Hannah Whittingham, our remarkable researcher, found a thing or two about the relationship between physical attraction and interpersonal attraction, including some juicy titbits on tips for long-term lurve.
One of most commonly cited factors influencing attraction is physical attractiveness. Not surprisingly, most people show a substantial preference for attractive over unattractive others. But, we are not as shallow as this may first appear. In studies by Barocas & Karoly (1972), in fact appeared that participants made certain inferences about “attractive” people; it seems that that when we see an attractive person, we tend to assume certain internal qualities to person, such as kindness, and outgoingness.
A 1973 study by Cavior & Dokeckist on popularity among adolescents also found that, when physical attractiveness was compared to perceived attitude similarity, physical attractiveness influenced the participants' opinion of how similar attitudes may be to their own: individuals’ perceptions of attitude similarity with others may, in fact, be strongly influenced by their judgment of physical attractiveness.
Such demonstrations of preferential treatment may have significant implications at the level of society, as well. For example, in one jury task simulation experiment, more attractive defendants were found to be evaluated more positively and with less certainty of guilt than were other, less attractive defendants (Efran, 1974). Even though physical attractiveness is unrelated to objective measure of internal qualities such as intelligence and personality, many researches indicate that bias for beauty is pervasive in society.
SIMILARITY IN LEVEL OF PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS
There is evidence to suggest that couples sharing a similar level of physical attractiveness are more likely to form long term relationships.
In one study, Walster (1966) used 4 judges to rate the attractiveness of 752 student participants. Each student was asked to fill in a computerised questionnaire, following which, they were assigned a “similar partner” for a college dance. In fact, each student was paired randomly with a member of the opposite sex. It was found that although the level of physical attractiveness of their partner was the most important factor in whether the pair continued to date after the dance, it was partners who shared a similar level of attractiveness that were most likely still to be together in 6 months.
Similarity in levels of attractiveness has also been associated with progress in a relationship. Folkes (1982) analysed the behavioural steps taken to form relationships with 67 couples of a dating service – each member had access to information about potential partners' personalities and interests, a photograph, and a five minute videotape of an unstructured interview. Dating decisions were therefore not based solely on physical appearance. However, it was found that the more similar the level of physical attractiveness, the more likely couples were to begin dating, and also, to continue dating later on.
Murstein (1972) (Murstein, B I, Physical attractiveness and marital choice, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1972) also analysed the physical attractiveness of 99 couples who were engaged, or had been dating long term, and 98 new couples. Each was asked to rate their own attractiveness and the attractiveness of their partner. It was found that couples sharing a similar level of attractiveness were more likely to form intimate relationships than those with dissimilar levels.
An experiment published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour had test subjects choose their preferred image out of three with one image modified to resemble the test subject, another a non-resembling attractive face, and a face more attractive than the resembling face, as determined by an outside group.
The study found that male subjects preferred the female faces that resembled their own, while females did not prefer the male faces that looked like their own.
This lookalike effect, it has been suggested is due to our need for self-affirmation; a person typically enjoys receiving confirmation of every aspect of his or her life, ideas, attitudes and personal characteristics and it seems that many are looking for an image of themselves to spend their life with.
Certain patterns of personality dissimilarity between married couples, rather than detracting from marital happiness, have actually been proposed to enhance it.
Robert Winch's “theory of complementary needs in mate selection" holds that each individual chooses to mate with that person who is most likely to provide him or her with maximum need-gratification. Noting that "love" is popularly regarded as the primary basis upon which people in our society select mates, Winch equates need-gratification with interpersonal attraction:
"'Love' is defined as the experience of deriving gratification for important psychic needs from a peer-age person of the opposite sex, or the expectation of deriving such gratification"
(Winch, Ktsanes, and Ktsanes, 1954)
Winch and his associates examined the personality need patterns of 25 married couples, principally through interviews with these couples. To minimize the effect of marital interaction on the personalities of the spouses, all couples studied had been married less than two years and were childless. The investigators found that the number of correlations supporting Winch's theory exceeded the number which could have been expected to occur by chance. On the basis of this evidence they concluded that ".. . persons like our subjects tend to select mates whose needs are complementary rather than similar to their own" (as above).
ON LONGER RELATIONSHIPS
The importance of similarity and complementarity may depend on the stage of the relationship. Similarity seems to carry considerable weight in initial attraction, while complementarity assumes importance as the relationship develops over time (Vinacke, Shannon, Palazzo, Balsavage, et-al, 1988).
In his studies, Markey (2007) found that people would be more satisfied with their relationship if their partners differed from them, at least, in terms of dominance, as two dominant persons may experience conflicts while two submissive individuals may have frustration as neither member take the initiative.