There’s a commonly held phrase, which I don’t disagree with, per se, that states: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” I agree…somewhat. I agree insofar as it’s accurate in stating that physical beauty is merely opinionated by an individual’s view, and is likely defined differently between different individuals. I disagree, though, in the assumption that beauty – or even love, for that matter – is determined solely by that of the sense of sight.
Yes, whether we like it or not, or are willing to admit it or not, a person’s physical appearance is very important to each individual in determining their attraction for someone. Whether they’re into very thin people, or overweight people, or somewhere in the middle, is just as important as a person’s preference of eye color – both conscious and subconscious preferences – or a person’s type of hair and its color. Hell, even melanin levels matter to some extent to each individual. That isn’t to say that there’s any absolute determination that one race is more beautiful than others (ahem, fuck racism!), but that doesn’t mean an individual won’t find light skin a bit more attractive than dark skin, or vice versa, or again somewhere in the middle! Personally, I find light skin the least attractive.
Again, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” But what of our other senses? Are we seriously going to claim that our other senses doesn’t play a role in determining our personal preferred attraction? Whether we like it or not, science has shown that our subconscious brain helps detect certain chemical reactions (body odors) to which best fits our preferred criteria of attraction.1 If a person doesn’t fit that criteria, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, you won’t find yourself attracted to them as well as those who do fit said criteria. So now, we can change the phrase to, “Beauty is in the eye and nose of the beholder.”
What about sounds? Does the sound of a person’s voice help determine the level of attraction you may have of that person? Again, modern science says yes.2 Whether it be conscious or subconscious, each individual has a fixed criteria of what particular voice they’re mostly attracted to (likely a socially conditioned preference, to be clear). Some are attracted to lower-pitched voices, whereas others prefer higher-pitched voices. If you meet someone who is both physically and olfactorily beautiful, and yet is the complete opposite in how you prefer their voice pitch, it’s highly unlikely you’ll find that person very attractive. So we, again, change the phrase to, “Beauty is in the eye, nose, and ear of the beholder.”
How about taste? No, I’m not trying to conjure up imagery of Dr. Hannibal Lector rambling on about his attraction to how tasty human flesh is. Science is a lot less morbid – cue in the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) of our DNA. Again, whether we like it or not, MHC gives off scents to which helps us determine (subconsciously) a level of attraction. Subconsciously, MHC helps us detect people with different immune systems from ours, given the fact that couples with similar immune systems are more susceptible to having miscarriages.3 But how do we determine this? By a taste test – a kiss, no less!4 Yes, that first kiss will be one of the deciding factors of our level of attraction in someone. Leaving us to change the phrase again to, “Beauty is in the eye, nose, ear, and tongue of the beholder.”
Last, but certainly not least, we have the sense of touch. Yes, how we touch someone helps determine the level of attraction we may have for that person. Some theories suggest this to be a social condition in how we were handled as children, where others suggest it’s the simple act of neurotransmitters igniting chemical reactions, like increased endorphin levels, etc.5 This applies to those being touched as well – in how we react to the feeling of being touched somewhere. If you’re touched in a area you find least pleasurable, then you’re not going to find that person very attractive. Same goes for areas we find the most pleasurable, thus increasing attraction. So, for the last time, we change the phrase to, “Beauty is in the eye, nose, ear, tongue, and hand of the beholder.”
I know, that sounds kind of creepy. Reason why, I’m sure, we don’t really say that out loud. But it’s still true, regardless. Beauty, and consequently love, is determined by an individual’s five senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. A lot of it is subconsciously determined, so we need not worry about it much, but that doesn’t negate their importance.
“But what about other reasons for attraction? Isn’t there more than just the five senses which causes attraction?” This would be a relatively good question if anyone were to ever ask it. I’ll use myself as an example: I consider myself a Sapiosexual…
Sapiosexual | (n.) sā-pē-ō-sĕk-shü-ăl
- A behavior of becoming attracted to or aroused by intelligence and its use.
…to which people would then claim that it being a factor in determining a level of attraction would make the five senses not the ultimate deciders of said attraction. Wrong. It’s wrong because, how does an individual determine how someone is intelligent? Clearly by how they speak and how they act! And yet, to determine these, it would necessitate our sense of hearing and our sense of sight. My becoming attracted to intelligence is nothing more than the coupling of two different senses of mine.
Without our senses – if we couldn’t see, hear, taste, smell, or feel anything – we’d be nothing. Forget consciousness. Consciousness would be a complete irrelevancy when you can’t even tell you’re alive and that there’s an environment around you filled with noise, texture, and aromas. Subsequently, attraction and love would be nonexistent without our five senses.
1. Jessica D. Payne, Ph.D. “What can body odor tells us about sexual attraction and sexual orientation?” The Observer. http://bit.ly/17n0xPD
2. “Why An Attractive Voice Means A Good Mate: The Science Of Sex”. The Frisky. http://frsky.me/15Lube2
3. “Cupid’s Comeuppance”. Psychology Today. http://bit.ly/12u9OzC
4. Jeffrey Kluger. “The Science of Romance: Why We Love”. Time Magazine. http://bit.ly/151iGCn
5. Laura Berman, Ph.D. “The Chemical Symphony of Attraction”. Everyday Health. http://bit.ly/110MGPm
UPDATE: Oxford University researchers had apparently done a study recently, with 900 participants, that showed kissing had a profound effect on determining long-term relationships. The reasons for this are varied, between physical arousal to genetic determination.
UPDATE #2: Published in the Smithsonian Magazine: “Other provocative research suggests that…genes also influence sexual attraction between two people, the wiring of our brains and the chance that a couple may have certain problems in pregnancy. We have no problem accepting that our physical characteristics—hair and eye color—are dictated by our genetic makeup. But can something that feels as intimate as choosing a partner be similarly influenced by our genetic inheritance? The subject is contentious, and there’s no simple answer. There is strong evidence that animals choose mates according to the versions of compatibility genes they have. There is evidence that something of this is true in humans, but the controversy is in establishing how big an effect this is—because human interactions are undoubtedly complex.”