When we think of attraction the process probably seems quite random. Yes, everyone eventually figures out whether they have a “type” through trial and error and experience in previous relationships. But largely people seem to say that attraction is spontaneous and cannot be manipulated. “If I feel a spark then the attraction is there,” people seem to say. Or they’re looking for someone with a personality, a sense of humour and who’s down to earth. Physical attributes obviously also play a large role, but for some are not the primary concern when choosing a partner.
It can be said that women think through the whole relationship more thoroughly and may take longer to respond – longer to laugh, longer to feel aroused. While men are skilled at noticing – they notice the physical attributes they deem more attractive and are instantaneously aware of whether they want a person or not, ergo get aroused quicker. But these assumptions are not axioms and may not be true for many daters, so is there a more accurate way of classifying attraction?
Psychology seems to think so.
A study by Byrne & Nelson (1965) shows that how similar people are plays a crucial role in their attraction towards each other. People who are similar to us can provide positive interactions that people want to hold on to. Opposites may attract but may elicit the need for compromise more often and may result in the partners fighting, whereas similarity provides more of a safely cushioned relationship.
The researchers asked over 150 participants to read a questionnaire on attitudes (e.g. on premarital sex, television shows etc) to find out whether similarity between individuals correlated with feeling rewarded. The questionnaire was then supposedly completed by another participant – a “bogus participant” – and the participants were then asked to rate their attraction towards the bogus stranger. Researchers manipulated how similar the stranger was to the participant and how many attitudes appeared on the scale. The results found that proportion of similarity is more important than overall number of similar attitudes e.g. it is more important to be similar on 7 out of 10 trails (70%) than 30 out of 200 traits (15%).
Similarity, no matter how much it may be denied, plays a key role in attraction.
A study by Festinger & Schachter (1950) found that our friend formation – even our platonic attraction – may not be as sporadic as we may think. The researchers asked 300 MIT dorm residents to list their closest friends. Then they assessed how far the friends lived from the participant and found that when someone lived one door away there was a 41% chance they were listed as a good friend. The further away the individual lived from the participant, the less likely they were to be close friends, with those living four doors away only having a 10% chance of being a friend.
The study is pre our modern generation’s obsession with the internet and cannot account for the ties we make online to people halfway across the world, but simultaneously it is intriguing to know that the distance between people can affect their likelihood of friendship formation.
The same, sadly, can be said of friendship and relationship breakdown – the further we are the less we have in common, the less we change together, the less we interact.
Dutton & Aron (1974) conducted a study that tested men’s attraction towards a female that they met in two conditions: on top of a low sturdy bridge and on a high shaky one. Each time, the men met an attractive woman on the bridge who asked them to tell her stories on ambiguous images, she also gave the men her phone number in case they wanted to “follow up” on the experiment. The researchers found that the men who met the woman on the high rickety bridge were more likely to find the woman attractive and call her post-experiment. The reason is misattribution of arousal. During the initial stages of arousal our bodies activate our stress response and blood levels of adrenaline and cortisol increase. Meaning that when we bump into our crush we get literally “love struck” and can act like confused buffoons – heart racing, sweating, mouth going dry. Attraction can be misinterpreted by the body as fear which gives a whole new meaning to the fight or flight reflex.
Winning Someone Over
Aronson and Linder (1965) wanted to find out whether an individual who has liked you for a long time or someone who didn’t find you appealing at first but eventually warmed up to you was more attractive. In the study, university students engaged in meetings in which the participant “accidentally” (although a premeditated part of the study) overheard the experimenter describe them in one of four ways: all positive; all negative; initially positive becoming negative, or initially negative becoming positive. The participants revelled in the completely positive assessment given by the experimenter, but also, more surprisingly, liked it more when the opinion was initially negative but became positive. This is the gain-loss theory of attraction. We prefer the chase and are hooked on the idea of winning people over.
Attraction is no algorithm, but nor is it a random set of events. There may be destiny, there may be fate, but there are also ways of playing your cards right that might just sway your crush’s attention in your direction.