The theory that opposites attract is a myth, scientists have found, after discovering that people are only attracted to those who hold the same views and values as themselves.
In a finding hailed as a ‘paradigm shift’ for the understanding of relationships, researchers found that like-minded people will be drawn together but keep their distance from those who do not adhere to their beliefs.
It suggests that strangers hoping to hit it off would do better to play to their similarities rather than trying to impress the other person with attributes which make them unique.
“Selecting similar others as relationship partners is so widespread on so many dimensions that it could be described as a psychological default.”
Prof Angela Bahns, Wellesly College
“Picture two strangers striking up a conversation on a plane, or a couple on a blind date,” said Angela Bahns, professor of psychology at Wellesly College.
“From the very first moments of awkward banter, how similar the two people are is immediately and powerfully playing a role in future interactions. Will they connect? Or walk away? Those early recognitions of similarity are really consequential in that decision.
“We’re arguing that selecting similar others as relationship partners is extremely common–so common and so widespread on so many dimensions that it could be described as a psychological default.”
To find out how important similarity was to forming relationships researchers from Wellesly and the University of Kansas approached more than 1,500 random pairs, including romantic couples, friends and acquaintances, and asked them to complete a survey about their values, prejudices , attitudes and personality traits. The information was then compared to see how similar or different each pair was and to see whether people in longer relationships had more in common.
It emerged that all pairings held similar life views even if they had only just met.
“People are more similar than chance on almost everything we measure, and they are especially similar on the things that matter most to them personally,” added Prof Bahns.
In a second experiment, the researchers surveyed pairs who had just met in a college classroom setting, and then surveyed the same pairs later. There was virtually no change in beliefs over time suggesting that if couples go into a relationship hoping to change the opinions of the other it is unlikely to work.
Prof Bahns added: “Though the idea that partners influence each other is central in relationships research, we have identified a large domain in which friends show very little change– personality, attitudes and values, and a selection of socially-relevant behaviors.”
“To be clear, we do not mean to suggest that social influence doesn’t happen in relationships; however, there’s little room for influence to occur when partners are similar at the outset of relationships.
“Anything that disrupts the harmony of the relationship–such as areas of disagreement, especially on attitudes, values, or preferences that are important–is likely to persist.
“Change is difficult and unlikely; it’s easier to select people who are compatible with your needs and goals from the beginning.”
However the researchers warn that the quest for similarity in friends could result in a lack of exposure to other ideas, values and perspectives.
Chris Crandall, Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas added:
“You try to create a social world where you’re comfortable, where you succeed, where you have people you can trust and with whom you can cooperate to meet your goals.
“To create this, similarity is very useful, and people are attracted to it most of the time.
“But getting along with people who aren’t like you is really useful.
“Friends are for comfort, taking it easy, relaxing, not being challenged — and those are good things. But you can’t have only that need. You also need new ideas, people to correct you when you’re loony.”
The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Pschology.