A while back, I was reading a romance. In the story, the girl meets a charming, handsome guy, and things are proceeding as usual. But then, out of the blue, a boy she’d hated for years suddenly kisses her and runs away. ZOMG! I was mildly interested in guy number one, but when guy number two showed up, I really took notice.
Jump cut to another story, where a girl meets an old flame. He's distant, but sometimes shows flashes of interest. As the shared moments continue, I’m avidly turning the pages. Soon, he's actively courting her -- bringing her lunch and supporting her through emotional trauma, and . . . I lose interest.
In both cases, the guy who might have been attracted to the girl was more interesting to me than the guy who definitely was attracted to the girl. Which got me to thinking. What is it about uncertainty and attraction?
Well funny I should ask! In fact, there was a recent study . . .
This study was done on female college students. They signed up in advance and gave researchers permission to show their Facebook profiles to others. When the women arrived, researchers told them that they were testing Facebook as an online dating site and that male students from other universities had reviewed their Facebook profiles and rated how much they thought they would like each woman. Then, the women were given Facebook profiles of four men to rate.
And here's the important part. One group was told that these four men had given them the highest ratings (the liked-best condition). One group was told that these four men had given them average ratings (the average-like condition). And yet a third group was told that the four men gave them either high or average ratings (the uncertain condition). In truth, the four men were fictitious.
So which group was most attracted to the men? Participants in the liked-best condition were more attracted to the men than participants in the average-like condition. Women were more attracted to guys who like them.
But here’s the kicker: Participants in the uncertain condition were more attracted to the men than women in either of the other groups. They also reported thinking about the men more often.
So looks like there is something to uncertainty. Perhaps the sheer excitement of wondering is enough to make that hot guy that much more desirable. So if you're looking to inject some romantic tension into your story, consider making things more uncertain.
Have you read any romances lately that did this?
Whitchurch ER, Wilson TD, & Gilbert DT (2011). "He loves me, he loves me not . . . ": uncertainty can increase romantic attraction. Psychological science, 22 (2), 172-5 PMID: 21169522
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