Do people get together and stay together based on their differences or their similarities?
Similarities and Differences in Attraction
The similarity-attraction effect and the complementarity concepts have offered support to the opposing views on attraction. Are people more attracted to those similar or different than them? This paper explores the debate by highlighting the literature supporting the two sides. Various theories in the literature supporting the two views were analyzed. The similarity concept offers a more conclusive argument and evidence of attraction. Individuals are more attracted to those they believe have a similar perception of life like them, similar attitude, and even physical characteristics. One possessing these characteristics is seen to more likely appreciate the other individual for who they are. This belief is supported by the reinforcement model which holds that if an individual finds something rewarding in their interaction with another individual or expect such a thing in future, they will then try to maintain such a relationship. Differences among individuals will more likely lead to conflicts among the two parties from time to time which would with time weaken the relationship.
Keywords: similarity, complementarity
Man is a “social being” which means that it would be hard for an individual to isolate themselves from others completely. Relationships, whether with a friend or lover usually form a key part in the realization of a happy, satisfying life. Experiences of individuals who have been separated from close ones for a long time whether through sickness, serving in the army and heartbreaks among other things points to the importance of relationships in one’s life. Who we chose as friends or soul mates is, however, an interesting subject to many people. Individuals might just meet in unexpected circumstances such as in a plane, bus or even hospital, strike a conversation, move together and still be living together thirty years later. In schools or at home, individuals might find themselves attracted to various individuals and not others. They might make friendships that may last for years to come even after graduating from school and marrying. An important question therefore which comes to people’s minds is why we are usually attracted to certain individuals and not others? Are we attracted to others based on our differences or similarities? This paper explores the literature on the theories and factors surrounding attraction. It argues that similarities form the basis for attraction to other individuals.
Many theories exist on attraction and the formation of relationships. One issue that has however been a subject of debate is whether people get attracted to those different from them or those with similar traits. There have been suggestions that opposites attract while others are of the opinion that one is usually attracted to those similar to them. The dissimilar view may have stemmed from the belief that if two people are not similar in thoughts and personality, they would often be in conflict and their liking for each other would, therefore, fades. There is, however, an argument that a happy relationship should be one in which both parties seek and experience personal gratification (Winch, 1954). This can be explained through the complementary need theory. The evidence for this may be in the desire for younger women to be more attracted to financially stable but more mature or older men. There is, however, evidence that individuals of the same height, age, education, and physical attractiveness among other aspects may be more attracted to each other (Back et al., 2008). In general situations, people are seen to be more attracted to those who share various personal attributes with them as opposed to those who have different attributes. Sports enthusiasts might for example jeer rival fans but greet others supporting their team in a warm way. Individuals with a similar political agenda will also turn up for an event organized by a leader with similar views as opposed to one called by one with opposing views. There is, therefore, need for further analysis on the effect of similarities and differences in attractions in depth.
Theories of Attraction and Similarity Effect
The theory holds that human beings desire to view the World in a consistent and logical manner. To this end, they will favor anything that reinforces this perspective (Byrne, 1971). If an individual finds something rewarding in their interaction with another individual or expects such a thing in future, they will then try to maintain such a relationship. The reason behind this is that these individuals with whom one agrees with or expect something from their interaction reinforce one’s consistency and logic concerning their World. However, if one does expect anything rewarding from their time with others or disagree with them, they will avoid interaction with such people as they do not fit their perceptions of their World. These individuals are associated with mistrust and uneasiness which lead to a lack of attraction.
The theory by Heider (1958) holds that a number of reasons that stems from one’s perception of a relationship are responsible for the attraction with other individuals. The choices one makes when seeking a friend reflect a balance between the feelings of attraction for others and their values, attitudes, and personal beliefs. There should be a balance between the actions one takes and how they feel. Heider (1958) argues that there may exist two types of relationships between people or with a place or event. According to him, there might be a unit relationship between an individual and thing in their consciousness and a sentiment relationship (dislike/like). The first relationship is characterized by an unsure belief that one does not or is meant for another individual. However, both relationship types all aim at achieving a balanced state where one feels a liking or positive sentiment and a dislike or negative sentiment for those they do not perceive to be meant for. Individuals will always be uncomfortable in a relationship where this balance is not achieved. The individual will try to achieve the balance by either changing the unit relationship or by altering their individual sentiments (Heider, 1958). A number of dimensions under which attraction may exist were proposed. These include proximity; where the time spent with another individual influence their friendship; reciprocity, whereby the presence of mutual attraction increases the chances of individuals liking each other.
People tend to get more attracted or take a liking for individuals that they are familiar with as opposed to total strangers. One may, for example, be more attracted to a neighbor or one in close proximity. A study by Festinger et al., (1950) found that individuals were twice more likely to develop a close friendship with an individual who lived around 20 feet away as compared to one who lived around 40 feet away from them or around two doors away. Segal (1974) and Back et al., (2008) found similar results. People further tend to react positively to familiar stimuli than to unfamiliar stimuli and that the quality of contact among other factors which goes along with familiarity cannot explain the effect (Zajonc, 1968). A study by Moreland & Beach (1992) for example involved some female research assistants who attended different numbers of lectures posing as students. The women were rated by the students as more attractive depending on the lectures attended even though there was no interaction between the assistants and the students. Another study by Kellerman et al., (1989), found that pairs of strangers were more attracted to each other if they had been among those randomly assigned to stare into each other’s eyes as opposed to those assigned to stare into the other person’s hands for two minutes.
People may come to like each other due to spending much time together (Heider, 1958). With time, the individuals develop a unit relationship which leads to friendship. A study by Newcomb (1961) for example, involved male college students who had not known each other before. The students had been offered boarding facilities at the institution. The levels of attraction and attitudes to other participants were first taken at the study outset and then taken periodically. The study found no relation between attraction and attitude similarity when the study started but existed a significant relationship between attraction levels and the types of attitude. A study by Priest and Sawyer (1967) also sought to find this relationship. Students in a dormitory were studied for two semesters. Those who lived closer to other students not only recognized but liked them more. Even though by the second semester, the students could recognize others who lived on the opposite side of the building, they did not like them as they liked others close to them.
People often tend to like those who like them back. Support and affection from others usually provide a rewarding effect on others and they usually retaliate by liking the other individual. The liking from others should always make them feel special for the reciprocity effect to exist. A study by Walster et al., (1973) sought to investigate whether men were attracted to women who seemed hard to get. They found that men were more attracted to women who seemed hard to get for other men but easy to get for them. A study by Eastwick et al., (2007) found that speed-daters did not get attracted to others who liked everybody but were attracted to those people who liked them more than others. Also, individuals will have a higher attraction to those who take time to like them as opposed to those who like them instantly. The effect majorly stems from the perception of a boost in self-esteem from knowing that one liked you as you were in the processing of understanding them better (Vonk, 2002).
This factor applies to both women and men. A woman will most likely be attracted to a man that is physically attractive i.e. tall and well-built among other traits while a man may be more attracted to a woman with a good face and cleavage among other things.
The similarity-Attraction Effect
The theory stems from the view that those with similar characteristics as well as an outlook on different things will experience the greater attraction. The effect borrows majorly from the positive reinforcement factor and the theory of classical conditioning. Being in a relationship with someone who understands your thought process and takes you for who you are, helps one feel that their contributions are more appreciated. The effect will be the maintenance of the feelings of attraction for a longer time. The similarity may, however, be actual or perceived though there have been arguments that the type of similarity does not make any difference. Montoya et al., (2008) for example argue that there will still be positive reinforcement whether the similarity is existent or not existent as long as it is perceived in the individual’s mind. Critics may, however, argue that the other partner may not perceive the similarities which may lead to no attraction.
Methodologies in the Similarity-Attraction Effect
It has been argued that friendship and attraction operate on a random basis even though the similarity is a factor in attraction or that it exerts little influence (Peterson et al., 1980). Some researchers have claimed that the difference in results could be due to methodologies used to analyze the effect. Montoya et al., (2008) for example argue that though the factor plays a crucial part in attraction, this does not happen in real relationships but rather in laboratory settings. The argument is that some of the responses are artificial due to the use of an inexistent partner as the basis of the research. Byrne et al., (1986) for example asked participants whether they would develop a liking for an imaginary person who possessed similar characteristics. This means that there will be no interaction through which the participants can determine their liking or even similarity to the other individual. The method however ensured that other external factors did not play in the relationship by focusing on attraction. The method does not also take much time and is relatively inexpensive which means that as many participants can be involved in the study. Existing couples in actual relationships may also be used in other studies. However, though the method may be one of the most appropriate, it may be time consuming and expensive which leads to a small sample (Montoya et al., 2008). The alternative method involves the two parties and the interviewer. This method allows for some level of interaction between potential partners for certain duration. The method does not necessarily have to produce similar results as the exchange may differ from one study to another.
Shiota and Levenson (2007), in an attempt to overcome the challenges of the methodologies used in the similarity-attraction effect incorporate the marital satisfaction concept instead of attraction. The study aimed at determining the effects of similarities in the personality traits on satisfaction in marriage. Different stages of life after marriage are put into consideration. There are different responsibilities and roles during these stages and these play a part in the overall satisfaction. While the first stage may be characterized by extreme liking among each other as they will majorly be trying to please each other, the later stages may not be that smooth. In later stages, the fire they had has waned off and they now have to deal with such things as child rearing and the investments to make to safeguard their future among other things. The partners will at this stage trying to outdo the other in similar tasks instead of agreeing on the way forward. The research had some high level of validity in that couples married for over thirty years were used in the research and this allowed the determination of the decline in satisfaction over time due to the level of similarity. The authors also argue that past studies have failed due to the failure to examine how the individuals’ personalities might have an effect on the satisfaction in their marriage. The authors also not only provided a linear trajectory useful in determining future effects but also used a long-term study that was an improvement from the cross-sectional studies used in past research.
The similarity-attraction effect faces opposition from the complementarity concept. The concept is based on Winch et al., (1954), that one will be attracted to the individual who offers the greatest opportunity for them to get the maximum need gratification from this individual. The argument is that opposites instead of similar attract. The concept was based on a study whose participants were twenty-five couples whose ages were between 19 and 26 years. The author used “an eight-card thematic apperception test”, participant interviews, and need interviews which sought to know the type of needs of the participants.
There are specific requirements for complementarity to existing which is that Type 1 or 2 must be met. Type 2 refers to the difference in the type of interactions between two people where their needs are not similar but these individuals are highly expressive. An individual wishing to be deferent may, for example, complement one wishing to be dominant. The type 1, on the other hand, is where there is a difference in intensity. One of the partners may, for example, express their need partner in a low intensity while the other person highly expressive in a similar pattern.
Various researchers have attempted to find evidence to back the complementary theory but failed to bring a clear proof. Levinger (1964) justifies the lack of evidence on the fact that friends’ complementary needs might significantly differ from a married couple’s. The traditional personal preference schedule commonly used, which focuses on the relationship between friends may therefore not produce the best results for married couples which are the basis for the complementary theory. Another thing that emerges from the theory is that the author did not explain the two complementarity types. If one was for example average in kind as well as intensity in expressing their needs, he might not get a partner to complement his needs as the conditions require one to be on one end of the spectrum not in between. Winch also fails to explain how needs could be either similar complement each other. The only complementary needs given are succorance-nurturance and deference-dominance. The situation makes it hard to use other complementary-need pairs as it would not be clear whether the pairs are valid. It is not easy to determine what should be referred to as “opposite” A study by Saint (1994) attempts to find evidence for the complementarity theory in marriage. The study was based on a questionnaire whose scale ranged from strongly agree to disagree strongly. 28 couples who had lived together for around twenty years were involved in the study. The author concluded the theory did not have enough support. There were few weaknesses in the study. The researcher, for example, moved the door to door when seeking participants who showed that they were localized. There might, therefore, have been a cultural bias which might lead to a lack of clarity on whether the results can be applied to other studies that rely on the general population. With globalization, different cultures exist in communities and the selection of one community may not mean that the results apply to one culture. The results can, therefore, be treated as valid for general use.
In conclusion, most of the theories outlined emphasize the effect of similarity in attraction. People will always be more likely to be attracted to those with a similar attitude and those with similar views and thoughts as they believe these individuals appreciate them more for who they are. While the complementarity theory offers a strong argument on the possible effect of differences in attraction, the studies done on the same have not come up with significant evidence to support the claim.
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