What’s Behind Your Attraction To Intelligence?

Updated November 15, 2019

Reviewer Dawn Brown

So, you've realized you're attracted to intelligent people. It happens. Yet, only a few studies have been done to examine how much it happens or why it occurs. Still, scientists and psychologists do have some ideas. Here's a look at what may be behind your attraction to intelligence.

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Evolution And Attraction To Intelligence

In evolutionary science, the attraction is typically seen as an avenue towards preserving the human species. In particular, the attraction is the first step towards creating a family and having children. There are three emotion systems for mating, having children, and childrearing. It all starts with having a sex drive. The next part is sexual attraction before the couple becomes emotionally attached.

Attraction to intelligence fits in with evolutionary theory if it can contribute to this process of carrying on the species. And, in fact, it does. More intelligent people tend to have more earning power, so they tend to have better financial means to provide for children. They have greater mental resources for solving all kinds of problems that could threaten the well-being of their family. Their greater capacity for learning also makes them more adaptable when new or rare problems come up. All in all, in evolutionary terms, they do seem quite desirable as mates.

Psychological Distance

How attracted you are too intelligent people may also have something to do with your psychological distance from them. The psychological distance can relate to how far you are from them in time, in spatial proximity, socially, and whether they are hypothetical or real.

In one study, researchers examined how psychological distance affects attraction. As it turned out, men showed greater attraction to women who were more intelligent than they were, but only if they were psychologically distant from them. When they were close to them in space, time, socially, or in reality, they weren't nearly as attracted to them.

Does Fertility Matter?

Intelligence can be attractive to women, too. If the evolutionary case for attraction to intelligence holds, it makes sense that women would be drawn to intelligence when they were most fertile. Could it depend on where you are in your ovulation cycle?

In another study of attraction, scientists found that when women were fertile, they experienced greater attraction to men with preferable facial characteristics such as symmetry. However, they found no evidence that women were attracted more to intelligence during this part of their ovulation cycle than at other times. Does that mean they didn't find them attractive at all? No, the research was focused on the effects of the ovulation cycle and didn't address the degree of attraction to intelligence overall.

How Intelligent Is Intelligent?

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Another thing to consider is exactly how intelligent are the people you're attracted to? You may be attracted to someone who is slightly smarter than you are, but are you sexually attracted to a genius? If you are, you're probably in the minority. A recent study of attraction to intelligence, also called sapiosexuality, found that some people are more attracted to others who are intelligent.

However, how intelligent they were made a big difference in the outcomes. The most sexually attractive people were those in the 90th percentile of IQ scores. Those with extremely high intelligence - above the 90th percentile - were shown to be less desirable than their somewhat less intelligent counterparts. People who fell much lower than the 90th percentile were also considered less desirable.

Does It Matter How Intelligent You Are?

Yet another question to take into account is: how intelligent is the person who feels the attraction to intelligence? And, how great is the divide between their intelligence and the intelligence of the person they're attracted to?

This question hasn't been fully examined by researchers yet, but many psychologists and people who work with couples in other ways have noticed that it does matter. In an article on compatibility from Psychology Today, Neil Clark Warren, who created the eHarmony questionnaire for their matchmaking site suggested that the couple needs to be relatively close in intelligence to be compatible - approximately 10 IQ points difference, he said, was ideal. It's important to remember, though, that just because you're attracted to someone, it doesn't mean the two of you will be compatible in a relationship. And, the fact that you would be compatible with them doesn't mean you'll find them attractive.

The study mentioned earlier on sapiosexuality found that people from a wide range of IQ scores did find intelligence attractive. So, even if you aren't an unusually intelligent person, if you're a sapiosexual, you're going to find intelligent people attractive.

Does The Level Of Involvement Make A Difference?

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You may have an eye for intelligent people, but how does that attraction hold up when you get involved with them? Another Psychology Today article described a study that asked university students to rate the minimum intelligence they would find attractive in a mate in different involvement scenarios.

Four levels of involvement were examined: single date, sex, steady dating, and marriage. In this study, the researchers found that people had fairly low expectations of a single date. They only looked for someone who was average intelligence. However, when it came to marriage, they preferred someone more intelligent than about two-thirds of the population.

How Success Plays Into The Attraction To Intelligence

It's a natural assumption that someone intelligent has more capacity to be successful. And, who wouldn't want to hitch their wagon to that wonderland of money, prestige, and power? Certainly, a more intelligent person can more easily master the coursework to get a college degree. If they go into a profession like medicine or the law, they will likely command a much better than the average salary. If they get a business degree, they can put it to work in the corporate world or build their own business. At least, there's the potential there.

However, your attraction to intelligence, in this case, maybe more related to perception than to reality. Indeed, the potential is there. On the other hand, the intelligent person may choose a lower-paying profession if that's where their interests lie. And, they might also sabotage their success. In "Why Smart People Can Be So Stupid," Carol S Dweck lays out several beliefs that keep intelligent people from realizing their full potential. According to Dweck, each of the following beliefs stem from a deeper belief that many intelligent people have - that intelligence is a fixed trait that can't be developed:

  • That doing well on one test indicates their overall intelligence
  • That how well you perform is a measure of both your intelligence and your self-worth
  • That learning is risky (they'd rather be doing something they're good at than learning something new)
  • That intelligent people don't have to put in as much effort
  • That working is unpleasant

Of course, not all intelligent people hold those beliefs. Many intelligent people are extremely passionate about their work. They understand how much more there is to know and strive to learn as much as they can in their lifetime. They may know they're intelligent, but they don't let that stand in the way of working hard and increasing their knowledge. They try new things happily. Intelligent people who think this way truly seem to have the ability to succeed in their chosen field.

Dealing With Your Attraction To Intelligence

Like any other type of attraction, attraction to intelligence can present some problems. Certain situations can easily crop up if you gravitate toward intelligence in your dating preferences. You might find yourself saying things like the following.

I'm Attracted To Someone Who's Out Of My Reach

Anyone can be attracted to another person who they can't be in a relationship with. Maybe that person is happily married, or maybe they have a different sexual orientation. And, you may feel that you don't have a chance with someone more intelligent than you are. That might be true, or it might not. Human attraction is a very complex issue, and it's very difficult to guess whether any intelligent person will ever be attracted to you.

I'm Attracted To Someone Whose Interests And Beliefs I Can't Understand

Intelligent people often have esoteric interests that the average person can't relate to. If the person you're attracted to is passionate about things you don't understand, you may feel left out. You may even feel bad about yourself because you just don't get it. But the truth is that many very intelligent people find common ground with less intelligent people. Also, couples don't have to share all the same interests. And, working on your self-esteem may help you feel better about the whole situation.

I'm Attracted To Someone Who Can't Possibly Value Me

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Here, again, is another issue where self-esteem plays a large role. If you assume that an intelligent person has no basis for valuing and respecting you, the problem lies in the way you perceive your own self-worth. Truly intelligent people don't look down on people with lower IQs. They see the value in many other qualities potential partners bring to the table.

I Feel Like I'm In A Competition

What if you feel like you're their equal, but their intelligence is a threat to the relationship due to competition? Competition within a relationship can be very damaging if you both don't handle it well. Talking to a couple's counselor can help you sort out the issues and learn to deal with your partner's intelligence better.

In fact, couple's therapy can help you deal with any issues you have surrounding your attraction to intelligence. When you learn more about how to manage your expectations, self-esteem, and behaviors, you can end up with a very good understanding of your unique situation. Then, you can find ways to channel your attraction for intelligence into making a beautiful life for yourself.


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