Implicit and explicit preferences for physical attractiveness in a romantic partner: a double dissociation in predictive validity

J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011 Nov;101(5):993-1011. doi: 10.1037/a0024061.


Five studies develop and examine the predictive validity of an implicit measure of the preference for physical attractiveness in a romantic partner. Three hypotheses were generally supported. First, 2 variants of the go/no-go association task revealed that participants, on average, demonstrate an implicit preference (i.e., a positive spontaneous affective reaction) for physical attractiveness in a romantic partner. Second, these implicit measures were not redundant with a traditional explicit measure: The correlation between these constructs was .00 on average, and the implicit measures revealed no reliable sex differences, unlike the explicit measure. Third, explicit and implicit measures exhibited a double dissociation in predictive validity. Specifically, explicit preferences predicted the extent to which attractiveness was associated with participants' romantic interest in opposite-sex photographs but not their romantic interest in real-life opposite-sex speed-daters or confederates. Implicit preferences showed the opposite pattern. This research extends prior work on implicit processes in romantic relationships and offers the first demonstration that any measure of a preference for a particular characteristic in a romantic partner (an implicit measure of physical attractiveness, in this case) predicts individuals' evaluation of live potential romantic partners.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Courtship / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interpersonal Relations*
  • Male
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sexual Partners / psychology*
  • Word Association Tests
  • Young Adult