The Scientific Reason We’re Attracted to People Who Play It Cool

the scientific reason we re attracted to people who play it cool

For many of us, when it comes to romance, no one is more alluring than someone we can’t have. See: Hot Priest. See also: “Horn Storm.”

But even under less forbidden fruit-fueled circumstances, those who “play hard to get” seem to hold an irresistible appeal.

What’s this all about? Should we blame it on our first love with the avoidant attachment style? Are we all a bunch of gluttons for punishment? Masochists? Is it the thrill of the chase we’re after? Is there simply nothing sexier than conquering a challenge? Is it hot in here?

Science offers some answers. According to a study done by researchers from the University of Virginia and Harvard and recently mentioned in The Atlantic, “Women were most attracted to men whose level of interest in them was ambiguous.” The study’s title? “‘He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not . . .’: Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction.” (Hey, Harvard: Tell us something we haven’t known since seventh Grade.)

In the study, female test subjects (all college students at University of Virginia) were told they were taking part in an experiment about online dating (not true). It was explained to them that their Facebook profiles were viewed by a group of college-age men, who were then asked to rate how well they believed they would get along.

Next, the female subjects were divided into three groups, and each were shown Facebook profiles of four attractive, college-age guys.

One group of women was told that these were the men who liked them the most. A different group of women was told that these men had given them a middle-of-the-road rating. And the final group of women was led to believe that these guys’ feelings about them were unknown or unclear.

The results, published in the journal Psychological Science, were noteworthy: “The women were most attracted to the men whose feelings remained unknown. They found these mystery men even more attractive than men who openly declared their attraction.” The researchers attributed this outcome to “the pleasures of uncertainty.”

It turns out the group of women told the men were uncertain about them also thought more frequently about the men whose feelings they couldn’t discern. And the more you think about someone, the more attractive they seem. (Side note: Musing over a love interest’s mysterious intentions was also a proven mood booster.)

So no, it’s not just you (or Phoebe Waller-Bridge). But the next time you’re horn-storming over a semi-interested someone, just know it might be his ambiguity—and not necessarily his compatibility—you find so exciting. 

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