Monday, October 20, 2014

Don’t Love Those from Far Away: Factor of Proximity while Falling in Love

Advice for good love: Don’t love
those from far away. Take yourself one
from nearby.
The way a sensible house will take
local stones for its building,
stones which have suffered in the same cold
and were scorched by the same sun.”

—Yehuda Amichai,
“Advice for Good Love,” Love Poems

Everyone may recall that at some point in their life they may see a very attractive person who caught their full attention in the situation when there was no opportunity to approach them, like on the busy street, in the passing car, or even on the news. You were enlightened for a minute, you kept the memories of this person for couple of days, but eventually you forgot about your encounter.

That is normal, and the reason is because you never saw that person again. If the stimuli wasn't reinforced you tend to forget about it even if you liked it a lot.

Therefore, factor of the physical proximity is so important. It does ensure that continues exposure keeps happening until attraction intensifies.

A number of classical studies demonstrate that as the geographic distance separating potential couples decreases, the probability of their marrying each other increases. In one of these studies, conducted in Philadelphia in the 1930s, some 5,000 marriage licenses were examined. The research showed that 12 percent of the potential couples lived in the same building, as evidenced by the same address, when they applied for a marriage license. An additional 33 percent lived a distance of five or less blocks from each other. The percentage of marriages decreased significantly as the geographic distance between the potential couples increased.

In another study, conducted in Columbus, Ohio, in the 1950s, 431 couples who applied for marriage licenses were interviewed. It turned out that 54 percent of the potential couples were separated by a distance of 16 blocks or less when they first went out together, and 37 percent were separated by a distance of five blocks or less. The number of marriages decreased as the distance increased between the potential couples’ places of residence.

The two most famous studies documenting the relationship between proximity and attraction were conducted in college dormitories. Since most of the students who live in dormitories haven’t known each other previously, a dormitory provides a good setting for the study of how close relationships develop.

Leon Festinger conducted a study of the residents of married student housing on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The MIT dormitories were built in a U-shape around a central court covered with grass. The exterior sides of the buildings faced the street, while the central section faced the inner courtyard. Festinger’s famous conclusion was that the architect had inadvertently determined the patterns of relationships among the dwellers of the two buildings.

Two factors appeared to exercise the greatest influence on personal relationships: the location of the apartments and the distances between them. The most important factor in determining who would be emotionally close to whom was the distance between their apartments. The closer people lived to each other, the more likely they were to become friends. Next-door neighbors were far more likely to become friends with each other than with people who lived in adjacent buildings. As a matter of fact, it was difficult to find close friendships between people who lived more than five apartments away from each other. In over two-thirds of the cases, close friendships were between next-door neighbors.

In addition, the location of some of the apartments created more opportunities for their residents. Those residents who lived near staircases or mailboxes met more of their fellow residents and met them more often. The frequent encounters increased the chances that these well-placed people would talk to others, get to know them, form friendships, and increase their own popularity. On the other hand, people who lived in apartments that faced the street had no next-door neighbors. As a result, these residents made half the number of friends made by those who lived facing the inner court.

The second study was conducted in a student dormitory at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Once again, the results of the study showed that what most influenced the formation of close personal ties between the students was not their compatibility, but their physical proximity. Roommates were far more likely to become close friends than people were who lived several doors down from each other.

In yet another study, using a group of new recruits to a police academy, most of the police trainees described their best friend as a person whose last name started with the same letter as theirs.

The reason? Assignments to rooms and classroom chairs were made according to last names. This meant that the trainee’s roommate and neighbor in class was someone whose last name started with the same letter as the trainee. This constant physical proximity was found to better predict the development of close ties than did similarity in age, religion, marital status, ethnic background, level of education, membership in organizations, and even leisure time activities.

Seventy years of research on attraction between neighbors, roommates, classmates, coworkers, and members of organizations testifies to the effect of physical proximity on attraction. Students tend to develop closer friendships with other students who take the same courses, sit next to them in class, live with them, or live next to them in dorm rooms. Sales people in department stores form closer friendships with people who work right next to them than with people who work just several yards away. And most important, the likelihood of individuals marrying increases as the physical distance between them decreases.

What can explain this strong positive effect of physical proximity?

One of the main reasons, claims Robert Zajonc (1968), is that physical proximity makes “repeated exposure” possible. Repeated exposure, it turns out, increases our liking for practically everything, from the routine features of our lives to decorating materials, exotic foods, or music.

A recent study on the effect of repeated exposure was conducted in a large lecture hall on a university campus. Four women, confederates of the researchers, pretended to be students in a particular class. Avoiding contact with the other students in the class, the first woman attended one lecture, the second one attended ten lectures, and the third attended fifteen. The fourth woman didn’t attend any of the lectures. At the end of the course, students were shown slides of the four women and asked about their feelings and attitudes towards them. Despite the fact that the students had had no personal contact with the women, the liking they reported toward them was inversely related to the number of times that they had seen them in class. The woman who didn’t attend any lectures was liked the least, and the woman who attended all the lectures was liked the most. In addition, the more lectures a woman attended, the more likely she was to be perceived by the students as attractive, intelligent, interesting, and similar to themselves.

In another study specifically related to romantic attraction, men and women who didn’t know each other were asked to look in each other’s eyes for two minutes, a very long time when you look into the eyes of someone you don’t know. The results? Both men and the women reported an increase in their romantic attraction to the other person.

The positive effect of repeated exposure seems to arise out of an inborn discomfort that we all feel around strange and unfamiliar things, an inner programming that warns us that the strange can be dangerous and should be avoided. As children, we are taught not to talk to strangers, and even as adults we are not likely to respond positively to a stranger who, approaching us on the street and introducing himself, says that he would like to get acquainted.

Most of us are likely to assume that the stranger is crazy, drunk, trying to sell us something, convince us of something, or even hurt us. If however, we have seen the same stranger every day in the supermarket, on the bus, or in the elevator, we are likely to respond very differently. After a number of such casual encounters, if the person were to ask our opinion on the weather or the political situation, chances are that we would respond positively and willingly continue the conversation, possibly the acquaintance. Repeated exposure tells us that the person, or thing, is not dangerous, so we can relax and enjoy the encounter.

Sources and Additional Information:
Falling in Love: Why We Choose the Lovers We Choose by Ayala Malach Pines

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