Interpersonal attraction refers to positive feelings about another person. It can take many forms, including liking, love, friendship, lust, and admiration.
Many factors influence whom people are attracted to. They include physical attractiveness, proximity, similarity, and reciprocity:
- Physical attractiveness: Research shows that romantic attraction is primarily determined by physical attractiveness. In the early stages of dating, people are more attracted to partners whom they consider to be physically attractive. Men are more likely to value physical attractiveness than are women.
- People’s perception of their own physical attractiveness also plays a role in romantic love. The matching hypothesis proposes that people tend to pick partners who are about equal in level of attractiveness to themselves.
- Proximity: People are more likely to become friends with people who are geographically close. One explanation for this is the mere exposure effect. The mere exposure effect refers to people’s tendency to like novel stimuli more if they encounter them repeatedly.
- Similarity: People also tend to pick partners who are similar to themselves in characteristics such as age, race, religion, social class, personality, education, intelligence, and attitude.
- This similarity is seen not only between romantic partners but also between friends. Some researchers have suggested that similarity causes attraction. Others acknowledge that people may be more likely to have friends and partners who are similar to themselves simply because of accessibility: people are more likely to associate with people who are similar to themselves.
- Reciprocity: People tend to like others who reciprocate their liking.
Many researchers focus on one particular form of attraction: romantic love.
Kinds of Romantic Love
Researchers have proposed that romantic love includes two kinds of love: passionate love and compassionate love. These two kinds of love may occur together, but they do not always go hand in hand in a relationship:
- Passionate love: Involves absorption in another person, sexual desire, tenderness, and intense emotion.
- Compassionate love: Involves warmth, trust, and tolerance of another person. Compassionate love is sometimes considered to have two components: intimacy and commitment. Intimacy is the warm, close, sharing aspect of a relationship. Commitment is the intent to continue the relationship even in the face of difficulties. Researchers believe commitment is a good predictor of the stability of a relationship.
Some researchers study the influence of childhood attachment styles on adult relationships. Many researchers believe that as adults, people relate to their partners in the same way that they related to their caretakers in infancy. (See Chapter 4 for more information on attachment styles.)
Cultural Similarities and Differences
There are both similarities and differences among cultures in romantic attraction. Researchers have found that people in many different cultures place a high value on mutual attraction between partners and the kindness, intelligence, emotional stability, dependability, and good health of partners.
However, people in different cultures place a different value on romantic love within a marriage. People in individualistic cultures often believe romantic love is a prerequisite for marriage. In many collectivist cultures, people often consider it acceptable for family members or third parties to arrange marriages.
Evolutionary psychologists speculate that the tendency to be attracted to physically attractive people is adaptive. Many cultures value particular aspects of physical attractiveness, such as facial symmetry and a small waist-to-hip ratio. Evolutionary psychologists point out that facial symmetry can be an indicator of good health, since many developmental abnormalities tend to produce facial asymmetries. A small waist-to-hip ratio, which produces an “hourglass” figure, indicates high reproductive potential.
As predicted by the parental investment theory described in Chapters 2 and 12, men tend to be more interested in their partners’ youthfulness and physical attractiveness. Evolutionary psychologists think that this is because these characteristics indicate that women will be able to reproduce successfully. Women, on the other hand, tend to value partners’ social status, wealth, and ambition, because these are characteristics of men who can successfully provide for offspring.