Opposites attract? Not so much, says study

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Think you’ll find your true match in someone who’s different from you? An American study suggests that probably won’t happen, as humans are drawn to like-minded people.

The study by Wellesley College and the University of Kansas says people in relationships do not gradually become similar – they were already that way to begin with.

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“Picture two strangers striking up a conversation on a plane, or a couple on a blind date,” says Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wellesley College Angela Bahns. “From the very first moments of awkward banter, how similar the two people are is immediately and powerfully playing a role in future interactions. Will they connect? Or walk away? Those early recognitions of similarity are really consequential in that decision.”

Bahns says it’s about creating trust, comfort, and cooperation, all things you’re likelier to find in someone who’s similar to you.

“Though the idea that partners influence each other is central in relationships research, we have identified a large domain in which friends show very little change—personality, attitudes and values, and a selection of socially-relevant behaviours,” she says.

“To be clear, we do not mean to suggest that social influence doesn’t happen in relationships; however, there’s little room for influence to occur when partners are similar at the outset of relationships.”

In fact, the study theorizes people are so dead-set on finding like-minded partners that it could be described as a psychological default.

The study used a technique called “free-range dyad harvesting,” where pairs of people seen interacting in public – whether in a romantic or friendly context – were asked about attitudes, values, personality traits, or behaviours that are important to them. The data was compared to see how similar or different the pairs were.

Researchers found it didn’t make a difference whether the pairs knew each other for a long time or not – they still displayed similarities.

That’s not to say people who are different from you should be avoided – quite the contrary, says Professor of Psychology at the University of Kansas Chris Crandall.

“Getting along with people who aren’t like you is really useful,” says Crandall.

“Friends are for comfort, taking it easy, relaxing, not being challenged — and those are good things. But you can’t have only that need. You also need new ideas, people to correct you when you’re loony. If you hang out only with people who are loony like you, you can be out of touch with the big, beautiful diverse world.”

The study is titled “Similarity in Relationships as Niche Construction: Choice, Stability, and Influence Within Dyads in a Free Choice Environment” and is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

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Lauren Sundstrom Lauren is a Staff Writer and Projects Assistant at Vancity Buzz. She is a graduate of BCIT's Broadcast and Online Journalism program. She loves reporting on breaking news and lifestyle content. If you feel like you have a story that needs to be told, fire her a tweet.
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