In the Brain Games episode on attraction, we learned that humans are hard-wired to find certain physical features attractive. Scientists theorize that we do so because earlier in the history of the human species, those characteristics indicated which potential sexual partners might be most able to produce and/or take care of offspring. Now that we’re no longer living in caves and struggling for the survival of the species, having the ideal proportions or facial structure shouldn’t be as crucial as it once was. Even so, looks still have a powerful influence on everything from romance to job prospects and even which political candidates we support. The good news, though, is that experts say even if you have less-than-ideal looks, there’s plenty you can do to look more attractive.
• Hang out in a group. According to a study published in 2013 in Psychological Science, people tend to be rated as more attractive when they’re part of a group than when they’re alone. And try to pick friends with diverse looks. The researchers suspect that when people have contrasting features—one person with wide-set eyes, another with narrow eyes—they’ll both enjoy a greater boost in perceived attractiveness when seen together, because they’ll tend to average out one another.
• Get a lot of sleep. A 2010 study by Swedish and Dutch researchers found that subjects who were photographed after a good night’s sleep were rated more attractive by observers, compared to another group who were deprived of sleep.
• If You’re a Woman, Wear Makeup. A study by Harvard University researcher Nancy Etcoff, published in PLOS ONE in 2011, found that women who wore color cosmetics were rated significantly higher in attractiveness, competence, likability and trustworthiness by subjects who viewed their photos. As it turned out, minimal makeup was just as effective at promoting the positive effect as more dramatic, glamorous looks.
• Keep smiling. If you’ve ever wondered why beauty pageant contestants seem unwilling to relax their effervescent grins for even a second, it’s because we all look more attractive when we smile. A 2010 study found that women who smiled when entering a bar, for example, were more likely to be approached by men than those who had a neutral expression.