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Perceiver Factors In Attraction

Response to attractive stimuli depends on the perceiver as well as the stimulus. People's response to a target's physical attractiveness, for example, is influenced by the number of strikingly attractive people that they have recently viewed, by the opinions of other people, and by how invested they are in their current relationship.

Similarity involves a match between the target and the perceiver. People tend to like others who seem similar to themselves in attitudes and beliefs and, to a much lesser extent, in personality and physical attractiveness (Byrne 1971). Similarity in attitudes helps to avoid conflict, and the agreement of others helps to validate one's own opinions. Such validation is particularly attractive when people feel threatened or insecure.

One exception to the similarity-attraction rule is that women are often initially attracted to men who are the opposite of themselves, by being stereotypically masculine and task-focused. Conversely, men are attracted to women who are stereotypically feminine, expressive, and relationshipfocused. William Ickes (1993) suggested that this opposites-attract tendency is ironic, because relationships between people who have traditional gender roles are typically less satisfying and more problematic than are relationships between people who are androgynous, having both masculine and feminine qualities.

Some of the cause of attraction to sex-role typical mates may be due to hormones. Researchers who study the effects of hormones on attraction, such as Ian Penton-Voak and his associates (1999), found that women who were at the midpoint of their menstrual cycle, and experiencing higher levels of hormones, rated ruggedly masculine men as more attractive than women who were at other points in their menstrual cycle, who preferred a less masculine male appearance. Further, women at the midpoint of their cycle displayed strongest attraction to t-shirts that had been worn by more robust and symmetrical men, which presumably contained the men's pheromones. Men did not display such olfactory sensitivity (Thornhill and Gangestad 1999).

Sociobiological theory (Cunningham 1981) interpreted attraction in terms of evolutionary dynamics, such as the differential mating requirements of males and females. Men may have greater need than women for a young, healthy, fertile partner, which may be suggested by a partner's physical attractiveness, whereas women may need someone with resources to invest in their offspring, which may be indicated by a partner's wealth and status. Research conducted in thirty-seven cultures suggested that men are more interested than women in potential partners' physical attractiveness, whereas women are more interested than men in potential partners' wealth and status (Buss 1989). Although physical attractiveness and wealth influence attraction, the results of over one hundred studies about what people are looking for in long-term relationships indicated that mate qualities that indicate caring, such as being kind, supportive, and understanding, are more important in attraction to both males and females than material qualities such as physical attractiveness or wealth (Cunningham, Druen, and Barbee 1997).

Attachment theory suggested that an individual's disposition to be kind and caring may begin in childhood, as a result of the responsiveness and affection shown by the parents. A secure attachment style involves a positive attitude about oneself and other people, and is characterized by happiness, trust, and comfort with closeness. Rand Conger and his associates (2000) reported that when individuals had nurturing and involved parents in the seventh grade, they turned out to be warm, supportive, and low in hostility when they were in romantic relationships in their twenties.

Individuals with a preoccupied attachment style have positive attitude about others, but low self-esteem and anxious attitudes about themselves. They tend to experience emotional extremes in their relationships, to crave closeness but have a fear of rejection. Individuals with such low self-esteem may underestimate their partner's attraction, and eventually may cause the rejection that they fear. Individuals with a dismissive attachment style have high self-esteem, but are negative toward other people, whereas those with a fearful attachment style are both anxious about themselves and avoidant toward others. Bruce Ellis and associates (1996) reported that people who grow up in a stressful environment, and develop a dismissive or fearful attachment style, may initiate sexual activity at an earlier age. Such individuals may seek short-term relationships due to their fear of intimacy, according to Pilkington and Richardson, and may emphasize physical attractiveness and wealth when choosing such a short-term partner (Kenrick et al. 1990).

People generally are attracted to potential partners with secure attachment styles, who make them feel loved and cared for, despite the fact that the other person is dissimilar to their own attachment style (Chappell and Davis 1998). Individuals who are themselves insecure, however, may inaccurately see insecure people as being secure. In addition, such variables as familiarity, physical attraction, or similarity in attitudes also may cause individuals to become attracted to insecure partners.

When the object of evaluation is a stranger, a low rating of interpersonal attraction usually means neutrality or indifference. But when the target is a close associate, low levels of attraction usually mean hatred or disgust. It is unclear whether changes in the positive qualities of another person, such as decreases in their supportiveness, generosity, or beauty, cause a substantial change in attraction, or whether increases in negative behavior, such as criticism, unfairness, or withdrawal, are primarily responsible for disaffection (Huston et al. 2001). It is likely, however, that attraction is a function of the perceiver's motivation that is most acute at the time of evaluation of the other person. If the perceiver is feeling a need for respect, and the other person is derogatory, then attraction is likely to be low. But if the two break up, and the perceiver is feeling lonely, then the perceiver may become attracted again to the former partner, as a familiar conversationalist. If the two get back together, however, then loneliness will recede as a motive, and other needs will return to influence attraction or repulsion. Thus, interpersonal attraction, from the beginning to the end of a relationship, may be influenced by characteristics of the target person being evaluated as attractive; by the perceiver's needs, feelings and traits; and by the situation in which the perceiver is exposed to the target.


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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsAttraction - Situational Factors In Attraction, Target Factors In Attraction, Perceiver Factors In Attraction