Is Attraction A Choice?

young couple in love

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Let’s say you are walking around at a festival and concert. You keep seeing women you are attracted to. You can’t stop looking. Your buddy may point out that you just “checked out” a few women.

Did you actually have to give it any thought? Or did it just sort of register in your brain? While there are occasional instances where we have to think about whether a person is really attractive, outside of these borderline cases, we know we are attracted (or not) almost instantly.

This is because attraction isn’t a rational process at all. We are attracted to others based on a variety of biological factors and chemicals (those currently circulating in the body and also exposure in the womb), a result of human evolution. In other words, generally speaking we find people attractive who are able to survive and produce and care for healthy offspring.

Men and women have evolved to find certain traits attractive based on survival. For example, women with a waist to hip ratio of .7 have been shown to be the most attractive to men. The theory is that this preference, like all other evolutionary attraction indicators, indicates the woman is able to bear healthy offspring. Women traditionally find men who are providing and protecting leaders more attractive than weaker, follower type of guys.

Also, chemicals in your body and brain are important to attraction. Estrogen and testosterone play a major role in this, and differing amounts can both affect attractiveness (such as women preferring higher testosterone men) and feelings of attraction (women with higher estrogen often have different tastes than women higher in testosterone).

In addition, specific brain chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (similar to adrenaline) play a part in attraction. It’s why the exciting bad boy is like a drug to a woman, who inexplicably (to her non-infatuated girlfriends at least) prefers him to the nice, stable, boring guy at work.

Besides the “nature” side of the equation, nurture plays a role as well. It’s estimated that our lives are primarily guided by our subconscious mind. So, when it comes to attraction, your subconscious mind is a tapestry of various threads from your life. Much of this is encoded emotionally in older parts of our brain collectively called “the limbic system.”

So, a girl might find a boy who looks like her dad who abandoned her attractive. A guy might find a girl attractive because her cologne smells like his first love. A woman may find a guy repulsive simply because he resembles an abusive ex. Etc. Etc.

All of these subconscious thoughts are working overtime when we meet someone. And, because they are emotions coming from older parts of our brains, we aren’t even aware these factors are influencing us. But, they are, and they are shaping whom we are attracted to.

Of course, all of this could sound like humans are just robots, or even worse, that if most of it is chemical, based on evolution, and other factors out of our conscious control, does that mean some people are damned to be dateless? In some ways, yes. For example shorter guys and women with naturally poor waist to hip ratios probably have a harder time winning over admirers.

Fortunately, if you are unattractive, you can consciously work on improving yourself in ways that appeal subconsciously to others. Things like losing weight, getting fit, smiling more, and being more open can make both sexes more attractive. Women can be more flirty, grow their hair longer, and be more open. Men can develop confidence, change their body language, take on leadership roles, etc.

These kind of changes can at least increase your attractiveness on a visceral, biological level. Of course, the subconscious aspect is a little tougher. Obviously if you remind a girl of her horrible father, that’s beyond your control.

In some cases, it’s also possible to grow on people, even if the person isn’t attracted to you initially. But, it’s less common because attraction is most times fairly instant, even if the depth of attraction grows later.

So, is attraction a choice? The most recent research and human experience seem to say it is not a choice, at least not a conscious and rational choice. It is a “choice” shaped by evolution and past experiences, that is more emotional than rational, and mostly outside of conscious awareness.

But, as with all things, there are exceptions, and regardless of whom you are attracted to, you always have a conscious choice as to what you do about it. Being attracted to someone doesn’t mean you have to act on it, or date that person. Some people learn that, and others don’t.

About Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is a writer, speaker, dating expert, and business owner. His articles have been viewed millions of times, and he has been featured in a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal.


  1. […] Evolution made the male of the human species larger and more dominant. While modern day technology has slightly changed this dynamic, brain wiring hasn’t quite caught up. Because of that brain wiring, women want a man who is a provider and protector. Independent women also want a man who has these traits, even if they don’t need protected or provided for. Remember, attraction isn’t even really a choice. […]

  2. […] attraction is not rational. It’s not even really a choice as we’ve pointed out before. So, by assuming attraction, you are making small changes in your […]

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