As I continue to read up on the evolution of human mating, a theme that keeps recurring is how complex people are in what they want from their erotic pursuits. Many books, journal articles, and even popular magazines compile lists about the physical features we consider attractive, the traits we look for in a mate, etc. In those lists, we can find patterns, but none can ever be perfect because we are complex, individually and culturally variable, and always in flux, trying to balance an array of wants and needs that shift over time along with our circumstances. No single variable will ever be sufficient to explain what people want. Sometimes it’s Arthur Miller; sometimes it’s Joe DiMaggio.
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.’ – John Keats
Van Gogh's Starry Night
In 2004, Kevin Kniffin (a former classmate of mine at Binghamton) and David Sloan Wilson, published an article in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior revealing their results from three different studies on perceptions of beauty. Among their findings was that, for people who knew each other, ratings of physical attractiveness were strongly influenced by the personality traits of those persons who were being rated. In other words, when rating potential mates, ‘inner beauty’ augmented perceptions of external appearance and overall attractiveness. The reason behind this likely has Darwinian roots. According to Wilson:
“The fitness value of potential social partners depends at least as much on non-physical traits — whether they are cooperative, dependable, brave, hardworking, intelligent and so on — as physical factors, such as smooth skin and symmetrical features.”