Interpersonal Attraction

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Social psychologists have identified several major factors that influence interpersonal attraction which is anything that draws two or more people together characterized by affection, respect, liking, or love (Huston & Levinger, 1978). Interpersonal attraction has been an important topic of research in psychology, because humans are social animals, and attraction serves an important function in forming a social network, which in turn provides security and satisfies people’s need to belong to a social group (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). In assessing the nature of attraction, psychologists have used methods such as questionnaires, survey, and rating scale to determine level of one’s attraction toward another. Here, the effects of similarity, social reward, familiarity, and physical attractiveness are examined to see how they impact interpersonal attraction.


A popular myth about attraction is that “Opposites attract;” however, a number of studies suggest that, in fact, it is similar characteristics that lead to attraction. To test this hypothesis, Donn Byrne conducted a study to investigate the relationship between interpersonal attraction and attitude similarity. In this experiment, participants’ attitudes were recorded on a variety of issues that ranged from those they thought were extremely important (e.g., integration, God, premarital sex relations) to those considered be of minor importance (e.g., western movies and television programs). Afterward, subjects evaluated a fictional character based on given information of that character’s attitudes. Subjects indicated significantly more positive feelings toward the “stranger” when there were attitude similarities, rating that person higher in intelligence, morality, and adjustment than characters with dissimilar attitude scales (Byrne, 1961). However, this finding is often criticized for its failure to satisfy external validity, since there was no actual human interaction. In response to such criticisms, Griffitt and Veitch conducted a study where thirteen unacquainted males lived together for ten days under simulated fall-out shelter conditions. Result indicated a positive correlation between attraction and attitude similarity, even when a participant’s attitude was neither explicitly nor implicitly informed by the investigators (Griffitt & Veitch, 1974). The similarity hypothesis is further supported by several well-validated studies (e.g., Feingold, 1988), which indicate a strong correlation between married couples and similarities in education and socioeconomic status, but also equal levels of physical attractiveness (Murstein & Christy, 1976; Feingold, 1988).

Social Rewards

In social psychology, reinforcement theory states that people are more likely to repeat behaviors for which they receive some reward or benefit. As such, this theory would predict that people like others who benefit them or make them feel good. For example, longitudinal study of 38 dating couples showed a positive correlation between couple’s longevity and continuing exchange of resources and rewards (Berg & McQuinn, 1986). In addition, studies have revealed that people experience higher levels of attraction toward others not only when they receive favor, but when they simply receive praise (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Yet, a study by Drachman et al. suggests that reward-attraction theory is not so simple after all. According to the study, one’s consistent agreement to another produces a liking effect only when the person is not dependent on the target. This finding suggests that, although praise and compliments may increase liking, if they seem baseless, then they would instead create suspicion of ingratiation (Drachman et al., 1978).


A phenomenon such as mere exposure effect suggests that people come to hold more positive attitudes toward familiar stimuli than toward novel, unfamiliar ones (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). This propinquity effect has also been found to play a critical role in eliciting attraction between people. Studies have found that when participants were repeatedly presented with faces of different individuals, participants rated faces they saw more frequently as more attractive (Peskin & Newell, 2004; Rhodes et al., 2001). An additional study found that after repeated exposure to faces, subjects regarded familiar faces as similar to themselves, suggesting a direct link between familiarity and perceived similarity (Moreland & Zajonc, 1982). The effect of propinquity also has been shown to override context. When a stimulus is presented, even if the context is negative, frequency of stimulus exposure enhanced its liking, which again implies that exposure is a strong factor in attraction (Saegert et al., 1973).

Physical Attractiveness

One of most commonly cited factors influencing attraction is physical attractiveness. Not surprisingly, most people show a substantial preference for attractive over unattractive others (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). Perhaps the advantage of good looks is inferences people make when they see a physically attractive person. Studies have shown that when people see an attractive person, they believe that there is more to physical beauty that they see, and they tend to assume certain internal qualities to person, such as kindness, and outgoingness (Barocas & Karoly, 1972; Dion et al., 1972). Further illustrating this relationship between physical attractiveness and its stereotypes, a study on popularity among adolescents found that when physical attractiveness was compared to perceived attitude similarity, physical attractiveness had a stronger effect on popularity (Cavior & Dokecki, 1973). These findings suggest individuals’ perceptions of attitude similarity with others may, in fact, be strongly influenced by more automatic judgments of physical attractiveness (Cavior & Dokecki, 1973). 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


1. Huston, T. & Levinger, G. (1978). “Interpersonal Attraction and Relationships." Annual Reviews 29:115-56.

2. Baumeister, R.F. & Bushman, B. (2008). Social Psychology and Human Nature (1st Edition). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

3. Byrne, D. (1961). “Interpersonal Attraction and Attitude Similarity.” Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 62 (3): 713-715.

4. Griffitt, W. & Veitch, R. (1974). “Preacquaintance, Attitude Similarity and Attraction Revisited: Ten Days in a Fall-Out Shelter.” Sociometry 37 (2): 163-173.

5. Murstein, B. & Christy, P. (1976). “Physical attractiveness and marriage adjustment in middle-aged couples.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 34: 537-542.

6. Feingold, A. (1988). “Matching for attractiveness in romantic partners and same-sex friends: a meta analysis and theoretical critique.” Psychological Bulletin. 104: 226-235.

7. Berg, J. & McQuinn, R. (1986). “Attraction and Exchange in Continuing and Noncontinuing Dating Relationships.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (5): 942-952.

8. Drachman, D., DeCarufel, A. & Insko, C. (1978). “The Extra Credit Effect in Interpersonal Attraction.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 14: 458-469.

9. Peskin, M. & Newell, F. (2004). “Familiarity breeds attraction: Effects of exposure on the attractiveness of typical and distinctive faces”. Perception. 33: 147-157.

10. Rhodes, G., Halberstadt, J., Brajkovich, G. (2001). “Generalization of mere exposure effects to averaged composite faces.” Social Cognition 19: 57-70.

11. Moreland, R., & Zajonc, R. (1982). “Exposure effects in person perception: Familiarity, similarity, and attraction.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 18 (5): 395-415.

12. Saegert, S., Swap, W., & Zajonc, R. (1973). “Exposure, Context, and Interpersonal Attraction.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 25 (2): 234-242.

13. Barocas, R., & Karoly, P. (1972). “Effects of physical appearance on social responsiveness.” Psychology Reports 31:772-781.

14. Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster E. (1972). “What is beautiful is good” J. Pers Soc. Psychol. 24:285-90.

15. Cavior, N., & Dokecki, P. (1973). “Physical Attractiveness, Perceived Attitude Similarity, and Academic Achievement as Contributors to Interpersonal Attraction among Adolescents.” Developmental Psychology 9 (1): 44-54.

16. Efran, M. (1974). “The Effect of Physical Appearance on the Judgment of Guilt, Interpersonal Attraction, and Severity of Recommended Punishment in a Simulated Jury Task.” Journal of Research in Personality 8: 45-54.

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