Sunday, May 5, 2013

Attitude similarity as predictor for interpersonal attraction

It is understandable that satisfying personal relationships play significant role in individuals' mental and physical well being. The initial point of the relationship establishment and rapport development is interpersonal attraction. Attraction can be considered as the starting point and the basis of our social relationships which leads to friendships and romantic relationships. It is a force which draws us to other people and resists separation through more or less complicated interpersonal relationship. This force determines to a high degree of how much we love, hate, like or dislike someone.

When making close relationships including mate selection and life time friendships, other person’s qualities and social situations determine our level of attraction or repulsion towards him or her. As discussed in the previous publications on the topic of interpersonal attraction, it can be influenced by multiple factors, such as physical attractiveness, attitude similarity, proximity, reciprocity etc. On a big scale, it does not matter if the gender is the same or it is different, since these determinants will remain relatively similar for predicting interpersonal attraction across different cultures.

Our self perception is substantially affected by our family members, friends, and relative, reflecting our close relationships and our feelings of attractiveness and attraction towards others. As one of the strong attraction characteristics, certain similarity of attitudes and interests of a different person makes us feel more attracted towards him or her. The notion of “birds of a feather flock together” points out that similarity is a crucial determinant of interpersonal attraction, and it is not solely refers to the physical appearance, but mostly to the attitudes, preferences, customs, likes and dislikes.

Morry in his attraction-similarity model described a common belief that people with real similarity produce initial attraction. Perceived similarity helps rating others as similar to ourselves in on-going relationship. Such perception is either self-serving (friendship) or relationship-serving (romantic relationship). Interpersonal attraction is associated with attitude similarity, backgrounds, values and beliefs. We tend to have more positive emotions towards a person when we come to know that he or she has the same attitude as ours. Similarity is of great significance for us because we are always in need of others, conforming to our values and beliefs. We illuminate our understanding of, and trim down our uncertainty about social situations by weighing our opinions against those of other people. Recognizing that others agree with us fortifies our beliefs and heightens our self-esteem.

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Reinforcement Theory: Byrne’s Law of Attraction

A rather commonsense idea—and one that psychologists agree with—is that we tend to like people who give us rewards and to dislike people who give us punishments. Social psychologist Donn Byrne (1997) has formulated the law of attraction. It says that our attraction to another person is proportionate to the number of reinforcements that person gives us relative to the total number of reinforcements plus punishments the person gives us. Or, simplified even more, we like people who are frequently nice to us and seldom nasty. According to this explanation, we prefer people who are similar because interaction with them is rewarding. People who are similar in age, race, and education are likely to have similar outlooks on life, prefer similar activities, and like the same kinds of people. 

These shared values and beliefs provide the basis for smooth and rewarding interaction. It will be easy to agree about such things as how important schoolwork is, what TV programs to watch, and what to do on Friday night. Disagreement about such things would cause conflict and hostility, which are definitely not rewards (for most people, anyway). We prefer pretty or handsome partners because we are aware of the high value placed on physical attractiveness in U.S. society, and we believe others will have a higher opinion of us if we have a good-looking partner. Finally, we prefer someone with high social status or earning potential because all the material things that people find rewarding cost money. 

These findings have some practical implications (Hatfield & Walster, 1978). If you are trying to get a new relationship going well, make sure you give the other person some positive reinforcement. Also, make sure that you have some good times together, so that you associate each other with rewards. Do not spend all your time stripping paint off old furniture or cleaning out the garage. And do not forget to keep the positive reinforcements (or “strokes,” if you like that jargon better) going in an old, stable relationship. A variation of the reinforcement view comes from the implicit egotism perspective (Jones et al., 2004). It states that we are attracted to persons who are similar because they activate our positive views of ourselves.

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Two Hypotheses Regarding Attitude Similarity and Attraction

Two somewhat different views have been advanced with regard to the role of attitude similarity– dissimilarity in interpersonal attraction: the similarity–attraction hypothesis and the dissimilarity–repulsion hypothesis. The similarity–attraction hypothesis proposes that attitude similarity promotes interpersonal attraction, as we were discussed earlier. According to this view, attraction is a positive function of the extent to which two individuals share beliefs about important topics. A substantial amount of evidence has been found to support this hypothesis. For example, Byrne and Nelson (1965) asked participants to rate a stranger and varied the stranger’s proportion of similar attitudes at four levels. They found a linear relationship between similar attitudes and attraction.

On the other hand, the dissimilarity–repulsion hypothesis (Rosenbaum, 1986) argues that the relationship between attitude similarity and attraction is instead a relationship between attitude dissimilarity and repulsion. It is not so much that attitude similarity leads to liking as that dissimilarity leads to disliking. According to Rosenbaum, most studies of attitude similarity have not included an adequate baseline or no-attitude-information control condition, which is necessary for one to determine whether similarity enhances attraction or dissimilarity decreases attraction. And the studies that did include such a condition did not statistically test the difference between the control and the similarity conditions. Consequently, those studies failed to provide the evidence to support the assumption that attitude similarity leads to attraction; attraction could instead be explained in terms of dislike for those whose attitudes are dissimilar.

To support this dissimilarity–repulsion hypothesis, Rosenbaum conducted two experiments using Byrne’s paradigm. In those experiments, participants were shown the opinions of a stranger who was either similar or dissimilar to them. In addition, Rosenbaum included a control condition in which ratings were made in the absence of attitude information. In the first experiment, participants were shown photographs of people along with either no attitude information, .20 similar attitudes, or .80 similar attitudes. Attraction ratings based on .80 similar attitudes did not differ significantly from the ratings based on the photograph and no attitude information. However, ratings of the target with .20 similar attitudes were significantly lower. The second study was a naturalistic field experiment conducted at the Iowa presidential political caucus. Democrats and Republicans were asked to rate strangers described in terms of personality trait words paired with information about the strangers’ political party affiliation. Because considerable attitude information is imbedded in political party affiliation, the information that the stranger was a Democrat was assumed to create a condition of attitude similarity for a Democratic participant but attitude dissimilarity for a Republican. The control condition included information about the stranger’s personality alone. As in Study 1, there was no difference between the ratings based on similar political affiliation and those based on personality trait words alone. However, the dissimilar political affiliation condition resulted in significantly lower attraction.

On the basis of the results of those two studies, Rosenbaum concluded that attitude similarity did not enhance attraction but that attitude dissimilarity indeed resulted in repulsion.

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Attraction: A Unidimensional or a Multidimensional Variable?

Many researchers have assumed that attraction is a unidimensional variable. They assume that attraction and repulsion are mirror images of one another and that the more we dislike someone, the less we like him. In such a conception of "attraction," one's attraction toward another can vary from extreme attraction to extreme repulsion.

A few individuals have considered the possibility that negative and positive feelings toward another might be relatively independent: that one might feel both extreme attraction and extreme repulsion toward the same individual. While this viewpoint has fewer supporters in the academic circles, it should also be taken in consideration as the theoretically acceptable scenario.

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What can we learn from the science for our daily life? The chance of the establishing close relationship and rapport is higher when there is a high degree of interpersonal attraction. While there is a wide array of the personal attitudes in every individual, not all of them can be considered as substantial. Therefore, the set of the personal “go” and “no go” attributes is largely different. Based on the repulsion theory, the weight of the perceived negative attitudes might be decisively heavier than the perceived positive attitudes for the attraction development, therefore, the chance of success cannot be considered as mathematical balance between those characteristics.

While some of the personal attitudes are more or less stable over the life, other are changing based on the acquired education, life experience, country of living, external environment, life events, and internal personal self-development. Looking for partner in romantic and other relationship, you should seek for the best match of the essential attitudes to maximize the chance of attraction, rapport, and long-term relationship.

So, before falling in love with a new romantic partner, may be, that is good idea to ask him or her if he/she is Republican or Democrat, definitely, if the political affiliation is very important to you.

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