Is There Science Behind Turn-Offs And Turn-Ons?

Is There Science Behind Turn-Offs And Turn-Ons?

How many times do you or people you know swipe right, swipe left, or initiate a conversation with a person you find attractive? Are there certain things that make one person more attractive to you than others? Researchers and psychologists agree that a person’s personal experiences and biology can explain why the heart wants what it wants. That may also explain why one person’s looks or persona may turn someone on and turn another person off. 

Attraction isn’t just about a smile that makes your knees weak or a sense of humor that melds with your own. Culture and values, certain life experiences, biology, and evolution all influence who you are attracted to and why. Experts agree that there are five, largely universal elements of attraction. We are going to explain what the experts say about turn-ons and turn-offs below.


Familiarity can often breed attraction, which is why it is common for people to start out as friends and before getting romantically involved. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, because you may just bump into the same person at the gym or coffee shop. The more you grow fond of that person, the more likely you are to be attracted to them. Think of this like listening to a song: the more you listen to it, the catchier it becomes.


What you have in common with someone can often influence your attraction. You may share the same level of education, interests, looks, and goals with a person, but you don’t have to share all of these things in common for that spark to ignite. Is it convenient if you share the same passion for Thai food and have similar interests in music? Sure, but recent research shows that you may be drawn to people like you because your shared attributes reflect something deeper. Some researchers say this connection is strong because you both see things the same way, and that can be very attractive. That’s not to say that you have to agree on everything, because disagreeing is often healthy. 


Are you more likely to find someone attractive if you feel that they like you? This is the concept of reciprocity, but if that factor fades, so too can the relationship. When you put a lot of effort into something and receive nothing in return, it then becomes less meaningful. In the case of a relationship, that flame can die out and attraction fades. 

Physical Attractiveness

Not everything comes down to how you think someone looks. Physical attractiveness can change across cultures, generations, and even in individuals at different stages in life, or points in a relationship. What’s on the outside does play a role in how attracted you are to another person, though. Sociologists suggest that physical attractiveness matters from an evolutionary standpoint. Appearance, scent, and even sound may give you insight to a person’s age and health. One review of studies found that people can accurately detect characteristics from cooperativeness to body size in a potential partner only from hearing their voice. 


Some people like to play hard to get, while others like to respond immediately. One controlled experiment found that people who were less responsive were rated as less attractive. You may not need to respond to someone instantaneously, but maybe don’t wait two days to respond to a text. People are on their phones regularly, so the excuse, “Sorry, I’m just seeing this,” may not be a great indicator of your or the other person’s character. 

Biology Plays A Role

What turns you on may not turn on another person, even if that person is your best friend. Some preferences seem to be hardwired over millennia of human evolution. Researchers looked at surveys of more than 14,000 people across 45 countries. They found that men prefer physically attractive, younger partners, while women prefer older, financially stable partners. That is even true in cultures with more gender equality. 

Regarding men, the emphasis on looks and youth may reflect an evolutionary desire to pass on genes. A woman’s higher premium on wealth may be related to an evolutionary need for support during childbearing years. Before birth control, it is likely that women spent most of their reproductive years either pregnant or lactating. Those things require a lot of human resources, regarding food, time, and energy. More research on this topic is still necessary, especially surrounding dating preferences in the LGBTQ+ community.

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