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Evolution, Biology, and Attraction  

Norman P. Li, Lynn K. L. Tan, and Bryan K. C. Choy

Mating and reproduction are central to natural selection, and decisions associated with one’s choice of mate can have significant fitness consequences. From an evolutionary perspective, attraction functions to direct one’s attention and energy toward pursuing, mating with, and retaining individuals who display traits that contribute to greater survival and reproductive success. Humans are theorized to possess a suite of psychological mechanisms that facilitate the identification of such individuals. One trait that humans have potentially evolved to be attracted to is genetic dissimilarity or diversity in the major histocompatibility complex, which is argued to promote greater immunocompetence and pathogen resistance and, hence, health in one’s mate and putative offspring. Another trait is bilateral symmetry, which is theorized to function as a cue to a potential mate’s genetic quality and ability to withstand developmental stressors. Yet another trait is sexual dimorphism. Women are theorized to be attracted to masculinity in men, which is theorized to function as a reliable signal of underlying genetic quality. In contrast, men are theorized to be attracted to femininity in women, which is argued to signal their reproductive viability. Importantly, evolutionary perspectives propose that many attraction mechanisms evolved to adaptively adjust to local conditions. Thus, when faced with high pathogen prevalence, people have heightened preferences for symmetry, which indicates having good genes and thus, greater ability to withstand disease. As another example, when potential mates of the other sex are in relative abundance, people tend to be more selective in their mate choice and exaggerate their preferences for other-sex mates with sex-typical traits. Additionally, near peak fertility, women may have evolved to increase their preferences for masculinity in men, which signals underlying genetic quality. In addition to having psychological mechanisms that facilitate the identification of potential mates, humans may have also evolved psychological mechanisms that adaptively increase the motivation to allocate attention and energy toward pursuing viable mates that have been identified. Both sets of psychological mechanisms are necessary to successful mate selection, and likely operate in tandem. In this regard, dopamine may be centrally involved in driving behaviors associated with attraction and mate pursuit. Finally, recent studies have shown that the evidence for some of the hypothesized attraction preferences is not conclusive; future scholarship will profit from more careful research design and robust methodology.