Factors affecting attraction in romantic relationships: self-disclosure; physical attractiveness, including the matching hypothesis; filter theory, including social demography, similarity in attitudes and complementarity
Theory 1: The Matching Hypothesis
A01: The emphasis of the matching hypothesis is that couples seek to form relationships with the best possible partner they think they can attract. They also want to feel they have the best possible partner who won’t reject them. As a consequence it has been observed that people who form couples have similar levels of attractiveness. The ‘matching hypothesis’ has two specific hypotheses:
- The more socially desirable a person is (e.g. in terms of physical attractiveness), the more desirable they would expect their partner to be.
- Couples who are matched in terms of their social desirability are more likely to have happy relationships than couples who are mismatched.
- Walster et al. (1966) – Computer Dance Study. Students were led to believe they had been ‘matched’ with a similar partner at a ‘get acquainted’ dance. In reality they had all been randomly assigned to a partner. They were introduced to their ‘date’ and spent time with them at a dance. Researchers surreptitiously rated the students on their level of physical attractiveness. The researchers found that regardless of their own level of physical attractiveness, participants reacted more positively to physically attractive dates and were more likely to try to arrange subsequent dates with them. In this study ‘physical attractiveness effect’ was greater than any ‘matching effect’ or concerns about rejection.
- Walster (1969) Computer Dance II. Similar event, but students were allowed to mingle beforehand, so they had time to meet ‘naturally’. This time students paired up with someone of a similar level of attractiveness (as rated by the researchers)
- Murstein (1972) – ‘Faces Study’. Participants were shown either photographs real couples, or randomly generated couples. The real couples were judged consistently to be more similar to each other in terms of attractiveness. This study is useful because it looks at real life couples, unlike Walster’s study. It is therefore realistic as opposed to optimistic as in The Computer Dance.
Issues & Debates
- Physical attractiveness: The focus on attraction in the matching hypothesis may derive from the kinds of environments were people tend to meet for the first time (bars, parties, etc.). In such settings, the main information you can gain about a potential partner is their level of physical attractiveness.
- An alternative view: How does this contrast with the reward-need satisfaction mode?
- Gender Differences: Takeuchi (2006) has shown that a gender difference exists in how far physical attractiveness is valued by an opposite-sex partner. Men value physical attractiveness more than females, who may place more value on kindness and generosity (could also link in to evolutionary explanations for gender differences in mate preference).
- Reductionism: Reducing relationship formation to just one factor (the best-possible non-rejecting partner) is clearly reductionist. No attention is paid to personal needs and preferences.