By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 2 February 2012)
A classic staple of movie and sitcom plots holds that even when opposites initially dislike one another, they will inevitably succumb to an overwhelming romantic attraction. However, research has shown that in real life, people with plenty in common are drawn together, and opposites are more likely to repel one another, both socially and romantically.
Buston and Emlen (2003) asked nearly 1,000 young men and women what they were looking for in a partner based on a number of attributes indicative of physical appearance, wealth, status, family commitment, and sexual fidelity. The researchers found that people consistently sought others who were most like them on a variety of key measures.
A Michigan State University study of 1,296 married couples found that partners had chosen one another based on shared personality traits. The researchers had set out to determine whether or not married individuals grow more alike over time. They found that instead of adopting one another’s traits and preferences, people were choosing partners similar to themselves to begin with (Michigan State University, 25 August 2010).
Yet another study disproving the opposites-attract myth was that of Hassebrauck (1986), who found that people perceived a man in a photo as more attractive when they were told that he had similar attitudes to their own.
So why does the opposites-attract myth persist despite dozens of studies attesting to the appeal of similarity? Lilienfeld et al. (2010) suggest a number of possibilities, including the fact that it makes good movie fodder, the desire to be made whole by a person with complementary traits, and the belief that a few minor differences can keep a relationship interesting.
- Buston, P.M., & Emlen, S.T. (2003). “Cognitive Processes Underlying Human Mate Choice: The Relationship Between Self-Perception and Mate Preference in Western Society.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 100(15), pp. 8805-8810.
- Hassebrauck, M. (1986). “Perception of Physical Attractiveness Influenced by Similarity of Attitudes.” Perceptual and Motor Skills, 63, pp. 185-186.
- Lilienfeld, S.O.; Lynn, S.J.; Ruscio, J.; & Beyerstein, B.L. (2010). 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
- Michigan State University. (25 August 2010). “Spouses Do Not Grow More Alike, Study Finds.” News.MSU.edu.