Why are some types of people attracted to other types of people?

The aim of this investigation was to provide support for the Matching Hypothesis via the replication of an earlier study by Murstein. The basic premise of this hypothesis, in its strongest form, is that ‘people will be attracted by others who are the same or very similar in levels of attractiveness. The data collection method employed was a visual questionnaire and correlational analysis was used to analyse the data. The data was collected from an opportunity sample of sixth form students.

20 students (13 female and 7 male) were asked to rate 20 individual photographs (50% female, 50% male)in terms of physical attractiveness on a scale of 1-10 (10=highly attractive). These 20 photos were in actuality 10 photos of married or engaged couples which had been cut in half. The correlation was not significant at p<0. 05 as the observed value of rho= -0. 078 and critical value= 0. 447. This would suggest that matched physical attractiveness is not necessarily such an all defining variable in how people select partners.

Rather, there may be a multitude of factors in operation; intelligence, ability to supply resources etc. In this report, ‘relationship’ refers to a romantic heterosexual bond between adults and ‘attraction’ to the process of being drawn to a potential sexual partner. In the study ‘couple’ refers to two people that are married or engaged. Why are some types of people attracted to other types of people? It is a fairly simple-sounding question, but if the answer was definitively known then perhaps it would be easier for more people to find their soul mate.

Like many other areas of human psychology, there exists an abundance of factors influencing preferences and choices; many of which can be explained in both biological and psychological terms. Using a concept called Reward Theory, Clore & Byrne (1974) assert that we are attracted to others whose “presence for us is rewarding. ” There is a general consensus regarding the main factors that have an effect on the initial attraction between two people according to their reward value and these are: proximity, exposure & familiarity, similarity and physical attractiveness.

Much research has confirmed the intuitive belief that physical attractiveness is a highly important factor when choosing sexual partners. Physical attractiveness is immediate, it signals as to whether we are healthy and therefore reproductively fit. For example, in Walster et al. ‘s(1966)’Computer Dance’ study, it was found that physical attractiveness was the single most important determinant as to whether partners liked each other and whether they would go out on a second date.

Furthermore, it was found that the more attractive a person was rated by an independent observer, the more that person was liked by their partner. This study does not support the matching hypothesis because the more attractive partners were the most well liked, regardless of their level of physical attractiveness being matched with that of their partner, thus providing evidence for the significance of physical attractiveness in relationships.

Walster’s study, however, was criticised for not having sufficient ecological validity and more recently, it has seemed more appropriate to conduct studies of fait-acompli matching, as matchings of real-life couples would provide stronger evidence for the hypothesis than contrived studies whereby people are paired together for the sake of the experiment. Dion et al. (1972) have found evidence for the existence of an Attractiveness Stereotype whereby more physically appealing people are generally perceived as having warmer, more attractive personalities; a phenomenon often attributed to the Halo Effect.

However, many studies have shown that people will tend to choose a partner that more or less matches them in level of attractiveness rather than choose someone of higher or lower attractiveness than themselves. As part of Social Exchange Theory, Thibaut and Kelley (1959) theorise that people are more likely to start a relationship with eachother if they are fairly closely matched in their ability to reward one another.

As described above, physical attractiveness is one of the factors in what constitutes a reward in this context, and so this is generalised to the assertion by Thibaut and Kelley, and the Matching Hypothesis may be stated in the form that: In general, people are attracted to other people whose level of physical attractiveness is similar to their own level of attractiveness. Murstein carried out a study in search of support for this variant of the Matching Hypothesis dubbed CAMP (Couples’ Attractiveness and Matching Photographs) in 1972.

The experimental design was correlational analysis. 99 engaged couples were asked to rate themselves and their partner for level of physical attractiveness using a 5 point scale. Independent judges had also rated each partner in terms of attractiveness using the same scale. It was found that partners received very similar ratings and these ratings were considerably more alike than the same ratings given to random couples, i. e. the control group consisting of people who were not really romantic partners. This study provides strong support for the Matching Hypothesis.

Silverman, (1971) conducted a field experiment which, like Murstein’s investigation, provides indirect support for the Matching Hypothesis. Couples were covertly observed in naturalistic dating settings (bars, clubs, theatres) by two males and two females; unmarried and between the ages of 18 and 22. Each observer rated the opposite sex partner of the couples on a 5-point scale. It was found that couples’ attractiveness ratings were often very similar, and it was noted that the more similar the ratings given to a couple, the happier (as measured by level of intimacy displayed) they were together.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interpersonal_attraction (relating to specific rewards factors quoted in Introduction)

Alvarez, L. & Jaffe, K. Narcissism guides mate selection: Humans mate assortatively, as revealed by facial resemblance, following an algorithm of “self seeking like” human-nature.com/ep – 2004. 2: 177-194

Clore,G.L & Byrne, D.S (1974) A reinforcement-affect model of attraction. Foundations of Interpersonal attraction. New York: Academic Press.

Dion, K.K., Berscheid, E. & Walster, E. (1972) What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.

Thibaut, J.W. & Kelley, H.H. (1959) The Social Psychology of Groups New York: Wiley.

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