Here’s something that may have confused you in the last post:

Why did I place so much importance on social factors — especially power and social proof — in a chart about physical attractiveness?

It might seem confusing because we tend to think of “physical attractiveness” as something static: the way a person looks in a photo, or how they would be in real life if they were as still and silent as a statue. But on this site my definition of physical attractiveness is different. As I wrote, I’m thinking of it as “anything that can be noticed from meeting a man in person and hearing him say ‘hello,'”[1] which is why “physical attractiveness includes things like voice and social skills, but does not include the man’s personal circumstances or personality.”

Here’s the source of confusion: if I’m not including personal circumstances, how can power and social proof be a factor? It seems like they should be a component of social standing — and isn’t that highly dependent on the man’s personality, job, wealth, and other components of “personal circumstances”?

Let me clear things up.

When it comes to physical attractiveness, context matters more than reality.

Social factors (as a component of physical attractiveness) don’t have a direct correlation with the man’s actual personal circumstances. Instead, they’re tied to the context in which you meet the man.

For example, imagine meeting a man at a Burger King restaurant, while he’s behind the cash register and dressed in a Burger King worker’s uniform. Then imagine meeting the same man at a bar while he’s wearing a suit. Most women will find the latter more attractive.

But doesn’t the burger king costume show that the man works at burger king, which says something about his personal circumstances? No, because the costume doesn’t necessarily reflect his actual circumstances. It’s just a part of the context in which you’re meeting him.

Let’s say the man is Matt Damon. In reality, he’s a wealthy and well-respected actor. But if you just met him in the burger king scenario, and didn’t know who he was, then the context would negatively affect your attraction to him.

At first impression, costume and context indicate power and social standing — regardless of reality.

I’ve emphasized the outfits in my description of the two scenarios above, but it’s not the outfit alone that’s affecting the man’s attractiveness — it’s also what the outfit, within that context, says about his power and social standing. In other words, it’s not just that the burger king outfit is less aesthetically pleasing than the suit — it’s also because it conveys a lower social status.

Which is why power and social proof are included under “stuff you can notice about a person from meeting them for 5 seconds without knowing anything else about them.”

How do we know these things matter?

For most women, social factors like power and status are hugely important to a man’s value as a reproductive partner because they signify his ability to capture resources. For an overview of the link between social factors and physical attractiveness in men, see page 401, section High Status and Attraction, in this article (Elliott et al. 2010).

So what should you do about it?

If you have to wear low-status clothes for work, you might find it’s a waste of time to try to attract women while working. Instead, direct your energy towards a strategy with a higher chance of success; and dress as well as you can, whenever you can.


Note

[1] This leaves room for the content of what the man says to be a factor in his attractiveness. But let’s just assume for example’s sake that he says something normal like hello, and I’ll cover basic social skills in a later post.

Reference

Elliott, Andrew, et al. 2010. “Red, Rank, and Romance in Women Viewing Men.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 139.3:399-417. doi: 10.1037/a0019689.

 

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Hi there! I'm a writer and image consultant based in Montreal, Canada. Whatever your goals may be — whether in love, business, or life — I'm committed to helping you achieve them by improving your appearance.