Being attractive is not just a matter of looks. Voice and smell also play a huge role, scientists have said – and this needs to be taken into consideration when designing psychology studies.
These findings are not entirely surprising, as it makes sense that attractiveness spans more than just physical appearance. However, most of the research into what makes someone attractive has focused only on looks.
"Recently, most reviews have focused on visual attractiveness – for example, face or body attractiveness," explained Agata Groyecka, lead author of a review published on the subject in the journal Frontiers in Psychology. "However, literature about other senses and their role in social relations has grown rapidly and should not be neglected."
In her paper, the researcher from the University of Wroclaw in Poland analyses thirty years of scientific research, to identify studies that centred on the role of vocal and olfactory factors.
By doing so, she and her colleagues provide a clearer picture of what has been discovered to date and how it is important to understand how we perceive attractiveness.
Information from our senses
The researchers list a large variety of findings that have been gathered over the years about people's voices and scents. Most of the evidence suggests that humans can get a lot of information about their peers just by hearing them speak or by being exposed to their scent.
Some of it is pretty intuitive – for example the fact that people are good at identifying gender and age based on voice alone. More surprising is the finding that they can quite accurately guess certain characteristics such as dominance, cooperativeness, emotional state or body size of a speaker, just from the voice.
Although less has been published about scent, studies have shown that similar information can be gathered just by smelling a person.
Considering how much smell and voice can tell us about someone, the authors of the review think these two senses are crucial to explain why we are attracted to some people but not others.
Furthermore, perceived attractiveness influences not only romantic relationships, but also friendships and professional interactions so it's important to understand how a combination of factors, ranging from looks to body odours, can change this perception.
The researchers believe that psychological studies looking at relationships, decision making and social communication won't be able to come up with the whole picture, if they continue to focus only on isolated senses.
"Perceiving others through all three channels (looks, scent and voice) gives a more reliable and broader variety of information about them," Groyecka concluded. "I hope that this review will inspire researchers to further explore the role of audition and olfaction in social relations".