Interpersonal Attraction – Psychology Essay

Interpersonal attraction is based on the basic human need to be with others, also known as affiliation. This attraction ranges from romantic to casual relationships. There are numerous explanations of

interpersonal attraction, the matching hypothesis is one. This concept was put forward by Berscheid in 1974, and is based on the idea that we select partner of equal attractiveness. Because according to the social exchange theory, we become romantically involved with those who have similar ability to reward us.

In 1966 Walster conducted a study which w sin contrary to the matching hypothesis. Participants were randomly pre-selected using a “computer dance” and sent out on dates. They were then asked to rate their partner’s attractiveness. Six months later 18 participants were asked if they’d been out with their partner again. The findings showed that the most attractive women got a second date. Therefore, the men wanted the best lookers, despite their appearance.

However, in 1969 another “computer dance” study was conducted by Walster and Walster; which supported the matching hypothesis. This time participants were able to meet each other first. They were also able to state what type of partner they wanted regarding attractiveness. In this study the participants chose partners that were of comparable attractiveness.

In conclusion, this model suggests that we choose partners that we feel won’t reject us, rather than positively desired ones. However the research for this model tends to concentrate on dyadic and short term relationships. Also the research has been criticised for lacking ecological validity. Because of this Harrison and Saheed conducted research into personal columns; more relevant to real life. This concluded that men wanted younger women and women wanted older men.

Another criticism is that the methods used to measure attractiveness tend to be subjective. Therefore not the same in different cultures i.e. the western desire for thin women. Also most of the research was conducted in America, and Western cultures tend not to have arranged marriages.

An alternative explanation of interpersonal attraction is the halo effect this suggests that we believe physically attractive people are also psychologically attractive, e.g. capable, intelligent and knowledgeable.

Dion in 1972 studied the halo effect in children. Using photographs he found that the more attractive were also judged to be better behaved. This shows how attractive people are assumed to have an attractive personality, as well as being sexually warm and responsive, kind and caring.

Langlais in 1990 studied infants of two months and their reaction to faces. He showed them colour slides of adult faces; one attractive, one unattractive, and found that they spent longer looking at the attractive ones. This suggests that a preference for attractiveness has an innate component.

However in 1975, Derner and Thiel conducted research which opposed the halo effect. They found that females who judged other females as very attractive thought hem to be vain, materialistic, snobbish and not likely to be successfully married.

This theory is criticised as it only looks at one type of relationship, a romantic one. There are different types of relationships which aren’t based on this type of attraction e.g. cross-sex friendships, same sex friendships and those with colleagues and relatives. Also we are in more then one relationship at once such as parents and friends. Not all of these are based on romantic attraction and a third party can affect the relationship, through their influence.

Traditionally studies have concentrated on attraction to strangers; however relationships are usually longer term. Also research is usually conducted in America, on college students, therefore they lack ecological validity.