SOURCE: Psychological Science, news release, June 30, 2015
MONDAY, July 6, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- The best-looking guys usually land the prettiest girls, but knowing people before dating them might help level the romantic playing field.
Some people appear more attractive to a potential mate over time, perhaps because their inner qualities have had a chance to shine, according to a new study published recently in Psychological Science.
"Our results indicate that perceptions of beauty in a romantic partner might change with time, as individuals get to know one another better before they start dating," said the study's lead researcher, Lucy Hunt of the University of Texas at Austin.
Over time, factors such as compatibility can make that person appealing in ways that outshine more easily observable characteristics such as physical attractiveness, she said. "Or perhaps another person might actually become more attractive in the eyes of the beholder by virtue of these other factors," she added in a journal news release.
This could help explain why people who start dating soon after they meet are more similar in their level of attractiveness than those who get together after being friends for a while, the study authors explained.
It's well documented that people tend to date those with similar physical, behavioral and psychological characteristics, the researchers said.
The study authors suggested that spending more time together before starting to date may alter this dynamic, making physical attractiveness less important.
"Having the time to interact with others in diverse settings affords more opportunities to form unique impressions that go beyond one's initial snap judgments," said Hunt. "Given that people initiate romantic relationships both with strangers and acquaintances in real life, we were interested in how time might affect how similarly attractive couple members are to one another."
The researchers examined data from 167 couples in a study of romantic relationships. Sixty-seven couples were dating and 100 were married. Some had been together just three months, while others had logged 53 years. The average relationship was a little less than nine years.
Researchers videotaped the couples as they talked about how their relationship. Trained, independent "coders" used these videos to rate the physical attractiveness of each partner. The ratings were consistent, suggesting there was consensus on the participants' attractiveness.
The longer the couples had known each other before they started dating, the less likely they were to "match" in their level of attractiveness. Couples who were friends before they became romantically involved were also less likely to be matched on attractiveness than couples who started dating within a month of meeting.
Whether or not couples "matched" in their attractiveness didn't affect the success of their relationship, the researchers noted.
"There may be more to the old saying than was previously thought: Maybe it's the case that beauty is partially in the eye of the beholder, especially as time passes," Hunt said.
The Association for Psychological Science provides more on perceptions of beauty.