Attraction and Love

When asked "What makes your life meaningful ?"

Majority of People answer ‘close relationships with family, friends and romantic partners’ (Berscheid, 1985)


Proximity is an important factor in determining who your friends are.

Geographical distance used to be a reliable predictor of who would marry who.

However, since we are now a highly mobile society, ‘functional distance’ is a more important factor.

Proximity enables people to discover common interests and exchange rewards.

Reward Theory of Attraction: We like those whose behavior is rewarding to us, or associate with pleasant events.

Anticipation alone can increase liking:

Darley & Berscheid (1967) : Gave women description of two women, one of whom they were told they would meet. The women rated the person they expected to be as being more likeable.

Mere Exposure: being exposed to someone or something increases your liking for that person. (Zajonc, 1968, 1970)

We even prefer pictures of ourselves which show how we see ourselves:

Mita, Dermer, and Knight: Took a picture of a person and then made a mirror image of the picture. People preferred the mirror image picture more often than the original picture.

However, overexposure can also have the opposite effect.

Physical Attractiveness:

Is a moderately good predictor of how often a female dates.

For males, the relationship is not as strong.

Men value opposite-sex physical attractiveness more than women (Feingold, 1990, 91)

90% of cosmetic surgery patients are women.

Elaine Hatfield (1966) Randomly matched 376 couples who were first year students after collecting personality and aptitude tests. At an arranged dance, she then had the students evaluate their dates after two and a half hours at the dance. Examining a long list of psychological traits, the only significant factor which seemed to predict liking was physical attractiveness. This was true for both men and women.

Attractiveness helps create a positive first impression.

This first impression can be important in both meeting a potential dating partner or in a job interview.

Studies which have subjects rate the attractiveness of people in yearbooks find that the more attractive people have higher status jobs, make more money, and are more likely to describe themselves as being happy. (Umberson & Hughes, 1987).

Who is attractive ?

When people rate pictures for attractiveness, there is general agreement across people on the ratings.

Attractive People are really only average:

Langois & Roggman (1990): Used computer "morphing" techniques to show that the more faces which were averaged across to make a composite face, the more attractive the resulting face created.

Liking and love can also influence attractiveness ratings.

The more in love a women is with a man, the more attractive she rates him as being. (Price et al, 1974)

Additionally, the more in love people are, the less attractive they find other people of the opposite sex to be. (Johnson & Rusbult, 1989)

Birds of a feather flock Together

The greater the similarity between husband and wife, the happier they report being and the less likely they are to divorce. (Byrne, 1971).

Similarity leads to liking:

Griffit & Vietch: Collected personality assessments of 13 unacquainted men and then confined them in a fallout shelter. By comparing interests and opinions, they were able to predict with better than chance accuracy whom each men would like and dislike by the end of the experiment. The men liked those most like themselves best.

No research has reliably shown that opposites attract. Buss (1985)


Liking begets Liking:

People who perceive us as liking them will be more likely to reciprocate those feelings. (Berscheid & Walster, 1978)

Rebound Effect:

Attacks on a person’s self-esteem (from someone else) can lead them to like a person more as a result. (Walster 1965)

Women who received critical personality assessments rated an attractive male confederate as being more likeable than those who received a positive evaluation.

Love and Social Psychology

Davis (1985), Maxwell (1985), & Sternberg & Grajek (1984)

studied different types of relationships (same-sex friendships, parent-child and spousal relationships), searching for common elements.

3 common factors emerged:

Mutual understanding, giving and receiving support, valuing time spent with a loved one.

How do psychologist define love?

Lee (1988) Hendrick & Hendrick (1993) proposed three primary love styles: passion, game playing, and friendship which become combined in loving relationship

Sternberg (1988) concept of love is based on Intimacy, Commitment, and Passion. How these three factors combine determine what type of love appears: Romantic, Companionate, Passionate (Fatuous). The "ideal" lovetype is Consummate Love, which combines all three factors.


Passionate Love: A state of intense longing for union with another. Passionate lovers are absorbed in one another, feel ecstatic at attaining their partners love, and are distressed on losing it.

Explaining Passionate Love

The two-factor theory of emotion: When aroused, you label the source of your arousal, and this labeling leads to the perception of a certain emotion (fear, love, anger, happiness)

If a male or female is aroused in the presence of another person of the opposite sex, they attribute their arousal to that person, and they interpret their arousal as passion.

Experiments done in the lab and in real-world settings have demonstrated this principle:

Dutton & Aron (1974,1989) : Male subjects came into the lab, supposedly to participate in a learning experiment and were introduced to a female confederate. Half of the males were told that the experiment involved "quite painful electric shocks". When they subsequently filled out a brief questionnaire which asked them how much they would like to date and kiss the female confederate, those aroused by the impending threat of electric shock expressed greater attraction toward the female.

Dutton & Aron (1974) : Wanted to conduct a more "realistic" test of the two factor theory. This time, they had a female confederate approach men on a pedestrian bridge and asked them for help with a survey. After the men helped with the survey, the confederate gave the men her phone number and asked them to call her if they had any questions about the survey. When the bridge was a swaying, 450 ft. Suspension bridge, men were much more likely to call than men approached on a sturdy concrete bridge.

As a control condition, they had a male interviewer approach men on the suspension bridge, and in that instance few men called back.

In both these experiments, Physical Arousal accentuated romantic responses.


Other Factors which influence love:

Time and Culture:

The idea of marrying for love is a relatively recent phenomenon

(historically speaking)

In response to the question "If someone had all the qualities you desired, would you marry this person if you were not in love?"

In 1967, 31% of men and 72% of women said ‘yes’

In 1984, only 11% of men and 13% of women said ‘yes’

In non-Western cultures, love often follows marriage.








Deep, Companionate relationships allow us to feel accepted for who we are.

An important part in the growth of a relationship is the self-disclosure process.

Exposing ones innermost thoughts and weaknesses helps to nurture love. Jourard (1964)

The nature of the disclosures steadily progresses in a increasing fashion, due to disclosure reciprocity.

Disclosures should gradually increase in depth as a relationship progresses.

Carl Rogers (1980) identified three factors which made a person effective at eliciting disclosure:

people who seem to genuine in revealing their own feelings

people who are accepting of other people’s feelings

people who are empathetic and sensitive listeners


Dating and married couples who disclose most to one another express most satisfaction with their relationship. (Berg & McQuinn, 1986)

Equity: It is important for each partner in a relationship to feel that they bring something of value to the relationship. People who feel they are in a one sided relationship feel more distress within the relationship than partners who feel they play an equal role.



Ending and Sustaining Close Relationships


Often, when people perceive a relationship to be unequal, they will end the relationship.

The closer and longer the relationship has lasted, the more painful the breakup (Simpson, 1987).


Often, the pain takes time to surface. The initial relief at ending a difficult relationship often gives way to feelings of sorrow months, or sometimes years later. (Baumeister & Wotman, 1992)








Sociologists and demographers report that divorce is least likely when:

The couple was married after the age of twenty

Date a long time before marriage

are well educated

enjoy a stable income

Live in a small town or a farm

Do not cohabitate or get pregnant before marriage

Are actively religious


Other Ways of coping with a failing relationship

Loyalty: passively but optimistically waiting for things to improve.

Neglect: (Men are especially vulnerable to this tactic) increased withdrawal so as to hasten a breakup.

Voicing concerns and attempting to work on problems together.



John Gottman, a psychologist and a marriage counselor, has identified four keys toward maintaining a healthy relationship:


Learn to calm down: by maintaining your calm, you will be able to better resist the urge to insult and criticize your partner during an argument.

Learn to Speak and Listen Nondefensively: Try not to assume that your partner is putting you down as soon as a discussion begins. Try to separate the issue under discussion with the emotions the issue brings to the surface.

Validate your partner: Try putting yourself in your partner’s shoes and understanding their viewpoint. Praise and admiration can also help reinforce a sense of love and support.

The fourth factor is to practice the above three behaviors until such time that they become automatic and constant in your everyday life.










Assessing different styles of Love


Sample items from Hendrick & Hendrick’s love scale, used to measure the six styles of love identified by Lee (1977,1981).

Three Primary Styles:

Eros -- passionate love

My lover and I were attracted to each other immediately after we first met.

Our lovemaking is very intense and satisfying.

My lover fits my ideal standards of physical beauty

Ludus -- game-playing love

I try to keep my lover a little uncertain about my commitment to him/her

I have sometimes had to keep two of my lovers from finding out about each other.

I enjoy playing the "game of love" with a number of different partners.

Storge -- friendship love

It is hard to say when my lover and I fell in love.

Love is really a deep friendship, not a mysterious, mystical emotion.

My most satisfying relationships have developed from friendships.

Primary love styles can be combined to form:

Secondary Love Styles

Pragma --- pragmatic love

I consider what a person is going to become in life before I commit myself to her/him

I try to plan my life carefully before choosing a lover

A main consideration in choosing a lover is how he/she reflects on my family.

Mania -- possessive love

Sometimes I get so excited about being in love that I can’t sleep.

When I am love, I have trouble concentrating on anything else.

If my lover ignores me, I sometimes do stupid things to get her/his attention back.

Agape -- Altruistic love

I would rather suffer myself than let my lover suffer.

I cannot be happy unless I place my lover’s happiness before my own.

I would endure anything for the sake of my lover.