June 30, 2003 - When it comes to settling down and finding a
mate, "likes" may attract better than "opposites." New research
suggests that people actually seek out mates who have similar traits as
themselves rather than following the old "opposites attract"
The study also found that how a person perceives his or herself
as a potential mate has a large impact on the traits they look for in a mate.
Men and women who had a high self-perception of themselves were more
discriminating than those who had a lower self-perception of their value as a
Your best-selling book The Year of Magical Thinking chronicles your grief
following the loss of your husband, John. What surprised you most about
I did not expect the degree of derangement-both physiological and mental. An
example of the latter: Two weeks after John died, when I filled out a hospital
form for the autopsy report, I gave not my own address but that of an apartment
in which we had lived for the first four or five months of our marriage, in
Researchers say that previous studies on mate selection have
focused on the theory that people prefer mates that rank high on qualities
associated with successful child rearing, such as financial wealth and
commitment to family. But for people who don't perceive themselves as desirable
mates, they say this "opposites attract" theory may not be the most
successful strategy for long-term relationship success.
A Strong Link
For the study, published in the Proceedings of the National
Academy of Sciences, 978 heterosexual college-age men and women completed a
two-part survey. Participants rated the importance of various attributes they
want to find in a long-term mate in four basic categories:
Wealth and status
They then ranked themselves on these same traits.
Researchers found a strong link between how the individuals
perceived themselves as a mate and what they looked for in a mate. For example,
someone who ranked himself or herself highly on physical appearance also placed
a high level of importance on finding that particular trait in a mate.
The study showed that how women perceived themselves in each
category explained about 35% of the variation in what they were looking for in
the same category. Among men, about 12% of the variation in these categories
was also explained by their own self-perception in the same categories.
Researchers say those results dispute the "opposites
attract" rule and suggest that humans use a "likes attract" rule
when finding a long-term mate.
"The implication of this result is that in an open marriage
market, individuals of low self-perception will find it hard to find and keep a
satisfactory partner, because such partners will themselves be seeking
individuals of higher mate quality," write researchers Peter Buston and
Stephen Emlen of the department of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell
University in New York.
They say the findings may also explain why homogenous marriages
have been found to be more common and more successful than marriages between
more disparate individuals.