ANIME THEORY: Psychology of a Tsundere – Why They’re Attractive

First off, let me thank my girlfriend for helping me out with some of the information used in this THEORY. Much love to you! I would also like to thank my coworker for providing me access to the journal article written by Aronson and Linder. You’re the best, man! And this THEORY goes to my good friend, Tsujivo, because he suggested the idea. Also, it’s his birthday today!

Welcome to the fourth episode of ANIME THEORY! This time, rather than tackling a specific anime, I’m going to tackle an anime character type which all of you may have come to love or hate. Introducing… the Tsundere!

Ah, the tsundere. This over-used character type is existent in almost every anime, especially those harem romance comedies. In 2012, the most popular tsundere was Misaka Mikoto from Railgun. But, what is a tsundere?

Let's play a game that I call: NAME THAT TSUNDERE!
Let’s play a game that I call: NAME THAT TSUNDERE!

Tsundere comes from the fusion of two words, tsun tsun and deredere. Based on the Otaku Encyclopedia (holy shit, it really does exist!), tsun tsun means “to turn away in disgust”, while dere dere means “to be lovey-dovey”. Put these two terms together and you have tsundere, a word that refers to an anime character who acts unfriendly or even hostile to the protagonist, but later in the story turns out to be very affectionate and cute. The term applies to both male, female, and trap because it defines character and is not gender-locked. So, even a boy could be a tsundere in a boys’ love anime. Why do I know? Because I’m friends with one too many fujoshis…

Now that we know what a tsundere is, why does the anime industry just love to abuse tsunderes in almost every anime ever produced after the moe phenomenon plagued the industry? And to understand that, we would need to understand this one point: WHY are tsunderes attractive?

Psychology of Attraction

When talking about attraction, we would need to use psychology. The field of psychology has long been trying to comprehend attraction. There are five grand theories of attraction and I’m just gonna breeze through them.

The theory of similarity. Simply put, we like those who are similar to us. We gravitate towards those we perceive to share our own traits. That’s why I tend to look for girls who like anime, and hedonistic females tend to gravitate towards rich men with similar shopping habits.

Ledo and Amy explain the theory of proximity.
Ledo and Amy explain the theory of proximity.

The theory of proximity. Simply put, we are attracted to people close to us. The more time we spend with someone, the more we grow attracted to them. Remember Barney’s Mermaid Theory from How I Met Your Mother? Barney stipulates that Marshall’s unattractive secretary will one day become attractive all of a sudden. In one year, Marshall suddenly finds himself attracted to his secretary. I bet most of you have experienced that “love on location” feeling when you work with a coworker of the opposite sex for prolonged periods of time. In fact, a lot of relationships in anime is built on this theory of attraction. Take childhood friends for example, or Ledo and Amy in Suisei no Gargantia.

The theory of misattribution. Also known as the “Bridge Experiment”, where two couples (both co-ed) are put under two different circumstances: one pair on a shaky, high bridge; the other on a low, stable bridge. The experiment found that those on the shaky bridge were more likely to become attracted to each other. This is because the shaky bridge is misinterpreted as signals of arousal. Also, this is why you should take a girl you like to a horror movie or a roller coaster on the first date. She would misinterpret the fear and adrenaline for sexual arousal and you’d have a better chance of getting a girlfriend.

The theory of physical attractiveness. Simply put, we like beautiful/handsome people. Do I need to explain this?

Wait that was four! Relax, the final theory is the theory that explains why people are attracted to tsunderes.

The fifth theory of attraction is the gain-loss theory. Proposed by Elliot Aronson and Darwyn Linder in 1965, the gain-loss theory postulates that “the existence of a prior negative drive state will increase the attractiveness of an individual who has both created and reduced this drive state”. For non-nerds, that means a person will be more attracted to a person who initially acts negatively and then progresses to act more positively.

Aronson and Linder’s experiment went a bit like this. Let’s assume that there are two people, named X and Y. They tested four conditions: (1) X acts constantly positive towards Y; (2) X acts initially positive then gradually negative towards Y; (3) X acts initially negative then gradually positive towards Y; and (4) X acts constantly negative towards Y. The test subjects were 80 female sophomores at the University of Minnesota and they were exposed to one of four settings randomly. Subjects (Y) were asked to interact with a confederate (X).

The results showed that the subjects preferred people who acts initially negative and then positive rather than initially positive and then negative.

Does that experiment ring any bells? Yep, that’s exactly how tsunderes act. Tsunderes initially act negative towards the protagonist and later in the series, acts gradually positive to the point of becoming overly cute. But what exactly makes this attractive?

Aronson and Linder believe that the “contrast” effect takes place. Imagine the following scenario. You suddenly receive a genuine compliment from someone who usually criticizes you. How would you feel? Well, Aronson and Linder believe that the positive evaluation would “feel” more positive to ourselves. The same goes with receiving a sudden negative evaluation from a person who usually provides positive evaluation. The negative comment would “feel” a lot more negative than it actually is.

This is similar to what I like to call the “Expectations Effect”. Imagine this. You have a friend who constantly criticizes you. Psychologically, you have set a baseline for this particular friend, called the “expectations baseline”. You expect that she will always criticize you. But suddenly, she acts cute in front of you and compliments you. Her behavior suddenly heightens your expectations baseline and this “gain” is psychologically rewarding. It’s like her compliment would feel more psychologically stimulating compared to receiving a compliment from a best friend. When you receive a compliment from your best friend, it does little to heighten the friend’s set baseline.

Theory in Action

To understand the theory, we would need an example of a typical tsundere cartoon girl (shut up weeaboos, anime = cartoon). I could take almost any female character voiced by Kugimiya Rie because most of them are tsunderes, like Louise from Zero no Tsukaima and Sanzenin Nagi from Hayate no Gotoku. And perhaps the best tsundere to have ever existed is Helga from Hey Arnold!

Best tsundere ever.
Best tsundere ever.

Remember how Helga acts towards Arnold throughout the series? She openly criticizes him, belittles him, and outright bullies him every opportunity she gets. But, secretly she worships Arnold by building a shrine dedicated to him in her closet. In Hey Arnold! The Movie, Helga openly confesses her feelings to Arnold and we witness Helga’s true cute side. Now, at that time, Arnold may have been psychologically stimulated because Helga’s actions suddenly raised her baseline in Arnold’s eyes. In other words, she became attractive.

Alright, you want an anime example? Fine, weebs.

Obviously a tsundere.
Obviously a tsundere.

Now… who’s the tsundere everyone knows… right, let’s try one of my favorite tsunderes, Louise from Zero no Tsukaima. Seriously, I enjoyed seeing Louise transform from a cold-hearted bitch into an adorably cute flat-chested magician capable of casting Ultima magic. Anyway, the Louise-Saito relationship is an example of both gain-loss theory and proximity theory. You might guess they started liking each other after being so close for so long. No shit, they were together for 4 seasons. But, let’s take a look on Louise’s behavior from the first season. During the first season, she was cold towards Saito because she hated him because he was a plebian and not the Familiar she wanted. Saito also disliked Louise because she was mean to him. But, as the story progresses, we see Saito become more attracted to Louise as he witnessed the cuter side of Louise, which heightened Louise’s baseline in Saito’s perspective. And then, you know, they make out and (almost) have sex in the later seasons.

Now do you understand the appeal of the tsundere? It’s all in the science!

The Tsundere Abuse

Now that we know why tsunderes are attractive, we can now answer the question: why are tsunderes abused by the anime industry? Why is almost every romance comedy anime recycling tsunderes to the point where they have gotten really annoying? I mean, look at Kirino from Oreimo. People think she’s a tsundere, but all I see is just a whiny little sister who either loves or hates her brother. The answer to these questions lie in the nature of the tsundere-protagonist relationship.

The nature of the tsundere-protagonist relationship allows for creative storytelling. With a tsundere, the storywriters would be able to create dozens of “possible” situations which allow for character development. Say, in this episode, the tsundere and the protagonist meet and in the next episode, they get involved in shitty business and in the next episode, the tsundere starts to leak some of her dere traits. Based on how well the episodes are paced and developed, the tension built along the episodes will surely have viewers wanting more, allowing for the making of overly long stories. And if the character is attractive enough, you just listen to the anime staff laughing as collectors start buying Nendoroids and figures of the character.

And we should remember that each archetype is geared towards different audiences. And to attract a larger amount of people, an anime must have at least one of the four major archetypes: the tsundere, the kuudere, the yandere, or the dandere. Since the tsundere is the most common character archetype, I’m guessing a majority of anime viewers just love seeing a girl who acts harsh at first and then softens up later. They enjoy seeing the girl act embarrassed once her dere side is exposed. The anime industry sees this, and thinks “Geez, the tsundere sure is popular! I should flood every anime with tsunderes!” and that’s why they abuse tsunderes.

Heck, the tsundere is so popular, there’s a tsundere maid café where the maids act all tsundere to the customers. And it’s a money-making asset!

Conclusion

So, we’ve learned some psychology related to the tsundere and the reason why tsunderes are just so damn attractive. We have also learned why the anime industry just loves recycling tsunderes. So, to end this episode, here’s a question for you: how would you feel if your best friend is a tsundere? Would you be attracted to him or her?

The tsundere is attractive, but only to some people. Personally, I would not like tsunderes because the initial dating phase would be overwhelmingly difficult. But for men who like a challenge, perhaps a tsundere girlfriend is what you need. If you can stand up with their antics and crack open their shell, you would have yourself one cute girlfriend. That being said, almost all women in real life today are tsunderes.

But hey, that’s just a theory. An ANIME THEORY!

UPDATE (2 July 2014): Translation is up! Indonesian readers may access the Indonesian version here.

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