The aim of this study is to investigate the link between physical arousal and perceived attractiveness. Previous studies have suggested that males misattribute their strong emotion as attractions. This study investigated whether increasing the levels of physical arousal by exercises will lead to higher perceived attractiveness in men and women. However, the results of the study did not meet our expectation, we found that there is no significance difference between perceived attractiveness when participants were physiologically aroused and when participants were not physiologically aroused. This means that future studies are required to investigate the reliability of the effect of physical arousal on perceived attractiveness.?
Effect of Physical Arousal on Perceived Attractiveness
Is attraction increased with arousal of the body? The explanation for arousal-attraction relationship have been investigated many times over the last thirty years. One of the prominent theories which explain the effect of arousal on attraction was the misattribution theory, originally proposed by Dutton and Aron in 1974. This theory was based on Schachter’s theory of emotion which suggested that emotion is the result of physiological arousal followed by a cognitive label for that arousal (Schachter ; Singer, 1962). However, a study revealed that the link between arousal and emotion are not directly connected. Arousal can create a feedback loop that has intensifying effect on emotional state, but arousal itself is not a necessary condition for emotional state (Reisenzein, 1983).
In Dutton and Aron (1974) research, they placed an attractive female interviewer either on a suspension bridge or a low stable bridge to ask male participants to answer survey questions which contained Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) pictures. Results showed that male participants in the high suspension bridge (high arousal conditions) found the interviewer more attractive and four times as likely to call her compared with the participants in the low stable bridge (low arousal conditions). The male participants also invented stories containing more sexual imagery. This suggests that the male participants misattributed their physical arousal due to the fear that induced by the suspension bridge, to an attraction for the female interviewer. However, the study was limited to testing the attraction rates of male participants only and it might have possible sources of bias as the participants were not assigned randomly.
This random assignment issue was addressed by other studies investigating arousal-attraction interaction (e.g. White, Fishbein ; Rutsein, 1981; White ; Kight, 1984). White, Fishbein, and Rutsein (1981) found that the participants that were highly aroused by exercising were more attracted to the female confederate than those participants who were not aroused. However, they found that the highly aroused participants did not like an unattractive confederate more than those who were not aroused. This could be a polarization effect. These results support the misattribution theory and indicate that arousal can lead to increased attractions toward an attractive and good-looking person, but this theory does not explain the polarization effect that they found.
The purpose of this study aimed to investigate the link between physiological arousal and perceived attractiveness based on previous research. We hypothesized that participants who were physically aroused would rate face stimuli as more attractive, whereas participants in no arousal condition would rate faces as least attractive. The results would support the previous research and theory if there is a significant difference in attraction ratings between participants in both conditions.
In total, 56 participants (28 females and 28 males) took part in this experiment. Participants are all university students and their ages ranged between 18 and 20. The average age of participants was 18.78 (SD = 0.698). We used random assignment to allocate participants to two different groups, the exercise group which experienced physical arousal and the non-exercise group (the control group).
We prepared 2 different consent forms for the exercise group and the non-exercise group and asked participants in both groups to read and sign the consent forms respectively.
We used a stop-watch to count participants’ pulses and the time for 1-minute star jumps. A face attractiveness questionnaire was given to the participants. In this questionnaire, participants had to fill in their genders, ages and which group they were in. Also, a series of photos of ten faces (five females and five males) were presented on a power point (see Figure 1). We asked participants to rate attractiveness for these faces on a Likert scale of one (“not attractive at all”) to ten (“extremely attractive”).
Figure 1. Sample of female and male faces presented to participants
Physical arousal was induced by star jumps exercise. Participants in the exercise group were asked to do 1-minute of star jumps in order to make themselves physiologically aroused. In order to check how physiologically aroused participants’ were, we measured participants’ pulses before and after a minute star jumps. For the non-exercise group, we only measured participants’ pulses at the start of the experiment. Researchers placed their fingers on participants’ necks to count their pulses for 10 seconds, and multiply the number of pulses they got in 10 seconds by six in order to make the measured unit in pulses per minute.
After the exercise group had done the exercise, participants in both groups were asked to fill out a survey asking them to rate attractiveness for a series of photos showing ten different face stimuli presented on a power point. There would be only a face on a slide and each slide would be shown for 5 seconds.
To ensure that exercise did really increase arousal levels, a Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test was carried out to compare the heart rate of control group participants before and after exercise. The results showed that there was a significance difference between heart rate before and after exercise (Z = -4.626, p = 0.01). This confirmed that participants’ (exercise group) heart rates are significantly higher after exercise than before exercise.
Table 1. Descriptive statistics showing attraction ratings for each group separately.
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An independent t-test was carried out to analyse the data. The results of the t-test revealed that there is no significance difference in attractiveness scores between the exercise group and the non-exercise group, t (54) = 1.480, p = 0.145 (see Table 1 for the descriptive statistics). The average attractiveness score given by a participant of exercise group for the face stimuli was 3.78 (SD =1.400), and the average attractiveness score given by a participant of non-exercise group was 3.17 (SD =1.650). These results did not support the hypothesis that participants who were physiologically aroused by exercise would perceive faces as more attractive than participants without exercise.
This study examined the effects of physical arousal on perceived attraction, and the findings revealed that there was no significant difference in attractiveness ratings between the exercise group and the non-exercise group. As a result, participants failed to misattribute their arousal from the exercise to the attractiveness of the face stimuli. This contradicts with the misattribution theory and research done by Dutton and Aron (1974).
One important limitation of this study was our manipulation of arousal. In the exercise condition, participants performed a minute of star jumps. Although the exercise raised their heart rate, participants in the exercise group might not have experienced a greater increase in their heart rate than those in the non-exercise group. Also, it might not be strong enough to sufficiently keep them physiologically aroused for the whole experiment, and as such they did not perceive how attractive the face stimuli seemed to be. For example, White et al. (1981) had participants run in place for 120 seconds in their high arousal condition, which was moderate and sufficient.
Another possibility is the types of photographs used in the survey which could have influenced the results. It was because the aroused participants did not perceive the faces as attractive and good-looking and as such their arousal was not misattributed to sexual attraction (Dutton and Aron, 1974; White et al. 1981). In this connection, we can improve the results if we use more attractive photographs.
Another limitation would be that the attractiveness questionnaire was not answered seriously and honestly. Participants might verbally joked to one another about some of the faces. Also, the study was limited by a small sample size. A random sample including more age ranges would produce more accurate results and these results are more generalized to the large population.
In conclusion, the study has failed to verify the misattribution theory that arousal can misattribute to attraction. Further research is needed to explore other theories which can explain the effect of arousal on attraction and thus help to explain our results. Additionally, the participants in the researches on arousal and attraction are mostly heterosexual, therefore, further studies should address the issue of homosexuality.