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
|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.
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|After reviewing these pictures I formally recant my above statements and conclusions. Perhaps opposites do attract.|