Being friends before getting romantic has its advantages, according to a new study. Researchers say a person's attractiveness can increase the more you get to know them.

Lead researcher Lucy Hunt of the University of Texas at Austin explains: "Having more time to get acquainted may allow other factors, such as another person's compatibility as a relationship partner, to make that person appealing in ways that outshine more easily observable characteristics such as physical attractiveness. Or perhaps another person might actually become more attractive in the eyes of the beholder by virtue of these other factors."

Initial impressions of physical attractiveness become less relevant than they did in the first encounter.

Much of the time, you'll see people of the same attractiveness pair off. Hunt and her colleagues were interested in understanding why people tend to pair off with partners that have similar physical and behavioral characteristics. It's a phenomena often referred to by psychologists as "assortative mating."

But when researchers factored in time to get to know another person, they found the rules relating to desirability shift. Opinions about the person begin to change as someone gets to see another person in different contexts. Initial impressions of physical attractiveness become less relevant than they did in the first encounter.

When we first meet someone, it's known that we make snap judgments about trustworthiness based on facial features, but in the long-term, altruistic behavior has been shown to help a person snag a significant other. Indeed, says Hunt, “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.”

"[B]eauty is partially in the eye of the beholder, especially as time passes."

The couples were videotaped talking about how they'd changed over the course of their relationship. Meanwhile, independent coders rated the attractiveness of the couples. The researchers' hypothesis stood: The longer the couples had been acquainted with one another before dating, the less likely they'd be matched in physical attractiveness.

Hunt concluded: "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.” Love isn't about seeing someone as perfect, but rather appreciating them for the reasons they're not perfect.

How has online dating changed the landscape of how we meet our romantic partners and make that first impression? Philosopher and social critic Slavoj Žižek says he dislikes the sense of self-commodification and self-manipulation innate in online dating. 

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Read more at Science Daily.

Photo Credit: NIKLAS HALLE'N / Stringer