Proof That Being Intelligent Makes You More Attractive
"I geek out on grammar. There's nothing sexier than the past perfect tense."
That's the first line on my dating profile. Yes, really. Call me weird, but I firmly believe smart is sexy—and new research suggests I'm not alone here. Thanks to an upcoming paper1 in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences, there's now scientific proof that being intelligent makes you more attractive.
Researchers from Western Sydney University in Australia asked about 600 adults to rate the desirability of a series of hypothetical people. The first half of the study focused specifically on heterosexual people, while the latter half of the study was more inclusive of other sexualities. They had to indicate how desirable each person was for a short-term relationship and for a long-term relationship based on descriptions they were given about how intelligent the person is (less smart than you, as smart as you, or smarter than you) and how physically attractive they are ("insufficiently attractive," "sufficiently attractive," or "abundantly attractive").
The first half of the study focused specifically on straight people, yielding some intriguing heterosexuality-specific findings: Men and women alike preferred equally or more intelligent partners when it came to both short-term and long-term relationships. For men, women who were less intelligent than themselves were more desirable for a short-term relationship than a long-term—suggesting straight guys do prioritize intelligence when it comes to getting serious with someone. Women preferred men who were as smart or smarter than themselves for long-term relationships. (The researchers also collected personal information about the participants to assess their desirability, and apparently more desirable women were even more likely to be uninterested in less intelligent men when it came to short-term relationships.)
Across the board for all participants and for all types of relationships, there was always a strong emphasis placed on equal or greater intelligence in a partner. For short-term relationships, the scientists did observe that intelligence mattered to desirability only if the person was determined to be sufficiently attractive.
"We found that intelligence only seemed to matter in the decision-making process when a sufficient level of physical attractiveness had been met in the short-term context," the authors write. "Given the role of physical attractiveness in short-term relationships, there is little sense in people's minds to consider whether someone is smart until the most important (i.e., necessity) trait has been established to be at a sufficient level. Physical attractiveness, in the short-term context, acts as a prerequisite so that a person might be considered for further interaction."
Fundamentally, for the short-term, looks held the most weight—but someone with less intelligence was still less desirable than people with equal or more intelligence, across all levels of physical attractiveness.
So, is smart sexy? When all's said and done, the answer is yes. It seemed that people, comprehensively, were looking for partners with equal levels of intelligence as themselves or more and seemed to be turned off by the idea of staying with someone who was less smart in any ongoing scenario.
"The less intelligent person is one to be avoided, as this person will come with considerable social and even biological costs, making less relative intelligence a deal-breaker," the authors write.
Interestingly enough, though, smarter can also sometimes be perceived as a threat: "A partner who was relatively more intelligent comes with [their] own set of costs like a greater probability of defection and even a sense of superiority, both which may also be deal-breakers," the authors noted. In other words, dating someone significantly smarter than you might lead to them getting poached by other interested prospects because they're so desirable—or it could just be annoying if your partner is so brainy that it makes you feel inferior. After all, everyone wants to feel smart, right?
"The key difference between humans and all other animals on the planet is our intelligence," Sajan Devshi, a psychology teacher and author, told mbg. "Theories on the formation of relationships say we try to find people who are similar to us but a little bit better." That definitely lines up with the findings from this research.
If intelligence is a huge turn-on for you, consider working on improving your own smarts to attract a similar partner. There are so many ways to grow in intelligence, Devshi explains: "Travel the world to become more cultured and knowledgeable. Read more to increase your vocabulary and improve your employment prospects."
Being smart comes with a lot of social benefits. So yes, I'll be over here continuing to geek out on grammar, thank you very much.
Georgina Berbari is a multidisciplinary artist focusing on photography and writing. Through these mediums, she creates works exploring the human body, sexuality, nature and psychology. Her work has been featured in the Hecksher Museum of Art on Long Island, ZEUM Magazine, Women’s Health, Bustle, SHAPE, BuzzFeed, and elsewhere. She is a Master's graduate of the creative writing program at Columbia University and a Yoga Alliance RYT-200 yoga and meditation instructor.