Love & Sex

How Unique You Are Matters More than How Hot You Are, Says Deeply Reassuring Study

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Your quirks are your sex appeal.

Good news, weirdos, interesting people, and everyone who is not currently a supermodel: being “unique” may have more to do with your romantic success than your general hotness rating.

Writing about their findings for the New York Times this weekend, University of Texas-Austin scientists Paul W. Eastwick and Lucy L. Hunt lay it out. Desirability is based on two metrics: “mate value” and “uniqueness.” Mate value, they explain, “is predicated on people’s ability to reach some degree of consensus about one another’s desirable qualities.” It’s about the majority — if most people agree, upon first meeting, that Lauren/David/Steven/Kyle has “high amounts of attractiveness,” than Lauren/David/Steven/Kyle has high mate value.

And it’s true, as confirmed by anyone who’s been to a party, or to a middle school: some people do “generally inspire swooning, others polite indifference, and others avoidance.” But there’s hope for those who fall in the “polite indifference” and “avoidance” camps — their uniqueness factor.

Uniqueness is “the degree to which someone rates a specific person as lower or higher than the person’s consensus value.” A unique person inspires strong feelings, both positive and negative. “Even if Neil is a 6 on average,” the researchers write, “certain women may vary in their impressions of him. Amanda fails to be charmed by his obscure literary references and thinks he is a 3. Yet Eileen thinks he is a 9; she finds his allusions captivating.” By being his literary-alluding self, Neil alienated Amanda, but he seduced Eileen. And sometimes, all you need is one (I hope he likes Eileen, though).

Eastwick and Hunt, who published their findings this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, go on to point out that most romantic relationships don’t take off the second a couple-to-be locks eyes. “The vast majority of us get to know our romantic partners slowly, gradually, over time,” they say. That’s great news for the Neils among us: as people move past first impressions and into deeper relationships, mate value evaporates and uniqueness takes over.

When researchers asked 129 undergrads to rate each others’ desirability at both the beginning and the end of the semester, they found consensus dropped and uniqueness increased. When they looked at people who already knew each other well, they found any semblance of mate value had evaporated altogether: consensus was virtually zero. When you’re close to someone, it’s not your face that matters; it’s your encyclopedic knowledge of John Waters movies.

So the moral here is be yourself! Get to know people. Don’t hide your light (or your obscure literary allusions/bad puns/passion for the 1986 Celtics) under a bushel — your quirks are your sex appeal. Unless you’re very beautiful. Then it’s also your face.

Image via Zamzara

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