Most women would rather have a potential romantic partner compliment their appearance than their possessions. And they view men who use metaphorical language to make the compliment as more attractive than those who are literal.
That’s the finding of a recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, investigated 116 heterosexual female college students’ preference for compliments paid by men.
“We tend to form very rapid impressions about a person’s attractiveness in social contexts and thus for women, cues from language usage during initial encounters may provide a rapid first assessment of a potential mate’s intellectual and creative abilities,” the authors of the study explained.
The women in the study rated the attractiveness of 140 men based on their facial photos, which were also paired with different verbal compliments. These compliments either used literal or metaphorical language, and either complimented the woman’s face or her house.
The women were told each man had written the compliment himself after being asked to imagine a first visit to a future girlfriend’s house. (But the compliments were actually generated by the research team, and randomly assigned to men’s photos.)
The researchers found that men who complimented women’s appearance were perceived as more attractive than those who complimented women’s possessions. In addition, men who used metaphorical compliments – such as “Your eyes are a gorgeous rainbow” — were perceived as more attractive by women than men who used more literal compliments – like “Your lips are sexy.”
By why is metaphorical language linked to attractiveness? The researchers believe it is a signal of creativity and intelligence. “Indeed, studies have consistently demonstrated that intelligence or creativity attributes are preferred by women,” they wrote.
Their findings appear to back them up. Men who used metaphorical language were not only rated as more attractive, they were also rated as more intelligent.
The study, “Women prefer men who use metaphorical language when paying compliments in a romantic context“, was authored by Zhao Gao, Shan Gao, Lei Xu, Xiaoxiao Zheng, Xiaole Ma, Lizhu Luo, and Keith M. Kendrick.