Appliance of science: The science of love and attraction

The laws of gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love – Albert Einstein.

Appliance of science: The science of love and attraction

The laws of gravity cannot be held responsible for people falling in love – Albert Einstein.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner and love is in the air. We think we fall in love in a random way but can

attraction actually be defined scientifically?

Do opposites attract?

Do we choose our soul mates because we see in them everything we are not? Maybe two different halves make a whole?

You might be surprised to hear that scientific studies suggest that actually, when it comes to long tasting love, opposites do not attract as much as we might think.

We are more drawn to people that are similar to us, especially when it comes to personality.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

What about looks? Are we attracted to people who look more, or less, like us?

It would appear that we are indeed attracted to people that look like ourselves.

Studies using facial images that were digitally enhanced to mimic subtle features of the test participants reported that these people typically ranked the faces that were similar to theirs as the most beautiful.

The results of another study even suggest that what we find attractive changes, depending on our relationship status.

Single people rate opposites more attractive, while those in a steady relationship tend to prefer the looks of people that have similar features to themselves.

The romance of the immune system

There are exceptions of course; apparently when it comes to our partner’s immune system, we do look for differences, perhaps so that any future offspring will have a more extensive defence system.

But how do we get the measure of the immune system of someone we just met? We can’t really follow a Hi, do you come here often?

With what type of immune system genes do you have? It turns out there are ways around this, it is all down to smell.

I love your eyes, your lips and your...smell

When we smell someone we receive a lot of information about them, much of it contained within their pheromones.

Some of that information includes the genetic make-up of their immune system, particularly a set of genes called the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) genes.

The mathematics of beauty

It would seem that our eyes, and our brains, are naturally drawn to people with symmetrical faces.

This may be down to something called the Perceptual Bias View; our visual systems are hotwired to more easily process symmetrical stimuli.

Beauty and its perception may go further than mere symmetry.

There is evidence to suggest that faces that are considered very beautiful have a specific ration of distances between the eyes, eyes to nose etc.

These beautiful faces follow a mathematical ratio called the Golden Ratio.

Nature versus nurture

Of course science can’t completely dictate the power of love and attraction.

One very interesting study carried out in 2015 compared how different sets of twins, both identical and fraternal, perceived beauty.

The study was set up to investigate if our preferences were genetically coded.

The results reported that the sets of twins ranked beauty very differently, even when they shared an almost identical genetic make-up and had experienced the same upbringing.

They concluded that our life experiences, rather than our genes, may guide our opinion of attractiveness.

It seems beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

Naomi Lavelle is a science communicator and mother to three children. She can be found at If your child has a question, email

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