Posts filed under ‘Relationships’

Do Opposites Attract or Do People Look For Similar Partners?

“Opposites attract” is the common response when you see a contrasting couple — a tall woman and a short man, or a party person with a quiet introvert. Yet we all know couples who have the similar personalities — they like the same restaurants or are both neat freaks. So are people attracted to those unlike themselves to complement their personalities, or do people seek out a partner just like themselves because it’s positively reinforcing?

It turns out, neither hypothesis is true. A study of 36 couples found that there was no significant inter-personality similarity or differences. However, a two interesting findings emerged:

  1. People had partners who were similarly self-satisfied with themselves
  2. People’s perceptions of their partners were biased towards their ideal self

In other words, someone who was low self-esteem has a higher likelihood of having a partner with low self-esteem, while someone who is self-liking will look for a partner who also likes who they are. To elaborate on the second finding, there was no correlation between each individual partner’s personalities, but there was a correlation between a person’s ideal self-concept, and the perception they had of their partner. So if you aspire to be organized, you may believe that your partner is more organized than he or she really is.

Opposites Attract

Klohnen, E. C. & Mendelsohn, G. A. (1998). Partner Selection for Personality Characteristics: A Couple-Centered Approach. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 24(3), 268-278.


August 25, 2007 at 7:35 pm 24 comments

Firstborns have higher IQs than their siblings

This short paper from Science reports tasty findings on the correlation between birth order and intelligence. While it’s generally accepted in the scientific community that older siblings generally have higher IQs due to different environmental influences, numerous possible factors make it tricky to prove causation from correlation. One criticism is that later siblings are likely to come from larger families, which relates to lower socioeconomic status and IQ.

A study of 241,310 Norwegians shows that sibling social order rather than biological factors is what causes the variation of intelligence in siblings. This study supports the popular confluence theory, which claims that intelligence is directly influenced by the intelligence level of the other family members. Thus, older siblings benefit from extra time spent with the parents, while younger siblings are negatively affected by the other children.

Birth order vs Intelligence

In nature vs nurture, nurture takes this round.

Kristensen, P. & Bjerkedal, T. (2007). Explaining the Relation Between Birth Order and Intelligence. Science, 316(5832), 1717. [PDF]

July 4, 2007 at 1:45 am 22 comments

Americans Getting Lonelier

In 1985, the General Social Survey reported that Americans had an average of 2.94 close friends (confidants is the term researchers like to use). A recent survey from 2004 found that the number of confidants has dropped to 2.08. In other words, Americans have lost on average one friend with whom they discuss important matters. The relationships with the greatest drop in confidants were neighbors and group/club members. We are less than half as likely to have them as close friends now than in 1985. It’s really unfortunate because everyone could use more friends. The paper suggests that the nature of our social network has changed. Instead of a few strong ties, we have more weak ties.

Americans are less likely to have friends with a different education level, but more likely to have friends of a different race. Furthermore, educated Americans have larger and more diverse networks. That says something about the friends you make during your college years — I find my closest friends are from internships and college.

McPherson, M., Smith-Lovin, L., & Brashears, M. E. (2006). Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades. American Sociological Review, 71, 353-375. [PDF]

April 13, 2007 at 12:45 am 20 comments

The Familiar Stranger: The Lady on the Subway

Urban living brings about an interesting phenomenon, one which Milgram calls the Familiar Stranger.

The Familiar Stranger is a person you see during your daily activities, but don’t interact with: the gentleman at the bus stop, the babysitter at the park, or the lady on the subway.

But consider for a moment you saw the lady on the subway while traveling to Paris. Can you imagine, it’s likely you would practically become best friends in a day!

To be a familiar stranger, a person has to be

  1. observed
  2. repeatedly for a certain time period
  3. without any interaction

Milgram notes,

But it’s a real relationship, in which both parties have agreed to mutually ignore each other, without any implication of hostility.

Students from a university in New York went to the commuter stations and interviewed commuters. They found that on average, commuters knew 4 familiar strangers but had only talked to 1.5 individuals.

Commuters said they have a fantasy relationship with familiar strangers, trying to figure out what kind of lives they lead, what their jobs are, etc.

This phenomenon is explained as a response to the overload of inputs from the environment — perceptual processing takes considerably less time than social processing.

However, I think when you see someone you barely recognize from school a few years later at a department store, it feels like you’re friends because you know each other relatively better than everyone else there.

Berkeley is doing a study called the Familiar Stranger Project, which is worth taking a look at.

Milgram, S. (1972). The Familiar Stranger: An Aspect of Urban Anonymity. Division 8 Newsletter.

October 2, 2006 at 1:15 pm 41 comments


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