Intelligence Is Good For Finding Romance Except When It's Not, Professor Explains

Ryan Ford 31 Jul 2020

There's a word for those of us who find intelligence to be sexy and desirable in romantic partners: sapiosexuals. Marilyn Monroe was a famous example; she married playwright Arthur Miller and kept a portrait of Albert Einstein on her piano.

Sapiosexuality isn't quite as cut-and-dried as it sounds, however. Like so many areas of human attraction, it's more complex than you'd think. While intelligence might be sexy, there is such a thing as being too smart.

But Dr. Aaron Ben-Zeév, a professor of philosophy and former president of the University of Haifa, broke it all down on Psychology Today.

As Ben-Zeév points out, as traits in a romantic partner, intelligence and beauty are quite different.


There's an important distinction to make between the kind of attractiveness from physical beauty and intelligence: when someone is physically beautiful, you really only need to see it to know it. It's completely passive. To know if someone is intelligent or not, you generally need to interact with them and get to know them to some degree.

So, a connection with a potential partner is already a bit baked-in.

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There are a couple of other reasons smarts are so attractive, Ben-Zeév says.

Giphy | Brooklyn Nine-Nine

One he calls a "personality halo." It's a matter of other attractive qualities that often get lumped in with intelligence, such as caring, kindness, sense of humor, and social status, that enhance attractiveness.

"Sex appeal is influenced by qualities like wealth, sense of humor, class, and race," he added.

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The other is something called "arousal transfer."

Giphy | ABC Network

So heightened states that have little to do with attraction can make you feel more attracted all the same.

As Ben-Zeév says, it's like makeup sex. After a fight, "arousal from the fight is transferred to a high arousal state during the sexual encounter," he explained. "The transfer from the excitement of being with an intelligent person to greater sexual attraction is then quite natural."

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However, while intelligence can be a powerful factor in attractiveness, it can also be a detractor.


It's great for finding a partner until it's not, which is basically when someone is too smart, Ben-Zeév says. He cited a study that showed that while those who are smarter than 90% of the general population are seen as the most attractive, attraction declined for those who are smarter than 99% of the population.

"Social competence difficulties attributed to people with such high intelligence may be a factor," Ben-Zeév says, adding that a gap between intelligence levels might also play a role.

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And it's a finding the bears out in popular culture as well.

Giphy | Saturday Night Live

After all, we're all familiar with the "sexy librarian" stereotype, but there isn't a corresponding stereotype for, say, philosophers or rocket scientists.

Maybe they're perceived to lack social skills or to be overly intellectual to the point of being disconnected. They're just too smart, on another level entirely.

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As Ben-Zeév sums up, while sapiosexuality might not be ideal for hook-ups, it can make for solid long-term romance.

Giphy | The Bachelor

"Since intelligence is more related to the long-term than is physical attraction, it seems that sapiosexuality puts greater weight on the more profound aspects of the romantic bond," he says. "Indeed, as the seriousness of the relationship increases, the weight put on more enduring characteristics, including intelligence, should rise as well."

h/t: Psychology Today

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