How do we choose our partner?

Why two people decide for each other can not explain the research exactly. From the perspective of evolutionary biologists, it’s all about the offspring, psychologists also see other motives.

You got to know and love your better half by chance in the pub? Then you can certainly explain in a few well-explained words, why it just had to be this slightly round person – and not the slender, tall nature of the next table. Can not you? Welcome to the club! Why we fall in love with some people and not with others is such a fascinating and unexplained question. However, some scientists suspect that we do not consciously choose the object of our desire, that therefore unconscious impressions make a person attractive to us.

Always on nose, so could the motto of the search for the dream man or the dream woman accordingly. At least this works in the animal kingdom: mice sniffing to see if their potential partner is genetically suited to them. The fiery boar sprays the pheromone androstenone, a messenger substance that makes the sow docile.

Researchers also assume similar mechanisms in humans. In fact, studies show that we may also follow our sense of smell in love affairs. In the name of science, women were allowed to sniff at extensively used men’s T-shirts and infer the attractiveness of the shirt wearer. They unconsciously chose the genetically appropriate person for themselves. Whether or not pheromones actually have a seductive effect on people is controversial – despite all the promises of the perfume industry.

People of the same kind stick together

It seems plausible that we pay particular attention to how the man or woman looks at the counter. Not only do we find an even face so attractive, it probably signals that a person is especially healthy – and has good genes. And while heterosexual men tend to judge women more by their attractiveness, heterosexual women are sometimes more concerned with the economic status of men.

These differences are not always serious: the greater the prosperity of a culture and the equality of men and women, the less their wishes differ when choosing a partner – a proof that cultural achievements can overlap biological factors. This is also shown by sociological studies: If you got to know your great love, for example, in the introductory lecture for law students, this is normal. Couples often come from the same social milieu.

Even psychologists say: Equal and equals like to join. Relationships are more conflict-free and thus more consistent when both have similar attitudes or similar social status. And books, movies and, of course, education also affect our ideas of togetherness.

Maybe it’s the smell that draws two people together. Not for nothing it is said that we could smell someone good – or not. Does your nose lead you – unconsciously – to your great love? Some advertising slogans of the perfume industry are clearly ambiguous in this direction: Perfumes with sex attractants, so-called pheromones, allegedly practice “magic attractions on the female sex”. Women should look “erotic, attractive and sexy” on men.

With the silk moth, this works like this: the female females produce a substance that they release into the environment. Thus, they attract willing partners from a distance who perceive the “seductive” messenger substance with certain sensory cells of their antennae. Even with tiny amounts of these pheromones, living beings of the same species communicate chemically with sexual readiness: An animal separates the substance from the outside. Another reacts to it. Pheromones do not smell and act unconsciously.

The special nose for sex

These attractants are found in many creatures – including mammals. Whether they occur in humans, so far no one knows so well, and how we perceive the pheromones, if any, is also unclear. Many vertebrates, such as the mouse, have a special “nose” for it: the vomeronasal organ.

It sits above the palate in the lower part of the nasal septum and has sensory cells that are different from the neurons of the olfactory mucosa in the nose. Pheromone stimuli, which perceives the vomeronasal organ, land directly in the brain, in areas that are primarily responsible for the feeling.

In adults, however, this organ is stunted: it has no connection to the brain. That does not mean that there are no pheromones. In the meantime, researchers have discovered receptors in our normal olfactory epithelium that are similar to those in the mouse vomeronasal organ. But how the communication about the messenger substance with us could function exactly, is so far not clarified.

Message in sweat

It does not matter whether we have a special nose for pheromones or not, the search for the luring substances continues cheerfully. In numerous studies, scientists have tested whether women and men react to possible sex pills of the opposite sex. A possible source of human pheromones are the sweat glands under the arms or in the genital area.

For example, a serious pheromone candidate is found in the underarm perspiration of women. Obviously the substance can make sure that women who live together live their days at the same time. In subjects of a study who regularly received “female” underarm perspiration on the upper lip, this effect occurred after four months. Male sweating also affected the monthly bleeding. But with that, the researchers are at the end of their wisdom. How the cycle adjustment works exactly and by what substance it is actually triggered, is not yet clear.

Other possible candidates are Androstenol and Androstenone. They are mainly found in the underarm sweat of the man. Bacteria produce them by breaking down the sex hormone testosterone . Experiments showed that women who sniffed androstenol described men as sexually attractive, while androstenone had the opposite effect. However, women perceive odors differently throughout the cycle. During ovulation, for example, they find Androstenone less unpleasant.

Attractant from the pigsty

All these studies have a catch anyway: most of them took place under laboratory conditions. Whether the findings can be transferred to real life is doubtful. Even after years of intensive research, scientists were unable to clearly identify a human pheromone. Our behavior and the smells we send out are so complex that it is difficult to unravel the connections.

So if you met your dream man or her dream girl at the party the other day, it probably was not your expensive pheromone perfume. Perhaps, quite banal, the place next to you was the only one free. A placebo effect may have been involved: because you believed in the power of pheromones, you may have become more open to other people.

Incidentally, Androstenone, which is contained in some of the ostensibly enticing scented waters, comes from the boar.

Immune (MHC complex)

The body odor mixes with the partner choice at another point. We usually sniff each other before we get closer to each other, and that can be understood quite literally: Obviously, our individual fragrance reveals potential love candidates as it is about our defenses.

Why is the immune system important in choosing a partner? Sex, so say evolutionary biologists, is worth – across all forms of life – only if this form of reproduction is more promising than reproduction without sex. A possible advantage of the most beautiful thing in the world is that the genetic information of egg and sperm cell mix: the offspring is genetically better prepared for disease – this ensures the survival of a species.

Vertebrates and humans have in their genome genes that belong to the so-called major histocompatibility complex, MHC complex for short – a “detection service” for evil intruders. These MHC genes ensure that our immune system can fight against pathogens such as viruses, bacteria and larger parasites. We have nine MHC genes, each of which can have hundreds of variants called alleles. However, the individual has only a maximum of 18 of these gene variants. Very specific alleles are responsible for very specific intruders. Therefore, it is important that the offspring is conceived by partners whose MHC alleles are clearly different from each other, because then he can target more germs.

But obviously the differences can be too big. In any case, many studies have shown that the fastidious sex, mostly the ladies, prefers a partner who has MHC alleles that are slightly different from their own. Apparently, this can not only smell animals like mice or sticklebacks. Also we humans react well to odors, which betray the equipment of our Immungene.

Just follow your nose

In the mid-nineties, Swiss scientists carried out an almost classical experiment: they let men wear a T-shirt for two nights and then presented the well-scented garments to experimental women. The subjects did not know what the experiment was about. Still, they liked to smell shirts whose wearers had other immunities than themselves.

Other scientists conducted more T-shirt experiments to find out if we can really sniff out genetically-appropriate partners. However, the results contradict each other. Even with married couples, researchers found no clear trends. Evolutionary biologists suggest that it is not necessarily ideal to have as many different MHC genes as possible. With an optimal set, an organism could best be adapted to its specific environmental conditions. In addition: In reality, we do not search for and find our loved ones with our nose alone.

Attractiveness and evolution

Attractiveness is initially in the eye of the beholder. Because before the nose reveals something about the relationship ability of possible bedfellows, you have usually long eyed your counterpart: age, figure, hairstyle, clothes. From what we see, we sort the field of potential playmates. Checking the appearance is the first and perhaps most important step in mate choice.

Scientists have found: Worldwide, members of different cultures find the same facial features beautiful. Thus, around the globe, even features seem more appealing than oblique. Evolutionary psychologists explain it this way: A symmetrical face signals that our counterpart is healthy and fertile. Nature is in the choice of mates now to reproduction. And the healthier someone is, the better the chances of having healthy offspring.

Often, the external signs of health and fertility are similar – the sex hormones play a role: the more testosterone a man has, the more masculine he appears – strong eyebrows, strong jaws, big nose. On the other hand, full lips, rosy cheeks and symmetrical breasts are “figureheads” for the female sex hormone estrogen and fertility of the woman. Also, the so-called hip-to-waist ratio is an important signal in this regard. Men prefer the hourglass shape, which means a waist that is quite narrow in relation to the hip. Conversely, women choose men without a visible waist, ie with rather narrow hips.

Controversial theories

The power of hormones is particularly evident during the fruitful days of a woman: she feels more confident, attractive and has more desire for sex. She flirts more often, is more enterprising. Interestingly enough, the ladies in this time fly on very male types – even if they have to compromise on the personality. At least several studies point to this: Around the time of ovulation, women prefer bigger men with distinctive features and a deep voice. Evolutionary researchers believe that these properties signal: the type can produce good, strong progeny. Outside their fertile phase, however, the subjects were more interested in “more feminine” men with delicate features and gentle voices who consider them good fathers.

But of course it’s not always about one thing. After all, you also want to talk. Intelligence and humor in the dearest man appreciate women and men alike. Nevertheless, according to evolutionary psychologists, both sexes differ in their partner preferences. They have different goals: men are therefore more important, how attractive their partner is – because it’s about having offspring. Women tend to pay more attention to the social and economic status of the man – at least when it comes to long-term relationships. After all, the father should also be able to take care of the children in spe.

These explanations derived from human evolution are not undisputed. In particular, philosophers of science accuse evolutionary psychologists that some of their theories are too speculative and do not sufficiently consider how culture, for example, shapes human behavior.

Sociology and Psychology

Scent, waist: There is no reason to assume that the biological heritage completely dominates our mate choice. Rather, culture and biology influence each other. Studies have shown that in countries like Sweden or Finland women do not necessarily look for men who are financially well off, unlike women in Japan or India. In other words, the more affluent and equal a society is, the less gender and partner choice criteria are.

In addition, what we say and what we do may be two different things. This resulted in at least a study of American scientists, the students before a so-called speed dating, in which people unknown to each other every minute advertise each other, asked for their preferences. As expected, men put more emphasis on the look of the potential new girlfriend. The status of the future loved one was more important to women. However, the criteria according to which the male and female subjects later actually chose did not differ from one another. Desire and reality do not always match.

In a study by the University of Munich, men and women were largely in agreement: both groups found it most important that the partners can rely on each other, give each other security and security, and have similar values. However, mostly married couples participated in the survey.

Unpredictable passion

Education and work also play a crucial role in mate choice. It is rare for couples to cross social boundaries. Psychologists also observe that we often look for like-minded people. Actually logical: When two people share many interests and attitudes, there is less dispute. At any rate, it is clear that we do not approach the project of great love unbiased.

The personal environment, the family, previous relationships, even the books we read and the films we’ve seen shape our notions of togetherness – for example, how important sex is. Starting with puberty, we go hunting with a relationship ideal in our heads – and test our ideas of reality.

Biology or psychology, culture or nature: in which people we bind ourselves longer depends on many things. So far, research has failed to explain why we are ever attracted to a particular person. Love and passion are still unpredictable.

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