Although Ben and Vicky like their husbands as people on Married at First Sight, they are having some trouble finding their respective spouses physically attractive.

So, what is the psychology of attraction? Is it vital for long-lasting romance? Must one feel that physical "spark" immediately, or does its absence mean any ensuing relationship is doomed?

Let's first consider the science or biology of attraction - is it merely unconscious and physical and thus uncontrollable? Or is it more fluid, contextual and relational?

Some research has indicated human sex hormones affect attractiveness. I'm sure we have all heard this - men with more testosterone are deemed more attractive, as well as women with more oestrogen (even if it is the same woman who produces more oestrogen at different times during her "cycle").


One thing that is often talked about - but is a total myth - is this idea of pheromones and the part they play in human attraction. Pheromones are a sex hormones found in bees and insects, which they use to communicate all sorts of things to each other, including sexual attraction.

Contrary to popular belief, pheromones do not exist in humans and dowsing yourself in the animal version does not work in attracting other humans.

Some perfumes and colognes claim to include pheromones that will attract people to you sexually. This is a total fallacy (and waste of money) as research indicates pheromones are not effective in humans. Furthermore, research shows these "biological" aspects of attractions are much less important in real life.

It is the social, cultural, psychological and relational dimensions that really count. Decades of psychological research indicates although initial physical attraction is important at thestart of any romance, personality is much more vital as the relationship progresses.

I'm sure many of us have experienced this scenario: you see someone you find instantly physically attractive. But once you get to know them a bit, you're less taken by their personality and the attraction quickly fades.

Interestingly, my research indicates in such scenarios the desire for a romantic relationship fades, but casual sex might still be on the table. So, although people might have casual sex with someone they find physically attractive but cognitively unattractive, they typically won't pursue a long-term relationship.

Alternatively, you might meet someone you don't immediately fancy physically -- but as you get to know them, or spend more time with them, the physical attraction and sexual desire grows. We all know friendship can be the best basis for a strong, long-lasting relationship.

In social psychology, it is well-established some of the main things that really shape attraction are: similarity, familiarity and proximity. These are just some of the insights Tony Jones and I used when matching the couples on MAFS.

Similarity refers to how similar people are in terms of core values, ideals, interests and sense of humour. How family oriented is someone? Do they want the same things out of life as you? Are they socially and politically engaged? Career-focused? Or the opposite?

Although you don't want to date your carbon copy, the old adage that "opposites attract" doesn't hold true. And even when opposites do attract, they have a harder time making a relationship work.

What works better is having similar core values and interests, and complementary traits or habits.

Even if you are a bit different in behavioural traits, this can offer an opportunity for personal growth.

Maybe you're a neat freak but your partner is really laid back about tidiness. Or you're super-organised and your spouse is rather shambolic.

What can help is both party taking a leaf from each other's book. The neat-freak organiser can chill out a bit, and the disorganised one can pick up their game.

This is where personal growth can ensue, as part of an intimate relationship. And the scenario can apply to other domains: maybe one person has high emotional intelligence and is a good communicator, whereas the other is less skilled. Again, learning from each other helps us have a more harmonious relationship and offers the opportunity to grow as individuals.

Familiarity is about this idea we are attracted to people who feel familiar.

This is a subconscious process and could merely be someone subtly reminding you of a favourite caregiver or family member from when you were growing up (yes, that could mean a parent or grandparent!). As humans, we like order and familiarity -- it makes us feel safe. There's less for the brain to process and figure out.

Lastly, there's proximity. This is simply that the more you see someone, or the closer in proximity they are on a daily basis, the more likely you are to find them attractive.

This is why so many co-workers, students or fellow public transport commuters end up dating.

More and repeated exposure really aids attraction.

So, if you don't find someone physically attractive the first, second or third time you meet them, if you get along, have similar values and interests, you are very likely to find them attractive over time.

The lack of an immediate spark shouldn't really be a deal-breaker.

At the end of the day, we construct our realities and can really shape our relationship destiny.

In this vein, it's to be hoped Ben and Vicky are able to spend some quality with their spouses and see if they figure out why we matched them, and if they can develop the intimate bond that might lead to a long-lasting relationship.

Although we are partly patterned creatures of habit, we can and do change.

Each week, MAFS expert Dr Pani Farvid analyses an aspect of the show.