Saturday, March 10, 2012

Opposites Do Not Attract… Unless You Are a Magnet


A popular saying about relationships is that “opposites attract”.  But, is this really true?  Do people really want to be with someone who is totally opposite of them?  Do people prefer friends who are opposite of them?  Do people prefer to marry someone opposite to them?  Or is the converse popular saying true: “Birds of a feather flock together?”  In this paper, I will attempt to show that, in general, the statement and sentiment that “opposites attract” is false and that in successful, happy relationships there are usually strong similarities and common respect for the others’ cherished attributes.  These issues are important to society as we all have the choice to decide who we will spend our time with, who we will associate with, or who we marry.


Charles-Augustin de Coulomb
 with a magnet attraction diagram
The popular idea of opposites attracting could possibly be traced to publications from Coulomb, a French physics in the 17th century.  Coulombs’ publications form the foundations of Coulomb's law which deal with electrical charges and magnetism.  His publications show that like, or similar, charges repel each other, while opposite charges attract each other (1788).  This law is informally explored by many of us while experimenting with magnets.  Flat magnets have two polar opposite sides: one positively charged and one negatively charged.  As one moves two magnets together, there is an invisible attracting or repulsing force depending on the polarization of the ends that are moved.  If a positive end is placed near to a positive end, they will repulse each other, while if a positive charge end is placed near a negative charge end the magnets will be attracted to each other, or in other words the “opposites attract”.  While “opposites attract” may be a very reliable and valid physics principle, to apply it to interpersonal relationships is generally inaccurate.

"Aristotle with a Bust of Homer"
Rembrandt van Rijn
Oil on Canvas 153
Aristotle (384 BC - 32 BC) noted in his Rhetoric and Nichomachean Ethics that people often love those who are like unto themselves (Aristotle, 1934).  Since then there have been several studies that have set out to determine what attracts individuals to relationships with others (DeArmond & Crawford, 2011; Kiesler, 1996; Nangle, Erdley, Zeff, Stanchfield, & Gold, 2004).  There has been found in such studies great evidence that people are attracted to others of similar social status, behavior, humor, personality traits, and beliefs.  Studies have shown evidence that children are well liked by their peers who are similar to them in social status and behavioral style, while dissimilar children are disliked by peers who do not share such similarities (Akers, Jones, & Coyl, 1998; Nangle, Erdley, & Gold, 1996). Additionally, Hymel and Woody (1991) show evidence that children prefer others with a similar sense of humor. Studies also show that college students generally prefer roommates with similar personality traits (Carli, Ganley, & Pierce-Otay, 1991; Deutsch, Sullivan, Sage, & Basile, 1991) and prefer strangers that share similarities to them (Hodges & Byrne, 1972; Reagor & Clore, 1970; Lombardo, Steigleder, & Feinberg, 1975), particularly if they share a common negative view (Bosson, Johnson, Niederhoffer, & Swann, 2006; Weaver & Bosson, 2011).   Studies show evidence that couples in general prefer (Buston, & Emlen, 2003) and are similar to each other rather than being dissimilar or opposite (Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997; Chen, Luo, Yue, Xu, & Zhaoyang, 2009, Gonzaga, Campos, & Bradbury, 2007; Klohnen, & Mendelsohn, 1998; Luo, & Klohen, 2005; McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Cook, 2001) particularly in weighty matters such as religious practices (Call & Heaton, 1997; Heaton & Pratt, 1990; Strycharz, 2004).  It has even been shown that those who are depressed prefer other depressed companions to non-depressed companions (Locke & Horowitz, 1990).  These evidences indicate that the saying “opposites attract” when applied to interpersonal attraction and preference is flawed.  While there may be incidental cases of apparent opposites attracting, in general, this theory is untrue.
Similarity preferences can be seen in simple things such as an individuals tend to have more same-sex friends than opposite-sex friends.  Another example is that we tend to spend time with people of similar ideas such as entertainment and interests. 
An Example Confirmation Bias
One may ask, “If the saying that opposites attract is false, then how and why did it come into being?”  The answer could lie in how we perceive people and attributes.  Imagine you are an important business man and you receive frequent phone calls, which have an equal chance of ringing during your whole work day.  When the phone rings you generally answer it.  However, occasionally while you are on the phone with someone, you receive a second phone call that you must either ignore or put your current conversation on hold to answer.  You complain to your secretary and hypothesize that you spend more time juggling several conversations at once than you do talking to just one person. You conclude it is more likely that someone will call you while you are already in a conversation on your phone than not.  In reality, this is not true; you receive more phone calls while you are not already on your phone.  However, rarely if ever do you think to yourself at these times, “Someone called me when I am not talking to anyone else on the phone, and this is evidence that my hypothesis is incorrect”.  In contrast, when you are already on the phone with someone else and you receive another incoming phone call, you often say to yourself, “This is evidence that my hypothesis is correct.”


We, as humans, pay more attention to unusual events and stimuli while giving less attention to usual or perceived mundane events and stimuli. This Phenomenon is called Availability Heuristic (Tversky, & Kahneman, 1973).  We also give selective attention to the evidence that supports our ideas and hypotheses while ignoring contrary evidence.  This phenomenon is called confirmation bias (Dawson, 2000; Gurmankin et al. 2002; Gambrill, 2005; Klayman, 1995; Nickerson, 1998).

In relation to attraction, when we see two friends or a romantic couple with strikingly different characteristics from each other, we often pay more attention to them than to others with no apparent striking differences, even if they are in the minority.  As we examine dissimilar groups and see a striking difference, we seldom think of all the similarities which they have to each other.  Instead, we focus only on their differences, thus providing excellent conditions for a confirmation bias, as we choose to ignore much of the contrary evidence. 

There are many today who believe that opposites attract. However, these significant studies show that people generally are attracted to others of similar social status, behavior, humor, personality traits, and beliefs. The theory that opposites attract is inconsistent with these scientific studies, and must be dismissed as a myth.



References
Akers, J. F., Jones, R. M., & Coyl, D. D. (1998). Adolescent friendship pairs: Similarities in identity status development, behaviors, attitudes, and intentions. Journal of Adolescent Research, 13, 178–201. doi: 10.1177/0743554898132005
Aristotle (1934). Rhetoric. Nichomachean ethics. Rackman transl. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press.
Asher, S. R., & Dodge, K. A. (1986). Identifying children who are rejected by their peers. Developmental Psychology, 22, 444–449.
Bosson, J. K., Johnson, A. B., Niederhoffer, K., & Swann, W. B., Jr. (2006). Interpersonal chemistry through negativity: Bonding by sharing negative attitudes about others. Personal Relationships, 13, 135-150. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6811.2006.00109.x
Botwin, M. D., Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). Personality and mate preferences: Five factors in mate selection and marital satisfaction. Journal of Personality, 65(1), 107-136. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1997.tb00531.x
Buston, P.M., & Emlen, S.T. (2003). Cognitive processes underlying human mate choice: The relationship between self-perception and mate preference in Western society. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, 10(15). doi: 10.1073/pnas.1533220100
Call, V.R.A., & Heaton, T.B. (1997). Religious influence on marital stability. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 36, 382-392. doi: 10.2307/1387856
Carli, L. L., Ganley, R., & Pierce-Otay, A. (1991). Similarity and satisfaction in roommate relationships. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 419–426. doi:10.1177/0146167291174010     
Chen, H., Luo, S., Yue, G., Xu, D., & Zhaoyang, R. (2009). Do birds of a feather flock together in China?. Personal Relationships, 16(2), 167-186. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2009.01217
Coulomb, C.A. (1788). Histoire de l'Academie royale des sciences. Paris: Académie Royale des Sciences.
Dawson, N.V. (2000). Physician judgments of uncertainty. In Decision Making in Health Care: Theory, Psychology, and Applications (ed. G. B. Chapman and F. A. Sonnenberg), pp. 211-252. Cambridge University Press: New York.
DeArmond, S., & Crawford, E.C. (2011). Organization personality perceptions and attraction: The role of social identity consciousness. International Journal of Selection and Assessment, 19(4) 405-414. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2389.2011.00568.x
Deutsch, F., Sullivan, L., Sage, C., & Basile, N. (1991). The relations among talking, liking, and similarity between friends. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 17, 406–411. doi: 10.1177/0146167291174008
Gambrill, E. (2005). Critical thinking in clinical practice: Improving the quality of judgments and decisions. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.
Gonzaga, G. C., Campos, B., & Bradbury, T. (2007). Similarity, convergence, and relationship satisfaction in dating and married couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93(1), 34-48. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.93.1.34
Gurmankin, A.D., Baron, J., Hershey, J.C., & Ubel, P.A. (2002). The role of physicians' recommendations in medical treatment decisions. Medical Decision Making 22, 262-271. doi: 10.1177/0272989X0202200314
Heaton, T.B., & Pratt, E.L. (1990) The effects of religious homogamy on marital satisfaction and stability. Journal of Family Issues, 11, 191-207. doi: 10.1177/019251390011002005
Hodges, L. A., & Byrne, D. (1972). Verbal dogmatism as a potentiator of intolerance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21, 312–317. doi:10.1037/h0032315
Hymel, S., & Woody, E. (1991, April). Friends versus non-friends; Perceptions of similarity across self, teacher, and peers. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Seattle, Washington.
Kiesler, D. J. (1996). Contemporary interpersonal theory and research. New York: Wiley.
Klayman, J. (1995). Varieties of confirmation bias. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 32, 358-418. doi: 10.1016/S0079-7421(08)60315-1
Locke, K. D., & Horowitz, L. M. (1990). Satisfaction in interpersonal interactions as a function of similarity in level of dysphoria. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 823–831. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.58.5.823
Lombardo, J. P., Steigleder, M., & Feinberg, R. (1975). Internality-externality: The perception of negatively valued personality characteristics and interpersonal attraction. Representative Research in Social Psychology, 6(2), 89-95.
Luo, S., & Klohnen, E. C. (2005). Assortative mating and marital quality in newlyweds: A couple-centered approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(2), 304-326. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.88.2.304
McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Cook, J. M. (2001). Birds of a feather: Homophily in social networks. Annual Review of Sociology, 27, 415–444. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.415
Nangle, D. W., Erdley, C. A., & Gold, J. A. (1996). A reflection on the popularity construct: The importance of who likes or dislikes a child. Behavior Therapy, 27, 337–352. doi: 10.1016/S0005-7894(96)80021-9
Nangle, D. W., Erdley, C. A., Zeff, K. R., Stanchfield, L. L., & Gold, J. A. (2004). Opposites do not attract: Social status and behavioral-style concordances and discordances among children and the peers who like or dislike them. Journal Of Abnormal Child Psychology: An Official Publication Of The International Society For Research In Child And Adolescent Psychopathology, 32(4), 425-434. doi:10.1023/B:JACP.0000030295.43586.32
Nickerson, R.S. (1998). Confirmation bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review of General Psychology, 2, 175-220. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.2.2.175
Reagor, P. A., & Clore, G. L. (1970). Attraction, test anxiety, and similarity–dissimilarity of test performance. Psychonomic Science, 18, 219–220.
Strycharz, S.J. (2004). The relationship of spirituality and marital satisfaction among Roman Catholic couples. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 64, 4115.
Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A Heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207–232.
Weaver, J. R., & Bosson, J. K. (2011). I feel like I know you: Sharing negative attitudes of others promotes feelings of familiarity. Personality And Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(4), 481-491. doi:10.1177/0146167211398364
After reviewing these pictures I formally recant my above statements and conclusions. Perhaps opposites do attract.  




1 comment:

Mix said...

If your man is pushing you away and acting distant

Or if the guy you’re after isn’t giving you the time of day...

Then it’s time to pull out all the stops.

Because 99% of the time, there is only 1 thing you can say to a standoffish guy that will grab him by the heartstrings-

And get his blood pumping at just the thought of you.

Insert subject line here and link it to: Your ex won’t be able to resist?

Once you say this to him, or even send this simple phrase in a text message...

It will flip his world upside down and you will suddenly find him chasing you-

And even begging to be with you.

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Insert subject line here and link it to: Is your man hiding something? He may need your help?

Thanks again.











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