Monthly Archives: April 2016

How to Improve your Physical Attractiveness

Advice abounds for how to make yourself appear more attractive; you can ensure that you are well-groomed, smile at others, display a good sense of humor, apply makeup, or drive an expensive car (Buss,1998). But have you considered some more unusual ways to make yourself look or feel more attractive? Before using these techniques you should be aware that what makes you feel more attractive may actually make others see you as less appealing.

Take a Selfie, But Don’t Post It

Do you take a lot of selfies? How do you like the way you look in selfies versus photos that another person has taken of you? Interestingly, people tend to rate their selfies as more attractive than similar photographs taken by another individual, especially if they take selfies regularly (Re et al., 2016). However, this same research also reveals that selfies only make you more attractive to yourself. Other individuals consistently rate photographs taken by someone else as more attractive than selfies.  So take a selfie if it makes you feel good about yourself, but consider sharing photographs taken by someone else if you want to appear more attractive to others.

Have a Drink, But Only One

Do you feel more attractive when consuming alcohol?  Bar patrons rate themselves as increasingly attractive as they consume more drinks (Bégue et al., 2013). Furthermore, a test in the laboratory showed that people did not actually have to consume alcohol to consider themselves more attractive, they just had to believe they had consumed alcohol in order to perceive themselves more positively (Bégue et al.).  Becoming tipsy may make us appear more attractive to others as well (Van Den Abbeele et al., 2015). However, although we become more attractive to ourselves as we consume more alcohol, we become less attractive to others if we consume too much.  Researchers observed a curvilinear relationship between alcohol consumption and perceived attractiveness, such that those who had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol (.4g/kg) were perceived as more attractive than sober individuals and those who had consumed a higher dose of alcohol (Van Den Abbeele et al.). The authors speculate that individuals may be perceived as more attractive because of the facial blush associated with moderate alcohol consumption. A slight red color to the cheeks is associated with increased health and attractiveness (see Van Den Abbeele et al.)  So have a drink, it will make you feel more attractive and make you appear more attractive to others. But don’t overdo it! Excessive alcohol consumption will make you less attractive to others.

Find a Less Attractive Acquaintance but More Attractive Friends

If you were going to a party and you wanted to appear most attractive, should you bring your more attractive or less attractive friend with you?  Intuitively, we might think that we should bring a less attractive friend so that we would appear more attractive by comparison, a phenomenon referred to as the contrast effect (Kenrick and Gutierres, 1980). This contrast might make us feel more attractive than our less fortunate friend due to downward social comparison. However, if we want to appear more attractive to others over the long term, the better strategy is to find some more attractive friends. Over time we will experience the “assimilation effect” (Geiselman et al., 1984), becoming associated with a more attractive group over time makes us appear more attractive over time as well. I typically advise my students to take advantage of both the contrast effect and the assimilation effect. At the party, follow a less attractive individual to the entrance, this will make you appear more attractive at the moment of your arrival. Subsequently, you should hang out with your gorgeous friends all night, making you a part of the gorgeous group.

How to Stay Cool Face on Sarcasm

Sarcasm and jazz have something surprising in common: You know them when you hear them. Sarcasm is mostly understood through tone of voice, which is used to portray the opposite of the literal words. For example, when someone says, “Well, that’s exactly what I need right now,” their tone can tell you it’s not what they need at all.

On the flip side, sarcasm can also be complimentary: “You majored in applied math? Slacker.” Or it can be self-deprecating: “What are you talking about? My ‘99 Geo Prizm gets all the ladies.” Sarcasm can even be used to channel Beyonce: “I woke up like this.”

But most frequently, sarcasm highlights an irritation or is, quite simply, mean.

But for all the social mayhem they cause, sarcastic people actually employ some pretty advanced social cognition. Now, this does not mean sarcastic people are more intelligent, despite what some interweb articles might want you to believe. It simply means that the ability to use and comprehend sarcasm requires a skill called Theory of Mind, which helps you detect the mental states of others, including true feelings, thoughts, and intentions.

So even though a sarcastic individual says the opposite of what is meant, he or she intends that the listener will detect the true meaning. If you don’t catch the meaning, you can’t respond appropriately. As a result, those with deficits in Theory of Mind, like individuals with schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, or autism, have a hard time understanding or using sarcasm.

Why does sarcasm require higher order social cognition? Simply put, it’s because the tone and content oppose each other. A sincere comment in a positive tone—“That is so awesome!”—or a critical comment in a negative tone—“That is so cliche”—are congruent. A sarcastic comment, however, is often a positive message with a negative tone, which is more complicated for the brain to process.

What’s the Purpose of Sarcasm?

Fundamentally, sarcasm is a cover. It’s used to cover anger, envy, or inadequacy that, without the anti-sugarcoating of sarcasm, feels too forthright.

The truth is that hiding strong emotions with sarcasm can be useful.  A 2011 study in theJournal of Applied Psychology asked participants to listen to one of three versions of a customer complaining to his cell phone company about problems with reception and customer service. The three messages were equal in subject matter and length, but the presentation was either angry (“You make deliveries only between 9 am and 12 pm! This is an outrage!”), sarcastic (You make deliveries only between 9 am and 12 pm! Well, that’s just perfect for working people”), or neutral (“You make deliveries only between 9 am and 12 pm. I am at work during those hours.”).

Know for stay or go on your relationship

For many people, the point of dating is to “try on” different relationships and decide which one is the best fit for them. Inevitably, people often conclude that their current relationship may not the best fit, leaving them with a difficult choice: stay in the relationship in the hopes that it will improve, or endure the pain of a breakup in the hopes of achieving something more fulfilling down the road.

How do people make this crucial choice? What can research currently tell us about when people choose to stay and when people choose to leave? And, can research offer any insight about when people ought to stay versus leave?

Most scientific knowledge on this topic comes from longitudinal studies. By recruiting people in relationships and tracking them over time, we can see which couples stay together and which couples break up. A recent review of such research revealed the five top predictors of whether a relationship ends or survives:1

1. Positive illusions. Couples are more likely to stay together when they see each other in a positive light (“rose colored glasses”).
2. Commitment. Not surprisingly, couples who say that they are committed to staying together through thick and thin are more likely to actually stay together over time.
3. Love. Again, not surprisingly, partners who report strong feelings of love for one another are less likely to break up.
4. Closeness. Partners who see their lives as highly overlapping—where each person sees the other as being part of themselves—are more likely to stay together over time.
5. Dependence. People are more likely to stay in relationships when they feel more reliant on their partners for support.

These predictors are intuitive and sensible: People in more committed and satisfying relationships are more likely to stay together over time. But do these findings really capture all the richness and turmoil of stay/leave decisions? What about people who are not in love but still depend on their partners? What about people who don’t feel close, but still feel committed? What about people who believe that their partner has many wonderful qualities, but also some highly problematic flaws?

The fact is, although we know a fair bit about what predicts stay/leave decisions, research has barely begun to explore the process of stay/leave decisions. Researchers can predict breakups in the same way that we can predict something like heart disease, with protective factors and risk factors – signs of relationship health and signs of relationship trouble. But we know much less about stay/leave decisions as an experience: how people wrestle with the choice, how people weigh out various pros and cons of staying or leaving, and how people handle the feelings of ambivalence that inevitably arise. Similarly, we know little about the outcomes of these decisions. When do people ultimately feel relieved that they ended their relationships, and when do people wind up regretting their choice?

The good news is that new methodological tools are being developed that will help us delve deeper into these pressing questions. Online recruitment is helping us find people who are currently in the midst of making these difficult decisions, so that we can ask them about their experiences head on. And, language processing software and new statistical methods are helping us to draw stronger conclusions from the data we collect. Hopefully, in the years to come, relationship research will have more to say not just about whatpredicts when people stay or leave, but also about how people arrive at those decisions.