Top Five Classic Studies in the Psychology of Attraction

Relationship science knows a lot about what facilitates attraction.

10/22/2021 7:01:00 PM

These key factors help bring people together according to relationship science, writes LewandowskiPhD

Relationship science knows a lot about what facilitates attraction.

Research found that opposites don't really attract. Similarity is much more important.Studies found that people are much more likely to be attracted to people they see regularly.Reserachers discussed that simply being in an arousing situation can boost attraction to others.

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What creates attraction between two people?Source: Photo by Taryn Elliott from Pexels CopyWe all love a goodcutting-edge study with a new and exciting finding that changes the way we look at the world. Yet, the nature of science is that it continually builds on findings from previous research. Inevitably, current research stands on the shoulders of giants. Here are some of the classic works in

research:1. Similarity: Liking Others Who Are Like UsAt the heart of attraction is the idea that we like being with people who provide rewarding and positive interactions. An early study on attraction assessed whether rewards were associated with how similar people are. headtopics.com

1To do this, researchers asked over 150 participants to read a questionnaire about attitudes (e.g., attitudes about premarital sex, television shows, etc.) allegedly completed by another participant, or what researchers refer to as a “bogus stranger,” then rate the attraction toward the bogus stranger.

The researchers altered the scales to manipulate how similar the bogus stranger was to the participant and how many attitudes appeared on the scale. They discovered that proportion of similarity is more important than the overall number of similar attitudes. It is more important to be similar on 7 out of 10 traits (i.e., 70%) rather than 30 out of 200 traits (i.e., 15%). This study laid the foundation for hundreds of subsequent studies into the importance of similarity in attraction.

2. Friends in the Dorm: The Power of ProximityThere is a saying that “you can choose your friends, but not your family.” However, it may be that your choice of friends isn’t totally within your conscious control either. In a classic study offormation, researchers asked nearly 300 MIT dormitory residents to list their closest friends.

The researchers then looked at where the listed friends lived in the dorms.2When someone lived one door away, there was a 41% likelihood they were listed as a close friend. As the number of doors increased, that likelihood decreased such that those living four doors away had only a 10% likelihood of being listed as a close friend. This study demonstrates the importance that proximity, or being physically near others, has on relationship formation. headtopics.com

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3. The Bridge Study and the Role of ArousalIn this classic study,3researchers left the laboratory to examine men’s attraction to a female they met under one of two conditions: on a high unstable shaky bridge or a low sturdy bridge. In each condition, as the men crossed the bridge, they met a female experimenter who asked the men to tell stories about a set of ambiguous pictures. She also gave the men her phone number, “just in case you have any questions” (slick). The men who met her on the high bridge told stories with more

sexualcontent and were more likely to call her than the men who met her on the low, sturdy bridge. The reason? Misattribution of arousal, or the idea that the high bridge created a sense of arousal that the men mistakenly thought was due to the female experimenter.

4. Lots to Gain: The Power of Winning You OverWhich is more attractive: someone that has always liked you or someone who first did not find you appealing but eventually became more positive? A clever study tested this by having college students engage in a series of meetings.

4The participant “accidentally” (it was actually an intentional part of the study) overheard the experimenter describe them in one of four ways: all positive; all negative; initially negative but becoming positive, or initially positive but becoming negative. headtopics.com

As you would expect, participants liked the experimenter when the evaluation was completely positive but, surprisingly, liked the experimenter even more, when the evaluation was initially negative but became positive. This finding demonstrates the gain-loss theory of attraction or the idea that winning over people who had an initial bad impression is more rewarding to us than someone who liked us all along.

5. What Is Beautiful Is Good Read more: Psychology Today »

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