The Science Of What Attracts Men To Women

Updated March 20, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
”What’s more significant than whether we are viewed as attractive to a partner is whether we are connecting with the right partners for us. Healthy people tend to attract other healthy people, and by working on ourselves, we can not only make ourselves more attractive to a potential partner, but we can also increase our affinity to the most important person: ourselves." - Nicholas DeFazio, MRC, LPCC-S, LICDC

Attraction is anything but an exact science. Still, scientists and researchers have spent decades trying to determine what features of attraction are universal. Are there hard rules of attraction that all people follow? Is attraction entirely subjective? If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what's happening in the brain of the person beholding the beauty?

This article will discuss two components of attraction: biological and social. The biology of love and attraction concerns things that are primarily innate and difficult to change, like how men with high testosterone prefer women with highly feminized faces. The social factors include changeable things, like prosocial behaviors and desirable personality traits.

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The biology basics

It is important to note that sex and gender are separate, distinct concepts. When discussing biology in this context, only sex is considered. Gender is a psychological concept, not a biological one. Some men are biologically female, and some women are biologically male. For the purposes of this article, "man" is used in place of "biologically male," and "woman" is used in place of "biologically female."

When discussing the biological factors of attraction, it is important to remember that humans are members of the animal kingdom. Attraction, and romantic love as a whole, are mating behaviors that are not driven consciously. In other words, love and attraction aren't always logical or rational.

At the biological level, love is literally chemistry. Understanding the roots of how attraction works means understanding hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers in our bodies that produce the feelings associated with attraction. Understanding those chemicals is the closest researchers have come to unearthing the secret "formula" of attraction.  

A team of scientists led by Dr. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist known for studying love, broke romantic love into three distinct categories: lust, attraction, and attachment. Attraction is the main topic of this article, but an understanding of lust and attachment can help clear up confusion between the various terms.


Lust is characterized by a strong desire for sexual gratification and a focus on physical attractiveness. While lust usually comes before attraction, it isn't required for attraction to take place. Two hormones play a crucial role: testosterone and estrogen, both sex hormones. Testosterone is commonly associated with men and estrogen with women, but both play a role in each sex. Testosterone increases the libido of both men and women.


Attraction is marked by intense euphoria and a desire to be close to the person you are attracted to. Attraction occurs early in romantic love and can be either short or prolonged. During attraction, the brain's reward system is engaged, releasing a large amount of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is a "feel good" chemical released when we do pleasurable things.

In Dr. Fisher's model, attraction is less primal and more complex than lust. The activation of the brain's reward pathways facilitates bonding in new relationships and is responsible for the intense feeling of infatuation that comes with newfound attraction.  


The final component of love is attachment, characterized by comfort, security, and deep emotional connection. This stage is marked by the hormone oxytocin, which is released during physical touch and intimate moments. Attachment requires a significant bond, and attraction usually mediates the connection between two people in romantic relationships.

Attachment can be present without lust or attraction (that's called friendship, by the way), and it is entirely possible to feel lust and attraction without ever becoming deeply attached.


Lust vs. attraction

Generally, when people talk about being "attractive," they combine the lust and attraction components of Dr. Fisher's model. Attracting another person usually requires both a physical component (lust) and a deeper emotional component (attraction).

Physical attractiveness matters, but researchers still disagree on how much. One study asked men how attractive they found the photo of different women's faces to be and found that facial symmetry was an important factor of attractiveness. However, another study reached the opposite conclusion; facial symmetry did not predict how attractive a person appeared.

Physical attraction is difficult to define due to massive variations in what individuals find attractive. Scientists have found some clues, though. A sociological theory known as the matching hypothesis asserts that most people form a committed relationship with someone equally attractive, but both men and women are likely to pursue those they consider more attractive.

The situation is complicated further by the interplay between physical features and personality. In Dr. Fisher's model, personality accounts for a significant portion of attraction. Even if someone is incredibly physically attractive to you, it is likely that your feelings will fade if they turn out to be ugly "on the inside." Of course, another sociological principle, the halo effect, tells us that a person is likelier to ignore the negative personality traits of a physically attractive person (there are no straightforward answers in the science of attraction).

The social components of attraction

The halo effect might make us overlook a poor personality in favor of physical attraction (at least within limits), but the opposite is also true. A person with a good character is likely to appear more physically attractive. In fact, research has consistently upheld the importance of desirable personality traits.

Like with physical features, men are not universally attracted to one "type" of personality. However, there are some common themes that scientists have identified. Here are a few common personality traits that men tend to find attractive:

Response to humor

When interacting with a potential romantic partner, men tend to emphasize the importance of how their humor is received by the other person. This is a surefire way to appear more attractive to a man: laugh at his jokes. It's important not to be disingenuous, though, don't laugh if you don't find a joke funny, but if his humor resonates with you, show it!


Several studies have upheld the importance of honesty in attraction. One study found that men strongly preferred an honest, truthful person. The halo effect shows up here, too; the men who participated in the study rated honest women as more healthy, feminine, and attractive. On the other hand, the dishonest woman was rated as less fit and in poorer health overall.  

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Another study found that kindness significantly increased how attractive a person appeared. Study participants, all men, were shown pictures of women along with fabricated personality information. If the study participants were told that the woman in the photo was kind and nurturing, ratings of physical attractiveness increased considerably.

Similarity and familiarity

Similarity and familiarity aren't personality traits, but they are an important part of building attraction. Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated that opposites don't typically attract. Most people find romantic partners who are similar to themselves and have a lot of common ground.

You don't need to make sure you have everything in common with a man, but you do need some things in common. Similarity goes beyond hobbies and interests too. Similar factors might be socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion, or age. The important takeaway is that you should feel some similarity with the man you are trying to attract. He is less likely to be interested if he doesn't feel any similarity with you.

Familiarity, on the other hand, is more straightforward. Sociologists have long studied a principle known as the mere exposure effect. Research has repeatedly upheld that simply spending time with someone and becoming familiar with them raises how much they are attracted to you. It's important not to be overbearing, of course, but the main takeaway is that merely being near someone is enough to boost your attractiveness.

Becoming more attractive

Attraction is an enormously complex concept, and this article has barely scratched the surface of how attraction works on an individual level. Attraction is highly individualized and unique to each person. While physical appearance plays a role, it is far from the only factor that makes someone attractive.

How attractive a man finds you depends on your physical appearance, personality, proximity, and his assessment of his own attractiveness. There are dozens or hundreds of variables to consider, making attraction impossible to reduce to a simple formula.

If you take one piece of information from this article, let it be this: what's "attractive" isn't real. There is no universal definition. You will be attractive to some people and unattractive to others. What matters is how you feel about yourself. At the end of the day, confidence is the most attractive trait you can have.

How can online therapy help?

If you're struggling with feeling attractive, a self-esteem boost might help. Online therapy connects you with a licensed therapist who can help you develop strategies for boosting self-esteem, increasing confidence, and recognizing your most attractive features. Online therapists use the same evidence-based techniques as in-office therapists, like cognitive behavioral therapy. Online therapy removes barriers to accessing a therapist, like physically traveling to their office, without sacrificing treatment integrity. Techniques administered online are just as effective as if they were administered in person.


Science has long struggled to understand human attraction. We've gained a solid foundation of some components, such as which hormones produce feelings of love and attraction, but we are a long way from a general attractiveness formula. Attraction is highly individualized and unique to each person. While there are common themes, no two people will find exactly the same things attractive. Improving attractiveness focuses on self-acceptance, building self-esteem, and improving confidence.

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