychological, and social origins of attraction

Biological origins of attraction

Evolutionary explanation 1: Neurobiology of love

According to Fisher (2004) love is a human universal and evolution has produced three distinct motivational brain systems in all birds and mammals to direct courtship, mating, reproduction, and parenting: attraction, the sex drive, and attachment. The three systems interact with each other to produce the combination of emotions, motivations, and behaviors associated with “love”.

  • Attraction is the equivalent to human romantic love in animals according to Fisher (2004). Attraction is characterized by increased energy, focused attention on a specific mate, obsessive following, romantic  gestures, possessive mate-guarding, and motivation to win a preferred mating partner. Attraction evolved to motivate individuals to select and focus courtship attention on a favored partner.
  • The sex drive (libido) is characterized by craving for sexual gratification. In humans, this is associated primarily with testosterone in both men and women. The sex drive evolved to produce offspring.
  • Mutual nest building, grooming, maintenance of close proximity, separation anxiety, and shared parental chores characterize attachment in animals. Animal research suggests that this brain system is associated primarily with oxytocin in the nucleus accumbens (the brain’s reward centre). Attachment evolved to motivate individuals to stay with the preferred reproductive partner long enough to complete parental duties and experience this as rewarding.

Study to use: Fisher et al. (2003)



Evolutionary explanation 2: Partner selection based on genes

  • Natural selection would favor couples that have genes which mutually enhance their offspring’s chances of survival. This could be one way to select a “preferred partner”.

Study to use: Wedekind (1995)

Evaluation of evolutionary explanations

  • Research studies make it plausible that there are universal biological systems involved in attraction and love but this does not rule out that cultural factors may play an important role in attraction.
  • Data from brain-imaging technologies show activity in specific brain areas involved in information processing and emotion but the brain is very complex and neuro-imaging data can describe but not really explain human attraction. Generally, it is very difficult to test evolutionary theories.
  • Evolutionary theories cannot explain attraction and love between same-sex partners since such relationships are not formed to produce offspring.

Psychological origins of attraction

Similarity-attraction hypothesis:

The theory assumes that people are likely to be attracted to individuals who are perceived to be similar to themselves. This is because people who share our attitudes and values validate ourselves and boosts our self-esteem, which in turn leads to attraction. The theory is well supported by research.

Study to use: Markey and Markey (2007)

Sociocultural origins of attraction

Proximity factor – physical closeness is important in attraction

The proximity theory of attraction suggests that simply being in the physical presence of another individual will enhance the probability of becoming friends.

Study to use: Festinger et al. (1950)

Cultural factors in attraction

Evolutionary theories claim that attraction is determined by biological factors. This implies that men and women should prefer the same in their partners (universal factors) but this is only true to some extent. Cultural factors seem to play a role as well (e.g. the role attributed to chastity).

Study to use: Buss et al. (1990)