Smile more if you’re female

Much of the science of attraction is rooted in biology – and who we think would make a good mate to reproduce with. So, how to be more attractive is tapping into what the opposite sex (if you’re heterosexual) is looking for. Smiling in women was shown in a University of British Columbia study to be more attractive than other expressions; but the same didn’t hold true for men. “People typically associate expressions of happiness with femininity,” says one of the authors the study, psychologist, Dr Alec Beall.

“This gender normative inconsistency could be responsible for the relative unattractiveness of male happiness.” Smiling makes women look friendly and ‘sexually receptive’ (in other words, more interested in having sex). “Evolutionarily, men have been programmed to seek out women who will be receptive to their advances,” Dr Beall says.

Wear red

What are some associations we have with the colour red? Passion, roses, heat and… sex. For this very reason, science has shown that wearing red is one way to look more attractive. “This red-attractiveness link is partially explained by men’s perceptions of implied sexual receptivity among women wearing reddish garb,” Dr Beall says. “In 2013, my colleagues and I even noted this effect among a small-scale society in Burkina Faso, West Africa, suggesting that men’s attraction to red is a cultural universal.”

So no matter where you’re living, if you’re looking for love, red should be your go-to colour. And you might even be doing this subconsciously – Dr Beall says studies have shown women tend to wear red and pink when they are biologically more sexually receptive, like during ovulation.

Don’t play hard to get

Women might think they appear more attractive if they keep their partner guessing as to how they really feel – and some research does support this (one study from China found that playing hard to get kept men’s interest only after they had chosen a prospective partner). But a more recent study form Germany suggests that people are more likely to rate others as attractive if they can easily understand the emotions they’re displaying.

The reason for this is in the brain: how well the study participants could decode the other’s ‘neural vocabulary.’ “Partners must understand and continuously update information about their partner’s current intentions and motivation, anticipate the other’s behaviour, and adapt their own behaviour accordingly,” study author Silke Anders, a neuroscientist at the University of Lübeck, told Time. “Understanding and personal attraction seem to depend on both the sender’s brain and the perceiver’s brain, and on how well they match.”

Speak in a higher pitched voice for women, lower for men

Ladies, think that smoky voice sounds sexy? You might want to think again. Research from the UK has found that a higher-pitched voice in women is more attractive to men – and vice versa, that a lower-pitched voice in men is more attractive to women. “Past work suggests a higher voice pitch is perceived as coming from someone who is physically smaller in terms of body size,” Dr Beall says. “Gender dimorphic – in other words, typically feminine – qualities such as these have been shown to increase men’s sexual attraction to women.”

The opposite would hold true for women, who evolutionarily seek out male mates who are larger in size, signalled by a low voice. But in the UK study, breathiness in men as well as in women was considered attractive, which the authors say may be because it softened the aggressiveness associated with a large body size.

Have a sense of humour

“He makes me laugh,” is one of the reasons women often say they find their mate attractive. A sense of humour in a man has been scientifically proven to draw the attention of women. “Studies have found that both women and men list ‘a sense of humour’ as a highly desirable trait in a potential romantic partner,” Dr Beall says. “But other studies have found that only women actually rate a funnier man as more desirable – women’s desirability was less affected by how funny they actually were.” This means women want men who make them laugh, but men want women to laugh at their jokes.

“Some have argued that women’s particularly pronounced attraction to funnier men is deeply rooted in our evolutionary past,” Dr Beall says. “The production of humour requires heritable cognitive skills such as intelligence and creativity, so mating with a funnier person may provide direct genetic benefits to potential offspring.” Because women are evolutionarily the primary caregivers for youngsters, they may be particularly concerned with having kids with good genes.

Get a dog

Pets are instant conversation-starters, and who doesn’t love a cute puppy? So it’s not surprising that researchers from France found that women were three times more likely to give their number to a dude with a dog as one without. Evolutionarily, “women tend to allocate more resources to child rearing, while men devote more time and energy to mating,” psychology professor, Dr Hal Herzog, wrote on Psychology Today.

So, “women should be more sensitive than men to how their dates treat their own dogs and cats. Men, on the other hand, should be more likely to use their pets to attract sexual partners.” According to a survey from the University of Nevada, half of the women judged a date based on how he treated his pet, and 35 per cent said they were more attracted to a man who owned a pet. Twenty-two per cent of men said they had used their pet to attract a mate.

Be kind

When it comes to attraction, it’s definitely not all about looks. As in the Gwyneth Paltrow movie Shallow Hal, good people often seem more attractive. “The ‘halo effect’ suggests that those who are perceived as physically attractive are also perceived as having socially favourable personality traits like kindness,” Dr Beall says. “Interestingly, recent research suggests that this stereotype may also work in the opposite direction – socially favourable personality traits may also affect ratings of physical attractiveness.”

One study form China asked three groups of people to look at pictures of faces and rate their attractiveness. The group given positive personality info on the faces (the others were given negative or no info) rated the faces as more attractive. “Mounting evidence suggests that the ‘what is good is beautiful’ stereotype may also hold true,” Dr Beall says.

Groom yourself

This one seems like a no-brainer: If you are looking for a partner, it’s best not to look like a slob. You probably ‘clean up good,’ right? There are biological reasons for this. “Research shows a large part of physical attraction is centred on the more changeable aspects of our self-presentation,” says psychologist, Dr Jeremy Nicholson. “Specifically, the most attractive physical features fall under ‘self-care’ – things like good grooming, clean hair, nice fitting and quality clothing, good posture and healthy weight.”

We are more likely to search out a partner who is healthy and strong (which mean good genes), as well as capable of taking care of future offspring, which is evidenced by how you take care of yourself. “These self-care features are attractive because they indicate how we are managing our health and well-being, which demonstrates our potential value as a partner and mate,” Dr Nicholson says.

Stop stressing

Just like how smiling and displaying kindness make you more attractive, showing signs of stress, like bags under your eyes or dull skin, makes you less attractive. And not just because stress tends to show up on our faces – somehow, others can sense that it’s part of a weakened immune system. In a study from Europe and South Africa, women rated men as more attractive when the men had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and a stronger immune system.

“Women seem to be able to detect the men who’ve got the strongest immune response, and they seem to find them the most attractive,” study author, psychologist, Dr Fhionna R. Moore, told CNN. The researchers suspect that testosterone, which is linked with a strong immune system and low cortisol, also plays a role in attracting women.

Grow a beard

Biologically, heterosexuals look for typically male or female traits in the opposite sex – the most glaring of which for women is men’s facial hair. “The research indicates some sex-specific characteristics are attractive – particularly those that highlight differences between males and females,” Dr Nicholson says. “For example, different styles of facial stubble and beards can signal a man’s masculinity.”

A recent study from Australia found that women considered men with heavy stubble the most attractive – but interestingly, rated men with full beards as the highest for parenting ability and healthiness. Although a beard’s connection with health seems random, it actually may be true: beards are able to block the sun’s rays, so they might protect against skin cancer. They may also keep dust and pollen from entering the airway. And as for being a good dad, a beard might indicate that a male is sexually mature and ready to reproduce.

Show off your curves

Women tend to think men prefer thin figures – but the opposite might actually be true. According to research, men prefer a waist-to-hips ratio of 7:10, which means you’re fairly curvy and have ‘good childbearing hips.’ Biologically, men might be onto something: women with this waist-to-hip ratio have been shown to have optimal levels of oestrogen, and are less prone to cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

You can play up your hips by walking with a ‘swaying gait’ – researchers found that this swinging motion was seen to be extra-feminine to men. “High heels can accentuate women’s feminine characteristics as well,” Dr Nicholson says, so if you really want to exaggerate your swinging walk, science says to wear heels.

Don’t wear too much makeup

This one seems a bit counter-intuitive: aren’t red lips a draw for men? Yes, but only to a degree – in fact, women think men like a lot more makeup than they actually do, according to a UK study. “Women tailor their cosmetics use to an inaccurate perception of others’ preferences,” the study authors wrote. Another study also showed that the amount of makeup women wear can impact others’ impressions.

“Faces with natural makeup were seen favourably but faces with more dramatic makeup were seen as less trustworthy,” study author, Dr Nancy Etcoff says. But, she also says women don’t wear makeup just to please men; they wear it because it makes them feel more confident – which may be another way how to be more attractive.

Hang out with friends

Due to the ‘cheerleader effect’ (coined by How I Met Your Mother’s Barney Stinson), people appear more attractive when they’re in a group. But Barney’s observation is actually based in science. Research from the University of California showed that study participants rated pictures of people in a group as more attractive than people alone. This is because we tend to ‘average out’ faces in a group, making less attractive members more so.

But why would we want an average face? “Typical or average facial features have been shown to be initially attractive and appealing to potential partners,” Dr Nicholson says. A study from Spain showed that men actually prefer women with facial ‘averageness’ – how closely the size, colour and shapes of face resembles other faces in a population. Averageness is thought to be more attractive because it indicates a diverse gene pool, which would lead to healthy offspring.