When meeting someone who is completely different than you, sometimes you just can’t help but want to know more. You may have nothing in common—they’re worldly, you’re a homebody; they’re outgoing, you’re shy. But you find great allure in knowing this person because you find their differences exciting or because they allow you to experience or observe attributes that you don’t have in yourself. The notion that “opposites attract” may stick in your mind, thanks in part to funny situational comedies and unexpected on-screen romances. But in actuality, opposites do not attract as often as you may think, and may repel even faster.
Several classic and recent studies show that we are more attracted to and more likely to date or marry people who are similar to ourselves. Similarity has been shown in terms of physical attractiveness (Berscheid, et al., 1971), attitudes and values (Lou & Klohnen, 2005) and similar beliefs (Byrne, 1971). It has also been seen with age, religion, education and intelligence, to name a few more (Watson et al., 2004). And not only do we generally prefer and choose to be with people who are similar to us, but we go as far as to dislike those who have different attitudes from us (Rosenbaum, 1986).
There are several theories to explain why this happens. One idea is that we are attracted to people who are like us because they confirm our beliefs of ourselves (Byrne, 1971). We want to believe we are good, and if we meet someone who is similar to us, we like them because they let us believe we are good too. Another idea is that we are afraid of rejection, so we look for people who match us on many different levels (Kiesler & Baral, 1970). It may also be that we are fond of people who are fond of us (Condon & Crano, 1988). If we assume that people with similar attitudes are more apt to like us, then we are also more likely to like them too, regardless of what they actually believe.
Even more important, though, is the consistent finding that similarity is related to relationship success (e.g., Acitelli, Kenny, & Weiner, 2001). And even though people are attracted to similar others on many different attributes, some factors are more important than others when it comes to relationship quality. Research shows that it’s not similarity in values or political beliefs that’s important, but similarity in personality (Luo & Klohnen, 2005) and emotions (Anderson, Keltner, & John, 2003) that makes a difference in romantic relationships. Studies from our own eHarmony Labs researcher, Dr. Gian Gonzaga, show that couples who grow more similar in personality and emotions over time become more satisfied as well (Gonzaga, Campos, & Bradbury, in press).
In explaining this finding, Dr. Gonzaga and colleagues suggest that personality traits and emotions influence how we respond to situations. For example, if something bad happens to a couple, similar personalities may cause them to react in similar ways, signaling to each other that they are both taking the situation seriously and both have similar goals. The couple thereby shows understanding for one another and works to produce better outcomes both in the situation and in the relationship. Although much is still unknown about how personality similarity impacts relationship quality, the research in this area is expanding.
At eHarmony, we have long incorporated these research findings on similarity and personality into our matching and compatibility systems. Understanding all aspects of relationships and learning about what makes relationships successful is important so that we can deliver the best and latest research-driven products. Through our eHarmony Labs, we understand and continue to learn what makes relationships flourish, and we use this knowledge to help you meet the person who is right for you.
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Byrne, D. (1971). The Attraction Paradigm. New York: Academic Press.
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Kiesler, S. B., & Baral, R. L. (1970). The search for the romantic partner: The effects of self-esteem and physical attractiveness on romantic behavior. In K. Gergen & D. Marlow (Eds.), Personality and Social Behavior. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
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