What do people find attractive?

Every month, Sarah Abell invites you to try a 30-day experiment to improve your love life


What do people find attractive?

The project

Do you want a second date or to maintain a long-term relationship? Then forget about bragging – research shows both men and women are attracted by ‘humility’ in a prospective or long-term partner.

The aim

If you want to find or keep love, humility is a trait worth cultivating. Most people prefer someone who sees their strengths and weaknesses accurately, doesn’t hog the limelight and treats others well.

The theory

Have you ever fallen for an arrogant rogue or self-absorbed prima donna? If ‘yes’ then chances are it didn’t end happily, ever after. That might be why many of us prefer to have romantic relationships with people who are kind, respectful and humble.

In their recent research published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2014, Daryl Van Tongeren and colleagues wanted to test whether humility was a desirable trait in romantic relationships. They undertook three separate studies.

In the first study, 41 students looked at a dating profile. The fictional character had profile scores that indicated that he or she was agreeable, extroverted, conscientious, not neurotic and open. But in addition the imaginary person was either given a score of ‘not humble’ or ‘highly humble’. And ego lost – participants were more likely to want to give their phone number and make a date with the more humble character.

In the second study, 133 participants read profiles that had been written to sound arrogant or not. Again the humble profiles gained favour with both men and women.

And in the final study, the researchers tested 416 people in exclusive relationships and discovered that they were more likely to forgive their partner if they viewed them as humble.

Van Tongersen concludes: ‘Given the robust positive effects of humility, it stands to reason that humility may be a highly desirable attribute in others, and one that might be worth cultivating in ourselves.

Try it out

  • Be authentic. If you are writing a dating profile or meeting someone for the first time – don’t exaggerate your strengths and reveal a few of your weaknesses as well.
  • Get curious. Make sure that you show interest in the other person and don’t let the focus remain solely on you.
  • Be wise. Arrogant people can be very charming initially. Be mindful of how much your potential date brags about themselves, blames others or fails to admit mistakes. It’s hard to build an inter-dependent relationship with someone whose main focus is themselves.     

Sarah Abell is an author and relationships coach. Find out more at nakedhedgehogs.com. To buy her LifeLabs Practical Wisdom online course How to Save Your Relationship, please click here. You can try a free 3-day taster trial first too.

Photograph: iStock

More inspiration:

Watch Relationships are your treasures by Karen Ruimy on LifeLabs

Read Looking for love by Jackee Holder on LifeLabs