People look for similarity in both their friendships and romantic relationships, research finds.
In a partner, people want someone with a similar personality, similar attitudes and values.
Similarity equals compatibility because couples do not change that much over the years.
That is why opposites generally do not attract — it is a fantasy that you will be able to make major changes to another person.
So, when two people meet for the first time, they are trying to work out what they have in common.
Any differences are only likely to be magnified over the years.
Dr Angela Bahns, the study’s first author, said:
“Picture two strangers striking up a conversation on a plane, or a couple on a blind date.
From the very first moments of awkward banter, how similar the two people are is immediately and powerfully playing a role in future interactions.
Will they connect? Or walk away?
Those early recognitions of similarity are really consequential in that decision.”
The conclusions come from a study in which 1,523 pairs of friends, lovers and mere acquaintances were asked about their personalities, prejudices, values and attitudes.
The results showed that people’s qualities did not converge over the years.
Instead, people choose to be friends and lovers with those who were already more similar to them at the outset.
Dr Bahns said:
“Anything that disrupts the harmony of the relationship–such as areas of disagreement, especially on attitudes, values, or preferences that are important–is likely to persist.
Change is difficult and unlikely; it’s easier to select people who are compatible with your needs and goals from the beginning.”
One should also pursue relationships with dissimilar people, though, said Professor Chris Crandall, study co-author:
“Getting along with people who aren’t like you is really useful.
Friends are for comfort, taking it easy, relaxing, not being challenged — and those are good things.
But you can’t have only that need.
You also need new ideas, people to correct you when you’re loony.
If you hang out only with people who are loony like you, you can be out of touch with the big, beautiful diverse world.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Bahns et al., 2016).