Factors affecting attraction in romantic relationships - Relationships

AQA A-level Psychology: Revision Made Easy - Jean-Marc Lawton 2017

Factors affecting attraction in romantic relationships


Several factors influence who we are attracted to. Self-disclosure involves revealing personal information about oneself to another, which helps relationships become more intimate. Physical attractiveness is important because it is an immediate and accessible way to rate someone, with those having greater physical attractiveness seen as possessing more desirable personality characteristics. An important consideration with physical attractiveness is the idea of the matching hypothesis, which sees individuals as seeking partners with similar levels of physical attractiveness to themselves, as this reduces the chances of rejection or abandonment for someone more attractive. Filter theory sees partner choice as affected by factors limiting the availability of those possible to select from. Social demography focuses upon how potential partners tend to be limited to those who live nearby, work and socialise, etc. with us and have a similar ethnic, religious, educational and economic background to ourselves. Such people seem more attractive because similarity aids communication and therefore development of a relationship. Similarity of attitudes concerns the degree of likeness between individuals’ viewpoints, with those possessing similar attitudes being seen as more compatible. Complementarity concerns the degree to which individuals meet each other’s needs, especially emotional ones, as this helps ’deepen’ a relationship.


Fig 9.2 Self-disclosure of personal information helps to build closer, more intimate relationships

Focal study

Shaw-Taylor et al. (2011) used profiles and photographs from an online dating site to assess the matching hypothesis in a series of studies. In one of the studies, the attractiveness of 60 males and 60 females was measured and their interactions were monitored. The people with whom they interacted were then monitored to see who they interacted with and returned messages to. What the researchers found was different from the original construct of matching. People contacted others who were significantly more attractive than they were. However, it was found that the person was more likely to reply and to agree to ’communicate’ if they were closer to the same level of attractiveness. This suggests the matching hypothesis applies more to later stages of the dating process rather than explaining initial attraction, as first proposed.


• Kleinke (1979) found that individuals who were perceived as being selective about who they disclosed personal information to were seen as more attractive, as recipients of the information felt specially chosen, illustrating the importance of self-disclosure as a factor affecting attractiveness. This was further supported by Wortman et al. (1976) reporting that when individuals believed they had been specially selected for intimate disclosure, they felt trusted and admired.

• Taylor et al. (2010) reported that 85 per cent of Americans who got married in 2008 married someone of their own ethnic group, supporting the social demographic notion that partner choice is limited to those of a similar background.

• Sadalla et al. (1987) found that women are attracted to males who are reliable, socially dominant, self-confident and extrovert, as such qualities indicate an ability to achieve relatively high positions in society, therefore meeting their need for provision of resources. This supports the idea that complementarity is an important limiting factor in which individuals are perceived as potential partners.

Positive evaluation

Image Personality is important in self-disclosure, as individuals who self-disclose above their normal level of disclosure are seen as most attractive because recipients perceive themselves as special to have received such intimacy.

Image People without physical attractiveness can compensate for it through pairing up with a more physically attractive partner by having other attractive qualities, such as wealth or domestic skills.

Image Age is another limiting factor in whom is available to us as potential partners. The average age difference between individuals in romantic relationships is 2—3 years, with generally the female partner being younger.

Negative evaluation

Image Much research into self-disclosure does not distinguish between friendship/companionship relationships and romantic relationships, making it difficult to assess the role of self-disclosure solely in romantic relationships.

Image Evolutionary theory opposes the matching hypothesis because it sees physical attractiveness as more important in females, as advertising their health and fertility, with resource richness being seen as more desirable than physical attractiveness in males.

Image Filter theory does not really consider that males and females filter out different things due to different needs. Filter theory is also culturally biased, as most research into it applies mainly to individualistic cultures, with relationships in collectivist cultures affected by different limiting factors.

Practical application

In order for relationships to have more chance of success, dating agencies should take into consideration individuals’ relative levels of physical attractiveness, as well as demographic variables, similarity of attitudes and complementarity. Individuals should also be encouraged to self-disclose in order to develop deeper levels of intimacy.