When you consider the traits that make someone attractive, you might be thinking of wealth, health, and a great smile. But, you may be overlooking something else that is surprising. New psychological research suggests that storytelling ability is related to perceived attractiveness.
Through a series of 3 studies, researchers explored the relational consequences of being able to tell a compelling story (Donahue & Green, 2016). Specifically, they wanted to examine how storytelling ability affects perceived attractiveness for both long and short-term dating prospects.
In the first study, researchers had dating-aged men and women rate a biographical profile of a person of the opposite gender. The profile included a picture (previously tested to be of average attractiveness). In the profile, in addition to general background information that included a description of the person as sociable and a good friend, the profile introduced the person as either a good storyteller (“tells really good stories at parties”), a moderate storyteller (“sometimes tells good stories”), or a poor storyteller (“tells poor stories”). Participants were asked to rate the person on four categories: the person’s physical attractiveness, attractiveness as a long-term date, attractiveness as a casual date, and attractiveness as a friend. They also rated the person on perceptions of personality, such as empathic, intelligent, kind, socially skilled, and outgoing.
Overall, good storytellers were rated more highly on intelligence and social skills, suggesting that being a good storyteller is generally associated with a variety of positive traits. However, when examining perceived attractiveness, there were clear differences between men and women. Men’s attractiveness ratings of the female did not differ based on storytelling ability. By contrast, women rated good storytellers as more attractive as a potential long-term date. Storytelling ability did not affect ratings for casual dating, friendship, or physical attraction, suggesting that storytelling ability is specifically related to long-term relationship potential. In a second study, participants performed a similar profile rating task. This time, they read a story told by the target, which was either told well (retelling a detailed and humorous story about a friend), or poorly (the same story, but told with a lack of relevant detail and irrelevant filler information). Again, they found that women rated good storytellers as more attractive for long-term dating, while men did not differ in their attractiveness ratings.
What makes a good storyteller an attractive dating partner? One possible explanation could be that good storytelling ability signals status. Specifically, someone who is good at telling a story has the ability to influence others and accrue social power, which in turn increases attractiveness for a long-term relationship. To test this, the researchers had a set of participants rate a similar profile as in the previous studies, while also including a series of questions about the perceived status of the target (the participant’s ratings of person’s ability to be popular, be admired, be an inspiration to others, and be a good leader).
Both genders rated good storytellers as having higher perceived status, suggesting that status, like intelligence and social skills, is a trait associated with good storytellers. However, status was important in explaining long-term dating attraction to good storytellers among women, while it was not among men. The researchers suggest that being a good storyteller signals a more diverse series of traits that are particularly appealing from an evolutionary perspective for women evaluating the long-term relationship potential of a prospective partner.
Attraction is complex and multifaceted, but this research has real world applications in how we communicate to our possible relationship partners. For example, in the online dating process, there are multiple opportunities to showcase storytelling skills. Whether you are sharing an anecdote about yourself on your dating profile or responding to a question while communicating with a match, something as simple as telling a good story could increase your chances of dating success. And, even if it doesn’t ultimately lead to a long-term relationship, it could be a way to highlight other positive aspects of yourself.
Donahue, J. K., & Green, M. C. (2016). A good story: Men’s storytelling ability affects their attractiveness and perceived status. Personal Relationships, 23, 199-213.