Why are we attracted to different people? Are we attracted to people similar to us or do opposites attract? I used to believe that opposites attract and I never wanted to date someone too similar to me because I yearned to learn and teach my partner new things. I wanted to enjoy the challenge of having debates about his philosophies versus mine. However, with wisdom, I now realize that there is less conflict in being with someone who has similar interests and values, which can result in a more harmonious long-term relationship. But there is no denying that what attracts us the most is someone who makes us feel good about ourselves when we are with them!
In Bryne’s Law of Attraction, Bryne observed that attraction is affected by rewards (or reinforcements) and punishers. When we hang out with people, they can either give us rewards or punishers. People who give us a lot of positive feedback and make us feel good about ourselves are giving us rewards. It is fun and exciting to spend time with them and the rewards strengthen or reinforce our love for them. Some people, however, make us feel bad by putting us down or arguing with us a lot. This creates a punishing environment that is not rewarding or fun to be in. Therefore, Bryne’s theory of attraction suggests that we are attracted to those who give us rewards and make us feel good about ourselves. If you have a friend or partner who always makes you feel good, you will want to see them more because you will anticipate the rewards and good feelings. Many times, people we find rewarding to spend time with are people who are similar to us and share views that are similar to ours.
Psychologist Eva C. Klohnen, Ph.D. and graduate student Shanhong Luo, M.A. of the University of Iowa looked at an assortment of mating issues (mating based on similar or opposite characteristics) among 291 newlyweds who had participated in the Iowa Marital Assessment Project. The newlyweds had been married less than a year at the time the study began and had dated each other for an average of three and a half years. The couples were assessed on a broad range of personality characteristics, attitudes, and relationship quality indicators.
Results show that couples were highly similar on attitudes and values; however, they had little or no above-chance similarity on personality-related domains such as attachment, extraversion, conscientiousness, and positive or negative emotions. There is no evidence that opposites attract. What is most intriguing is that when the researchers assessed marital quality and happiness, they found that personality similarity was related to marital satisfaction, but attitude similarity was not.
“People may be attracted to those who have similar attitudes, values, and beliefs and even marry them – at least in part – on the basis of this similarity because attitudes are highly visible and salient characteristics, and they are fundamental to the way people lead their lives,” explain the authors. Personality-related characteristics, on the other hand, take much longer to be known and to be accurately perceived and are not likely to play a more substantial role until later in the relationship, they add.
“However, once people are in a committed relationship, it is primarily personality similarity that influences marital happiness because being in a committed relationship entails regular interaction and requires extensive coordination in dealing with tasks, issues, and problems of daily living. Whereas personality similarity is likely to facilitate this process, personality differences may result in more friction and conflict in daily life,” say the authors. “As far as attitudes are concerned, people who chose to marry each other should be well aware of how similar or different they are on these domains because attitudes are very visible and salient. This suggests that attitudinal and value differences, when they exist, are part of a conscious decision to stay together on the basis of other important considerations,” according to Luo and Klohnen.
Given that their research indicates that similarity in attitudes and values may play a different role in relationship development than does personality similarity, Luo and Klohnen suggest that future research should examine how similarity in different domains are related to relationship outcomes for couples in earlier and later stages of relationship development.
So do people tend to select romantic partners that are similar to them or opposite to them? And does spouse similarity lead to marital happiness? The researchers at the University of Iowa find that people tend to marry those who are similar in attitudes, religion and values. However, it is similarity in personality that appears to be more important in having a happy marriage.
Originally published in 2010