Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 11: Initial Attraction (pp. 394401)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Physical Attractiveness (pp. 394397)
    1. Effects of physical attractiveness
    2. Who cares about physical attractiveness?
  2. Positive Interaction (pp. 397400)
    1. Interaction spells liking most of the time
    2. Why interaction increases liking
    3. What about negative interaction?
    4. Birds of a feather: Liking similar others
  3. Liking, Similarity, and Interaction: Mutually Reinforcing Processes (pp. 400401)
Physical Attractiveness

People are attracted to physically beautiful people.

What is perceived as attractive differs among cultures.

Characteristics of the person being observed, as well as the observer, also play a role in attractiveness. For instance, when a person is liked more, this person is seen as more physically attractive.

Effects of physical attractiveness

We like to be around attractive people because of the esthetic pleasure we obtain, and because interactions with attractive people are generally positive and pleasant. The common stereotype of attractive people is that they are warm, friendly, and social. This stereotype becomes self-fulfilling when people act differently around attractive people because of their expectations, which as a result brings out the best in attractive people.

Who cares about physical attractiveness?

The importance of physical attractiveness differs for people with high and low self-monitor personalities, and for men and women.

High self-monitors are more sensitive to their environment, and place more value on physical attractiveness than low self-monitors do.

In long-term relationships, men attach more importance to physical attractiveness than women do. From an evolutionary perspective this is explained by differences in parental investments for men and women. The investment for men is small, thus men can maximize their reproduction. They look for beautiful women because this is an indicator of women being young (so more fertile) and healthy. For women the investment is bigger, so they search for a supporting male, and thus seek for indicators of men's resources, such as dominance, status, etc.

Research activity: Investigating personal ads

The evolutionary perspective is supported by evidence showing that women's preferences for men vary across the fertility cycle.

Another explanation for differences in emphasis on attractiveness is that in most cultures women have fewer resources themselves, and therefore seek a partner with resources.

Positive Interaction
Interaction spells liking most of the time

We like people with whom we interact frequently, even when we are together by sheer chance and do not initially share characteristics that usually lead to attraction. People living near to each other, or sitting close to each other in classrooms tend to like each other (see SP pp. 397398).

Why interaction increases liking

Interaction increases liking because interacting with others helps us to master the world; when an interaction is rewarding and meets our personal needs, we tend to like our interaction partner.

Interaction also increases liking because interacting with others helps us to feel connected. This sense of connectedness is an important reward of interactions.

Finally, interacting with others increases familiarity. This familiarity leads to more liking and perceived similarity.

What about negative interaction?

When an interaction is not rewarding or even harms us, it does not lead to liking. Negative interaction leads to repulsion, resulting in less liking for the interaction partner.

Birds of a feather: Liking similar others

Similarity between people leads to attraction because we tend to interact with similar others. The interaction also tends to be positive when people are similar.

The second reason why similarity breeds attraction is that we assume that similar others like us. Being liked by someone is a strong reason to like this person back.

Finally, similar others validate our beliefs and attitudes, which leads to liking those similar others because we tend to view our own characteristics as desirable, and because support for our views is rewarding.

Liking, Similarity, and Interaction: Mutually Reinforcing Processes

Similarity, liking, and interaction all influence one another. Similarity encourages interaction, and when people interact they discover similarities. Interaction also creates liking, and liking encourages interaction. Finally, we like similar others, we think those we like are similar, and we assume similar people will like us.

Case study: Liking, similarity, interaction, and mimicry: Mutually reinforcing processes

So what does this mean?

Physical attraction leads to more liking. From an evolutionary perspective, gender difference in the importance of physical attractiveness is explained by differences in parental investments for men and women. Interaction also increases liking because it helps us to master the world, it helps us to feel connected, and it increases familiarity. However, when the interaction is negative, this leads to less liking. Finally, similarity leads to attraction because (1) we interact with similar others, (2) we assume that similar others like us, and (3) similar others validate our beliefs and attitudes. Liking, similarity, and interaction mutually reinforce each other, which results in deeper and more intense relationships over time.

Next topic

From Acquaintance to Friend: Relationship Development

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 11 introduction
  2. Initial Attraction
  3. From Acquaintance to Friend: Relationship Development
  4. Close Relationships
  5. Romantic Love and Sexuality
  6. When Relationships Go Wrong
  7. Chapter overview (PDF)
  8. Fill-in-the-blanks
  9. Multiple-choice questions