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Observation of Heterosexual Couple’s Outward Appearance to Determine If Couples Are Drawn to Potential Partners That Display Similarity or Complimentary Characteristics as Themselves

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Observation of heterosexual couple’s outward appearance to determine if couples are drawn to potential partners that display similarity or complimentary characteristics as themselves

June Mihalich

College of the Desert 


Abstract

The purpose of this research report is to determine whether heterosexual couples select partners who tend to display more similarity or complimentary outward appearance in potential partners. The researcher believes heterosexual couples tend to show preference to a partner whose outward appearance is similar to their own rather than complimentary. The researcher utilized structured observation to collect data from forty heterosexual couples in a movie theater early in the evening on a Friday night. These participants were observed on their outward appearance of style, physique and grooming. These outward characteristics were then judged to be complimentary or similar between the heterosexual couples. The results from the data collected showed that about eighty percent of the heterosexual couples displayed selections of partners that had outward appearances similar to their own rather complimentary. These results supported the researcher’s hypothesis that heterosexual couples tend to select partners that are more similar in outward appearance verses complimentary.


Observation of heterosexual couple’s outward appearance to determine if couples are drawn to potential partners that display similarity or complimentary characteristics as themselves

It is a common expression that “opposites attract.”  In romantic relationships, this is understood to mean that individuals chose to pair with others who are dissimilar in some ways with themselves: one partner is shorter while the other is taller; one may be more outgoing while another is more introverted; one partner may be more ambitious while the other may have more modest goals.  The concepts of similarity and complimentarity have been explored extensively.  The attraction similarity hypothesis indicates that individuals are more likely to seek out romantic partners whose characteristics are similar to their own (Morry & Gaines, 2005).  The notion of similarity in a partner has intuitive appeal because we tend to seek reinforcement of our own beliefs, behaviors, and values – a partner with similar beliefs, behaviors, and values provides this reinforcement (Dijkstra, 2008).  Conversely, the complementarity hypothesis states that we are drawn to romantic partners who are different, and thus complement our own characteristics in some positive and productive manner (Antill, 1983).  Complementary traits, when combined with our own, increase the likelihood of both persons being able to adapt and cope with the challenges presented during their time together (Dijkstra, 2008).  

In Support of Similarity

Similarity in personality traits was explored by Dijkstra (2008) to determine whether individuals seek out romantic partners who have similar or complementary personality characteristics.  The participants were 760 members of an online dating website for college-educated adults; on the mean the participants were in their early 40s (Dijkstra, 2008).  A personality assessment based on the Five-Factor Model of Personality was given to each participant (Dijkstra, 2008).  The Five-Factor Model describes personality in terms of five broad traits – extraversion, conscientiousness, openness to experience, neuroticism, and agreeableness (McCrae & John, 1991).  After providing input on their own personality traits, participants were then asked to describe the characteristics that they sought in a potential romantic partner using a similar personality assessment (Dijkstra, 2008).  Participants also were asked a general question as to whether they were seeking a similar or complementary romantic partner (Dijkstra, 2008).  The results indicated a strong correlation on all traits in the Five-Factor model; most participants sought romantic partners who have personality traits similar to their own (Dijkstra, 2008).

  Interestingly, in response to the general question as to whether the individual was seeking a romantic partner who was similar or different, the majority (85.7%) indicated that they were seeking a complementary partner (Dijkstra, 2008).  As Dijkstra (2008) noted:

Our study found that individuals often hold seemingly contradictory beliefs about their ideal romantic partner.  That is, whereas they wish for a partner who resembles them in terms of personality, when asked about their preferences in general, most individuals indicate that they desire a complementary partner instead of a similar one.  (p. 600)

Dijkstra (2008) indicates that individuals may state an interest in complementary traits in a potential romantic partner because of the prevalence of the “opposites attract” belief that is commonly heard.

Similarity also is present in the selection of romantic partners with respect to attachment patterns (Klohnen & Luo, 2003).  Attachment patterns are the characteristic ways that individuals behave in important interpersonal relationships (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).  Four adult attachment patterns have been identified – secure, fearful, preoccupied, and dismissing (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).  The four patterns indicate the presence of avoidance and anxiety in relationship behaviors (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).  The secure pattern is characterized by low levels of both anxiety and avoidance whereas the fearful pattern is characterized by high levels of both (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).  Those with low avoidance, but high anxiety exhibit the preoccupied pattern and those with high avoidance and low anxiety exhibit the dismissing pattern (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991).  Klohnen & Luo (2003) hypothesized that individuals would seek out romantic partners with similar attachment patterns to their own.  Participants were presented with narrative scenarios that described a possible romantic partner with behaviors that were characteristic of one of the attachment patterns (Klohnen & Luo, 2003).  Participants’ own attachment patterns were assessed and another assessment was given to determine the level of attraction to the romantic partners contained in the various narrative scenarios (Klohnen & Luo, 2003).  The results indicated that “participants were most strongly attracted to the romantic partner who was most similar to their own attachment style.” (Klohnen & Luo, 2003, p. 715)

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