How have Psychologists studied Interpersonal Attraction?
Who people are attracted to and why, is a very important aspect of human life that has fascinated psychologists for hundreds of years. Why do we like some but dislike others? Why do certain people become our friends or even our partners? Though attempts to answer these questions began with the birth of psychology itself, the use of systematic observation to study interpersonal attraction (IPA) is a relatively recent development, which really began in the 1940s and 1950s, and thrived in the decades that followed. There have been a vast range of psychological theories, investigations and perspectives on the subject since the middle part of the twentieth century up till the present day. So how have psychologists studied Interpersonal Attraction? A large proportion of the research on IPA since the 1950s has focused on the effect of physical attractiveness on attraction, for example Walster et al (1960); their participants were students at a college dance who had been paired by a computer. They found that the only characteristic that correlated with attraction was physical attractiveness. Similar results were found in the study of a video dating service. Clients selected partners after consulting files that included a photograph and detailed information regarding hobbies, interests and opinions. It was found that both males and females selected a partner on the basis of looks alone (Green, Buchanan & Heuer, 1984). Psychologists have conducted many investigations such as these that show the effect of attractiveness on IPA across age, sex, race and social status. Moreover, attractive people have also been shown to be more likely to be hired after a job interview (Dipboye et al, 1974), treated more leniently by jurors if female (Sigall & Ostrove, 1975) and evaluated more highly on their written work again if female (Landy & Sigall, 1974). Berscheid et al (1971) have also noted in their study that people tend to be attracted to and “pair off” with individuals of their own level of physical attractiveness, demonstrating a “realistic” social choice. They argue that people are attracted to the most desirable partner possible, while also trying to avoid rejection. This hypothesis had been well supported by numerous other studies (White, 1980; Feingold, 1988). Another factor that psychologists have studied that influences IPA is proximity. Numerous studies have found an association between physical distance between people and the extent to which they are attracted to each other. Festinger et al (1950) studied friendships in a new housing project for married ex students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. There were few prior acquaintances among residents. They found that “people who lived close to one another became friendly with each other, while people who lived apart did not. Mere ‘accidents’ of where a path went or whose doorway a staircase passed were major determinants of who became friends within this community. The small…social groups which formed were to a large extent determined by the fact that a number of people lived in the same apartment building or court”. Indeed, the dependence of proximity on friendship formation was striking; in the two separate housing projects studied, over 80% of people listed someone who lived in the same building or court as them as being one of the 3 people in the entire housing complex that they saw most socially. Other studies have shown a similar effect, e.g. students who live next to each other in halls of residence or who sit next to each other in classes develop stronger friendships than those who live or sit father away (Berscheid, 1985), while Nahemow & Lauton (1975) found that among the elderly residents of a city housing project, 88% of first chosen friends lived in the same building as the individual, while almost half lived on the same floor. This aspect of interpersonal attraction also...
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