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Chapter 9: Attraction and Close Relationships
• 1) The fundamental human need for being with others, why people affiliate, and the problem of
• 2) Various personal and situational factors that influence our initial attraction to specific others
• 3) Examine different types of close relationships – what makes them rewarding, how they differ, the types
of love they arouse, and the factors that keep them together or break them apart.
BEING WITH OTHERS: A FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN MOTIVE
• Baumeister and Leary (1995): The need to belong is a basic human motive, a drive to form and maintain
at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships.
• Social Anxiety Disorder: Caring so much about what others think of us that situations which invite public
scrutiny bring intense feelings of discomfort, e.g. public speaking.
• People with a network of close social ties have higher self-esteem, tend to be happier and more satisfied
with life, and are physically healthier as well.
The Thrill of Affiliation
• Need for Affiliation: The desire to establish and maintain many rewarding interpersonal relationships.
This motivates us to form social relationships. Individuals differ in the strength of their need for affiliation,
seeking to establish and maintain an optimum balance of social contact and alone time.
o O’Connor and Rosenblood (1996): Subjects carry beepers, and whenever they go off (on average
every hour), subjects would record whether they are alone or in the company or others, and
whether they wanted to be alone or with others.
o Students were in the state they desired 2/3 of the time, and the situation they desire at one time
predicts their actual situation the next time (e.g. want to be alone at 4PM, actually alone at 5PM).
• Stressful situations, such as natural disasters, bring people together. The external threat triggers fear and
motivates us to affiliate, particularly with others in the same situation. Misery loves miserable company.
o Desire to affiliate increases when being with others can reduce the negative impact of the situation,
allowing us to gain cognitive clarity about the danger we’re in to better cope with the impending
o Pre-operative patients prefer post-operative roommates, from whom they can gather information
about the experience. Those who have post-op rather than pre-op roommates become less
anxious about the experience and are quicker to recover from the surgery.
o Subjects anticipating the painful task of putting their hand into ice-cold water prefer to wait before
the task with those who had already completed the task, and asked more questions than those who
did not know the task would be painful.
o Situations of embarrassing stress lead people to seek solitude, since the presence of others would
only increase the negative impact of the situation.
The Agony of Loneliness
• Shyness can be an inborn personality trait, with some infants being highly sensitive to stimulation, and
exhibiting inhibition and cautiousness shortly after birth; there is longitudinal continuity over a person’s
lifetime. Those who are shy exhibit greater activity in the amygdala, responsible for fear processing,
when looking at strangers.
• Other times shyness is a learned reaction to failed interactions of the past. Page 2 of 13
• Shyness leads people to a pattern of risk avoidance, and can result in self-imposed isolation and
loneliness. This stems from a paralyzing fear of rejection, leading to the approach-avoidance conflict: a
desire for contact and a fear of being rejected.
• Loneliness: A feeling of deprivation about existing social connections. This can be triggered by a
discrepancy between the level of social contact one has and the level one desires.
• Loneliness is most likely to occur during times of transition or disruption. The loneliest are adolescents
and young adults, and loneliness seems to decline over the course of adulthood until health problems
limit social activities.
• Loneliness can be a risk factor for drug use and other physical and mental health problems, like
THE INITIAL ATTRACTION
• People are attracted to those with whom they can have a relationship that is rewarding. This may be
direct, such as attention, support, money, status, or other valuable commodities. It can also be indirect,
such as one’s elevated mood and self-esteem from being with someone who is beautiful, funny, or
present in positive circumstances.
Familiarity: Being There
• We are most likely to become attracted to someone we have seen and become familiar with.
The Proximity Effect
• Most of our social interactions occur with those who are physically near, despite the Internet.
• Festinger (1950): People more likely to become friends with residents of nearby apartments than with
those who lived farther away.
The Mere Exposure Effect
• Mere Exposure Effect (Zajonc, 1968): The phenomenon whereby the more often people are exposed to
a stimulus – whether a word, a geometric form, or a human face – the more positively they evaluate the
• The mere exposure effect can influence us without our awareness: Subjects shown pictures of stimuli,
too quick to register in awareness and realize that some stimuli and shown more than others. Later
subjects are shown pictures of the stimuli and asked which they liked best – they prefer the stimulus
most frequently presented, but say that they have never seen it before.
• Moreland and Beach (1992): Confederates who look like typical students either do not attend a class, or
attend the class 5, 10, or 15 times. Later subjects from the class are asked which of the four women they
liked best. Subjects rate the women on various traits, and recorded their beliefs about how much they
would like her and want to work with her on a project; the more classes the woman attended, the more
attracted the students were to her.
• Familiarity can influence our self-evaluations: we prefer our mirror images, while others prefer images
that depict our actual appearance. In both cases, the preference is for the view of the face that is most
Physical Attractiveness: Getting Drawn In
• The human bias for beauty is pervasive: teachers see attractive children as smarter, more attractive
experimenters get more signatures on a petition, judges set lower bail and impose smaller fines on
attractive suspects, and attractive men and women earn more money than comparable peers.
What Is Beauty?
• There is a general, objective consensus for what is deemed as attractive. Page 3 of 13
• 1) High level of agreement when people are asked to rate faces on a 10-point scale, over sex, age, and
cultures; people tend to rate others similarly regardless of their own level of attractiveness.
• Also high level of agreement on what is an attractive body, with men preferring women with a 0.7 WHR
(waist-to-hip ratio) for an hourglass figure, regardless of changes to total body weight. Women prefer
men with a V-shaped physique, which signals more muscle than fat; women also prefer taller men.
• 2) Some physical features are reliably associated with ratings of attractiveness, such as smooth skin, a
pleasant expression, and youthfulness.
• Langlois and Roggman (1990): People Subjects prefer composite photos with “averaged” facial features
than actual photos of individuals. The more faces used to form the composite, the more attractive.
o Averaged faces are more prototypically face-like with less distinctive features, so they seem more
familiar (mere exposure effect). People also prefer averaged dogs, birds, watches, and cars.
• People are also drawn to symmetrical faces. This may be adaptive because symmetry is associated with
health, fitness, and fertility, which are highly desirable in a mate.
• 3) Babies too young to have learned a cultural standard of beauty exhibit preference for faces considered
attractive by adults, measured by the amount of time infants spend tracking and looking at pictures of the
• Others argue that attractiveness is subjective: influenced by culture, time, and circumstances of our
o People enhance their beauty in different ways in different cultures – face painting, plastic surgery,
scarring, tattoos, hairstyling, piercings, etc. – that what is attractive in one culture may be repulsive
o Heavier women are seen as healthier and more attractive in places where food is frequently in
o Standards of beauty change over time: over time, models become thinner and have lower bust-to-
waist ratios to move from the “hourglass” to a more slender, athletic, and stick-like shape.
o Circumstance: attractiveness enhanced if others also have nonphysical likable qualities. The more
in love people are with their partners, the less attracted they are to others of the opposite sex.
• The presence of the colour red enhances male perceptions of attractiveness (“red-sex link”).
o Elliot and Niesta (2008): Male and female subjects rate female photos set either against a red or a
white background; attractiveness ratings highest among men in the red background condition.
o Men rate women as more attractive and sexually desirable in the presence of red, vs. gray, blue, or
Why Are We Blinded by Beauty?
• One theory is that it is inherently rewarding: we derive pleasure from being in the company of those who
are aesthetically appealing; areas of the brain that respond to rewards such as food, money, and cocaine
are also activated by facial beauty. We may also hope another’s beauty will rub off on us.
• What-is-beautiful-is-good Stereotype: The belief that physically attractive individuals also possess
desirable personality characteristics – smart, successful, happy, socially skilled, confident and assertive
(but also vain).
o Stereotype in movies: the more attractive the character, the more frequently they are portrayed as
virtuous, romantically active, and successful. Cinderella is beautiful and kind, stepsisters ugly and
o Subjects who watch a film depicting the beautiful-is-good stereotype are more likely, than those
who had watched a nonstereotypic film, to favour the more physically attractive applicant for a job.
• The stereotype is only true in part: Physical attractiveness has social effect of more friends and more
relationships, but not related to objective measures of intelligence, personality, or self-esteem. Page 4 of13
• What is beautiful is good, but what is good is culturally defined: Collectivists assume attractive people to
have “integrity” and “a concern for others”, but not dominant or assertive.
• This stereotype is perpetuated by the self-fulfilling prophecy:
o Snyder (1977): Male subjects who thought they were interacting with an attractive female subject
(over the phone) formed more positive impressions of her personality and were friendly in their
conversational behaviour. The female subject whose partner had seen the attractive picture are
rated independently as warmer, more confident, and more animated.
o Men who expected an attractive partner actually created one, based on their own expectations.
The Benefits and Costs of Beauty
• Highly attractive people cannot differentiate if the attention and praise they receive from others is due to
their talent, or just their looks.
• Major (1984): Subjects who see themselves as attractive or unattractive write essays, and are told they
would be evaluated by someone who either watches them through a one-way mirror, or did not. Subjects
receive positive evaluations and are asked why their essay was favourably reviewed.
o Unattractive subjects feel better about the quality of their work when being seen.
o Attractive subjects attribute their good review to their looks, not the quality of their work.
• Pressure to maintain one’s appearance can lead to unhealthy consequences such as bulimia nervosa
(food binges followed by purging) and anorexia nervosa (self-imposed starvation).
• There is little relation between attractiveness in youth and later happiness – beauty is a mixed blessing.
First Encounters: Getting Acquainted
• Proximity enhances odds of meeting someone, familiarity puts us at ease, and beauty draws us in to a
first encounter. What determines whether attraction will occur during the early stages of a relationship?
Liking Others Who Are Similar
• People tend to associate with others similar to themselves. Four types of similarity are most relevant.
• 1) Demographic: Variables such as age, education, race, religion, intelligence and socioeconomic
status. People who are friends, lovers, or partners in marriage tend to resemble each other more than
randomly paired couples.
o Newcomb (1961): To prove causation: subjects are first measured by demographic characteristics,
and then determine whether they, when meeting others, like similar others more than dissimilar
others. Proven with Newcomb’s college dormitory experiment.
o By associating with similar others, people form homogeneous social niches.
• 2) Attitudes: The same opinions, interests, and values. Proven with experiment similar to Newcomb’s.
o People with similar values, and political and religious values are attracted together, and then once
in the relationship personality characteristics also become more similar – those in relationships,
upon discovering they disagree on important issues, bring their views on those issues into
o Similarity breeds attraction, and attraction breeds similarity.
• Rather, dissimilarity triggers repulsion and avoidance. Reactions also influenced by expectations: most
attracted to outgroup members with similar attitudes, and most repulsed by ingroup members with
• Byrne: Two-Stage Model of the Attraction Process where we first avoid dissimilar others, and then
among those who remain, we are drawn to those who are most similar.
People you meet
Not dissimilar Page 5 of13
Negative Screen of Dissimilarity
Positive Screen of Similarity
• 3) Matching Hypothesis: The proposition that people are attracted to others who are similar in physical
attractiveness. Although both men and women yearn for partners who are highly attractive, in real-life
situations where one can be accepted or rejected by a prospective partner, people shy away from
romantic overtures with others who seem “out of reach”.
• 4) Similarity in Subjective Experience: This experience of “I-sharing” with a similar reaction to an
external event promotes a profound sense of connection to one another, even if they are otherwise
• Complementarity Hypothesis: Theory that people seek others whose needs “oppose” their own, such
as dominant people being drawn to submissive others (“opposites attract”)
• However, research suggests that this is not true – most are attracted to people of similar needs and
personality traits. While opposites seem exotic at first, over time differences become difficult to negotiate.
Liking Others Who Like Us
• Fritz Heider (1958): People prefer relationships that are psychologically balanced, and imbalance causes
• Reciprocity: A mutual exchange between what we give and receive, for example, liking those who like
o Experimenters bring pairs of students to a conversation, then “reveal” to one subject that their
partner likes or dislikes them. When students are later reunited, those who thought they were liked
are in turn warmer, more agreeable, and more self-disclosing.
• Aronson and Linder (1965): We do not simply like others more when they like us more – we like others
more when their affection for us takes time to earn (a gain of gradually converting from negative to
positive) than when it comes easily (positive all along).
Pursuing Those Who Are Hard to Get
• Hard-to-Get Effect: The tendency to prefer people who are highly selective in their social choices over
those who are more readily available.
• However, we may be turned off by those reject us because they are otherwise-committed or have no
interest in us. We also tend to prefer people who are moderately selective over others who are
nonselective (have poor taste or low standards) or too selective (snobs).
• Sometimes the object of attraction is hard to get for external reasons: opposed by parents, threatened by
catastrophe, or impeded by distance or a rival. Reactance Theory: People are motivated to protect their Page 6 of13
freedom to choose and behave as they please, and will reassert themselves by wanting what is
unavailable even more.
o Men and women who are not in committed relationships see others in a bar as more attractive as
the night wears on: this is in reaction to the threat of closing time.
• Wegner (1994): Secret relationships can also fuel attraction. Opposite-sex players are instructed to play
footsie during the experiment in the presence of another pair; they do so either secretly or openly.
o Subjects indicate privately how attracted they are to their own partner and to the opposite-sex
member of the other pair. Students who play footsie secretly are more attracted to each other.
o Element of thrill of engaging in a forbidden act increases attraction, but over time keeping a secret
can become too much of a burden.
• Sometimes reactance reduces attraction – sometimes matchmaking can backfire, as people reassert
their freedom to make their own romantic choices.
Mate Selection: The Evolution of Desire
• Men and women are not similarly motivated when it comes to the search for a mate. Men are more sex-
driven: desiring more frequent and more casual sex, with more partners and more variety.
The Evolutionary Perspective
• Humans exhibit mate-selection patterns that favour the conception, birth, and survival of their offspring –
and women and men, by necessity, employ different strategies to achieve this goal.
• Men seek to propagate widely, whereas women seek to propagate wisely.
o Women must be highly selective because they are biologically limited in the number of children
they can bear and raise, and are thus driven to protect her offspring. She requires a mate who
possesses economic resources and the willingness to commit those resources to support her
offspring. This means men who are older and more financially secure, or have traits predictive of
future success (intelligence, ambition, etc.)
o Men can father an unlimited number of children by inseminating many women. They are limited by
their ability to attract fertile partners and by their lack of certainty as to whether the babies are
actually their own. Men require mates who are young and physically attractive with attributes that
signal health and fertility. They also favour women who are sexually faithful.
• Buss (1989): Subjects asked to rank-order and rate the importance of mate attributes. Men value good
looks more, and women prefer good financial prospects more. But both sexes equally also see other
characteristics – such as being funny, dependable, and kind – as being more important.
• Li (2002): Necessities and luxuries in mate preferences – with a large budget of “mate dollars”, men
spend slightly more on physical attractiveness and women slightly more on social status, but both equally
on other traits.
o However, with a small budget, men spent even more on physical attractiveness and women even
more on status – mate seekers prioritize their choices as predicted by evolutionary theory.
• Men consistently seek younger women more likely to be fertile, and women consistently desire older men
more likely to have financial resources.
o Men in their 20s equally interested in younger and slightly older women of fertile age; men in 30s
want women 5 years younger, men in 50s prefer those over 10 years younger.
o Teenage boys most attracted to women slightly older, in their fertile 20s.
• Jealousy: A negative emotional state which arises from a perceived threat to one’s relationship. Men
most upset by sexual infidelity, which threatens paternal certainty; women more threatened by emotional
infidelity, which threatens future support.
o Survey asking if subjects would be more upset if their romantic partner were to form a deep
emotional attachment or to have sex with another person. 60% of men choose sexual infidelity,
while 83% of women choose emotional infidelity. Page 7 of 13
o Men who suspect their partner of cheating would react by threatening the wife or taking action
against the male rival. In contrast, women use mate-retention tactics of being watchful or
enhancing their appearance.
o Subjects asked to imagine their partner flirting with someone of the opposite sex – who is either
attractive or unattractive, and socially dominant or submissive. Men more jealous when their
imagined rival was dominant and had status, whereas women more jealous when their rival was
young and attractive.
• Psychological rather than evolutionary motives: Women seek status and resources not for reproductive
purposes, but because they lack direct access to economic power. In countries where women have more
social and economic status, male physical attractiveness becomes more important.
• Differences in fears of infidelity:
o Men’s fear not because of paternal uncertainty, but because sexual affair indicates emotional
infidelity. Men just as concerned over threats to the relationship.
o Although different when imagining a partner’s infidelity, men and women equally more upset by
emotional infidelity when asked to recall actual experiences from a past relationship.
• Self-report differences are small compared to similarities: Bot