PSYC14 Notes – Chap 11: Interpersonal Attraction, Group Relations, and Groups
Despite the great array of different strategies humans adopt in different cultures to make
themselves more physically appealing, there are numerous commonalities across cultures in
what is perceived as attractive.
First, skin that looks free of blemishes, blotches, sores, and rashes is viewed as more
attractive than skin that is not. The evolutionary perspective states that people are especially
attracted to healthy mates who would likely produce healthy offspring. Blemishes and sores
on the skin could be useful indicators regarding the presence of parasites or diseases.
o Our ancestors who preferred blemish-free skin would have been more likely to have
healthy mates and surviving offspring; over time, preferences for perfect skin would
be more common in the human gene pool.
A second universally attractive feature is bilateral symmetry. Evolutionarily speaking,
bilateral symmetry is an indicator of developmental stability. Genetic mutations, pollutants,
etc. can lead organisms to develop in slightly asymmetrical ways.
A third feature of attractive faces is that they tend to be average- facial features that are close
to the average in size and configuration are perceived as most attractive. 2 mechanisms seem
to be at work here:
o People with average features are less likely to have genetic abnormalities than people
with deviant features (reflecting genetic health)
o People prefer average features because they enable quick processing, and quick
processing is associated with good feelings.
The attractiveness of average features does not extend to our perceptions of bodies however.
The kinds of bodies that are the most attractive are those that depart considerably from the
average; we do not like average height, average size muscles, etc.
One aspect of the perceived attractiveness of people’s bodies that varies considerably across
cultures is weight.
In looking at the standards of beauty around the world in 1951. Ford and Beach found that it
was a human universal that heavier women are most attractive. However, this is not
completely correct, especially in the American culture of today. The standards of what
constitutes an especially beautiful female body have changed dramatically since 1951, and
now we value an especially thin body
Aside from physical characteristics, other processes are involved that influence whether
we’re attracted to someone.
Propinquity effect: people are more likely to become friends with those they interact
frequently with. There are features of this effect that are not as obvious as they seem:
o This effect is extremely powerful- as shown in the choosing of best friends being
based on last names at the Maryland Police Academy
o This effect operates thru the Mere Exposure Effect: the more we are exposed to a
stimulus the more we are attracted to it. This applies to a wide variety of stimuli and
appears to be due to the pleasant associations we develop thru classical conditioning
when we learn a stimulus is non-threatening and also the pleasant affect associated
with easy-to-process stimuli. Another powerful predictor of attraction is the Similarity-Attraction Effect: people tend to be
most attracted to those who are most like themselves. People are more likely to view others
as attractive (as potential friends or romantic partners) if both are similar in their attitudes,
economic background, personality, religion, etc.
Does the similarity-attraction effect operate similarly across different cultures? This was
explored by having Japanese and American participants come into the lab and meet a
stranger of the same sex and nationality. The participants then went into separate rooms,
completed a personality questionnaire and were later shown a fake personality measurement
taken from the stranger. This was made to either be very similar or dissimilar to the one the
participants filled out.
o Fig 11.2 shows that Canadians clearly showed the similarity-attraction effect while
Japanese did not (their liking for the stranger was unaffected by apparent similarity).
In trying to understand the finding above, it was thought that self-esteem could be a key
influencing variable. (there is something egotistic in feeling that the most interesting and
desirable people are just like us). Indeed, the cultural differences in the similarity-attraction
effect became much smaller when controlling for the cultural differences in self esteem.
Our relationships with others are concerns that dominate our lives, and it would be
impossible to have a good understanding of human nature unless we considered how people
relate to others. The social foundation of human nature is universal, however, the ways that
people go about relating to others varies in some predictable and important ways.
While there are obvious benefits associated with friendships, there is a commonly held
sentiment in Ghana (a collectivistic culture) that friends should be viewed with suspicion.
When defining enemies as people wishing for your downfall or trying to sabotage your
progress, in a survey conducted by Adams, only 26% of Americans reported that they had
enemies while 71% of Ghanaians. Also, Americans are more likely to view their enemies as
coming from outside their ingroup while Ghanaians view their enemies as coming from
within the ingroup (friends, neighbours, etc.)
These cultural differences in enemyships reveal how independent or interdependent people
perceive relationships in importantly different ways.
Independent people view themselves as being fundamentally disconnected from others (2
people would have the default state of no relationship). Relations only develop when the
people involved decide that forming a relationship is to their advantage- otherwise, no
relationship would develop.
Interdependent people define themselves primarily on the basis of close relationships.
Relationships are not chosen among people, they are perceived to exist by default. One is
born into a family with a network relations, goes to a school, and starts an occupation; the
people with whom one shares a context are the people with whom one has a relationship (the
default state between 2 people is that they have a relationship).
o Similar to the Western idea of unpleasant inlaws, sometimes you will have
unavoidable relationships with people you don’t get along with- and these might
develop into enemyships. Even looking at the research by Western social psychologists in the field of relationships, it
seems that the theoretical model guiding this research is that relationships are conditional and
voluntary, and will return to their null state if people decide they are unproductive.
An important point is that interdependent people do not necessarily value or desire close
relationships more than those who are independent. Rather, they view close relationships in
natural, noncontingent terms- unlike the emphasis on voluntary relationships more
characteristic of people who are independent.
We can look at the differences in view of relationships by looking at what people think about
friends. Adams and Plaut found that Americans report having more friends that Ghanaians.
Ghanaians view someone who has a great amount of friends as foolish, probably because
Ghanaians emphasize that friends were people who would provide practical support (unlike
Americans who did not list this as part of their spontaneous definition of friendship).
o Friendships among Ghanaians are perceived to involve more obligations than they do
for Americans. Maintaining friendships in Ghana is less focused on sharing good
times and more focused on meeting the obligations of the friendship.
Thus, these obligations may be quite costly when they need to be fulfilled, and
a person with many friends would have many obligations.
Considering love from an evolutionary perspective we can see good reason for its origins.
First considering why people feel a sense of parental love, these strong feelings are able to
help people in commiting the sizable amounts of time and resources needed to take care of
their children. Unlike some other animal species, humans require an extended period of
costly protective care and socialization.
The reason for romantic love is similar. It is thought that because children would have been
more likely to survive if there were 2 parents around, some strong incentives were needed to
keep the parents together so they would support the children.
o Those who did not develop feelings of love for their partner would have been less
likely to stay with them and would end up having fewer surviving offspring.
If this evolutionary account were correct, people from all cultures should be capable of
feeling romantic love- and indeed, this is what is found. There are striking similarities in
people’s feelings of love toward their partners, but there are also important cultural
The most obvious example of how culture shapes what people think about romantic love is
the existence of arranged vs. love marriages. The majority of marriages around the world are
arranged by family members- however, the percentage has been recently dropping.
Broude and Green summarized the results of their survey of “mate selection practices” across
186 pre-industrialized societies. Love is viewed as a necessary feature for a marriage to begin
in some cultures but not others. Furthermore, attitudes have been changing towards how
critical love is, even in the US: whereas 80% of Americans said they would Not marry
someone if they did not love them, a few decades ago this percentage was 65% for men and
24% for women.
Whether a culture favours arranged or love marriages seems to be related to the dominant
kind of family structure in the culture. Goode proposed that romantic love becomes more
important as the strength of extended family ties becomes weaker. the Western ideal of
romantic love could be disruptive in cultures with large kin networks because such feelings
can interfere with people’s abilities to respect the wishes of their family members. In the absence of the social pressures for arranged marriages, romantic love is the critical
glue when extended kin networks are not around.
Some research has emphasized the critical role that idealization of one’s partner has in the
experience of romantic love. In investigating couple’s perceptions of their partner, it was
found that those who idealized their partners the most (viewed them in the most
unrealistically positive terms compared to how they viewed others/how their partners viewed
themselves) also loved their partners the most and were more likely to stay together.
Idealization seems to foster successful relationships because it protects us from entertaining
thoughts about their unlovable characteristics (there is less dissonance between “I love my
partner” and “my partner has many unlovable qualities”)
Such idealization should be less emphasized in more collectivistic cultures, where people’s
behaviours are perceived to be less reflective of their dispositions. Indeed, this was found in a
study that asked Euro-Canadians, Asian-Canadians, and Japanese to evaluate the quality of
their romantic relationships compared to what they thought most other people’s romantic
relationships were like. In Fig 11.3 we see that all participants idealized their own romantic
relationships, but the magnitude of idealization (the difference between the evaluation of
their relationship and the evaluation of other’s relationships) was greater in the Euro-
Canadians and the least in the Japanese (while the Asian Canadians fell in between).
The fact that Westerners cannot imagine themselves marrying whoever their parents selected
reveals a number of assumptions that Westerners have about love:
o You will only love someone who you have chosen for yourself
However, even though arranged marriages start out with no feelings of love,
typically the partners come to develop strong feelings of love toward each
o Love is ultimately and individualistic choice. Individuals choose their partner because
only they know their idiosyncrasies well enough to identify a person they will love
Often, people in arranged marriages trust their families to make the right
decision for them
o Marriage that does not have love at the foundation is bound to be miserable. In the
west, so many marriages go thru tough times and end in d