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Interpersonal Attraction

attitudes and behavior type theory of personality people person appearance physical

A favorable attitude toward, or a fondness for, another person.

Both personal characteristics and environment play a role in interpersonal attraction. A major determinant of attraction is propinquity, or physical proximity. People who come into contact regularly and have no prior negative feelings about each other generally become attracted to each other as their degree of mutual familiarity and comfort level increases. The situation in which people first meet also determines how they will feel about each other. One is more likely to feel friendly toward a person first encountered in pleasant, comfortable circumstances.

People are generally drawn to each other when they perceive similarities with each other. The more attitudes and opinions two people share, the greater the probability that they will like each other. It has also been shown that disagreement on important issues decreases attraction. One of the most important shared attitudes is that liking and disliking the same people creates an especially strong bond between two individuals. The connection between interpersonal attraction and similar attitudes is complex because once two people become friends, they begin to influence each other's attitudes.

Personality type is another determinant of interpersonal attraction. In areas involving control, such as dominance, competition, and self-confidence, people tend to pair up with their opposites. Thus, for example, the complementary pairing of a dominant person with a submissive one. People gravitate to others who are like themselves in terms of characteristics related to affiliation, including sociability, friendliness, and warmth. Another important factor in interpersonal attraction, especially during the initial encounter, is that of physical appearance, even among members of the same sex. Each culture has fairly standard ideas about physical appearance that serve as powerful determinants in how we perceive character. Kindness, sensitivity, intelligence, modesty, and sociability are among those characteristics that are often attributed to physically attractive individuals in research studies. In one study, attractive job applicants (both male and female) were given markedly preferential treatment by prospective employers compared with equally qualified candidates who were less attractive. There is also evidence that physical appearance has a greater role in the attraction of males to females than vice versa. Behavior, as well as appearance, influences interpersonal attraction. No matter what the circumstances are, behavior is often seen as reflecting a person's general traits (such as kindness or aggression) rather than as a response to a specific situation.

The type of interpersonal attraction that has particular interest to most people is attraction to the opposite sex. To a certain extent, romantic attraction is influenced by evolutionary considerations: the survival of the species. Some experts claim that when people select potential mates, they look for someone whose status, physical attractiveness, and personal qualities are roughly equivalent to their own. According to another theory, a person will choose a partner who will enhance his or her own self-image or persona. Researchers generally acknowledge a specific set of courting or flirting behaviors, employed by both sexes to attract each other. Initially, both men and women use varied repertoires of body language to signal interest and/or availability. Men may stretch, exaggerate ordinary motions (such as stirring a drink), or engage in preening motions, such as smoothing the hair or adjusting neckties, and younger men often affect a swagger. Women draw attention to themselves by tossing or playing with their hair, tilting their heads, raising their eyebrows, giggling, or blushing. The first connection is generally made through eye contact, often an intent gaze which is then lowered or averted. If the eye contact is positively received, a smile often follows and a conversation is initiated.

Conversations initiated by romantic attraction are generally light and often include laughter. If the attraction progresses, the next step is casual touching in innocuous areas such as the shoulder, wrist, or forearm. The final step in the initial romantic attraction is known as mirroring or body synchrony, which is a matching of nonverbal body language. With bodies aligned and facing each other, the couple begins to move in tandem, leaning toward each other, crossing their legs, or tilting their heads. By these actions, the couple mutually transmit the messages that they like and are like each other. This mirroring activity is not confined to romantic relationships. Infants begin to mirror adult behavior shortly after birth, and the technique is consciously practiced by therapists, salespeople, and others whose work depends on establishing a sense of closeness with others. Generally, the adoption of each other's postures may be seen in virtually any grouping of individuals who feel comfortable with and are close to each other.

Further Reading

Berscheid, Ellen. Interpersonal Attraction. 2nd ed. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1978.

Bull, Ray. The Social Psychology of Facial Appearance. New York: Springer-Verlag, 1988.

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