social sciences

Romantic attraction: what do we look for in a partner?

There are many ideas on what attracts people to each other romantically. Some people are convinced that opposites attract holds true. As such a couple would perfectly balance each other out. According to this principle,  a person who is very timid and an outgoing person would make a perfect match. Or people might have theories, regarding looks that individuals search for others who are just as attractive as them. This concept is labeled ‘being in someone’s league’, meaning you have a chance of making a successful move one someone who is just as attractive as you are. Earlier I wrote a post about what men and women find attractive about each other, from an evolutionary perspective. But these a very generalized ideas, what about individual attraction?

  • First of all, in terms of romantic attraction, men perceive attraction as a more important feature than women.¹ This is what studies,  time and time again, seem to find in terms of gender differences and attraction.
  • For females, height was deemed more important, with the male-taller norm as the standard.²
  • Using speed-dating settings for research, it was found that people ended up being more attracted to their potential partner when they knew that the partner already liked them. So knowing someone is attracted to us, can make us feel more attracted to them.³
  • There seem to be robust findings for the similarity principle. People like those who are like them. Opposites attract was quickly regarded as folk wisdom, similarity is what influences who we form relationships with, whether it be romantic or platonic. However, again using speed-dating settings, researchers found that it’s perceived similarity is what matters and not actual similarity. If we feel as if we are similar to others, this makes us feel more attracted to them.4
  • Interestingly, while knowing that someone likes you can increase your own attraction, uncertainty can also have an effect. Not knowing whether someone is attracted to you can ultimately increase your attraction towards that individuals. As you will spend more time thinking about that person.5

1. Feingold, A. (1990). Gender differences in effects of physical attractiveness on romantic attraction: A comparison across five research paradigms.
2. Pierce, C. A. (1996). Body height and romantic attraction: A meta-analytic test of the male-taller norm. Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 24(2), 143-149.
3. Luo, S., & Zhang, G. (2009). What leads to romantic attraction: Similarity, reciprocity, security, or beauty? Evidence from a speed‐dating study. Journal of personality, 77(4), 933-964.
4. Tidwell, N. D., Eastwick, P. W., & Finkel, E. J. (2013). Perceived, not actual, similarity predicts initial attraction in a live romantic context: Evidence from the speed‐dating paradigm. Personal Relationships, 20(2), 199-215.
5. Whitchurch, E. R., Wilson, T. D., & Gilbert, D. T. (2011). “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…” Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction. Psychological Science, 22(2), 172-175.

social sciences

Are you genetically similar to your friends?

People pick their friends based on several factors including proximity and similarity. Proximity is of importance because we prefer stimuli we see often as opposed to stimuli we’re not familiar with (mere-exposure effect). This principle also holds for friendships. Apart from starting friendships with people, we’re regularly exposed to, it is also easier to maintain relationships with those nearby us. Similarity is imperative for creating bonds, as it gives us topics to talk about and ideas to agree on. We also understand those who are similar to us a lot better. But could these similarities among you and your friends indicate that you might also be genetically similar?

Research has found that this seems to be the case by looking at a sample of adolescents in the United States. Guo (2006) found that there might be a genetic basis for trait-specific similarities between friends. To analyze genetic differences and similarities, identical (monozygotic) and non-identical (dizygotic) twins are always added to the sample. Interestingly, Guo also found that identical twins were more likely to list their twin as their best friend, compared to non-identical twins. Maybe we can speculate here that because identical twins share more genetic similarities, they might have more trait-specific similarities, which is an important factor in friendship.

Looking at more twin studies, we can see the same result for partner choice as well. Rushton and Bons (2005) compared identical twins to non-identical twins. They found that identical twins had friends and spouses similar to that of their co-twin. Again, we can speculate that there must be an underlying genetic effect for friend and partner choice.

Guo, G. (2006). Genetic similarity shared by best friends among adolescents. Twin Research and Human Genetics, 9(01), 113-121.

Philippe Rushton, J., & Ann Bons, T. (2005). Mate Choice and Friendship in Twins: Evidence for Genetic Similarity. Psychological Science, 16(7), 555-559.