Myth Buster: Opposites Don’t Actually Attract….

Ever since you were old enough to date, someone was telling you tidbits about how attraction works. By the time of your first crush, someone had already pulled you over at your locker and told you that “opposites attract.” Makes sense in theory, right? Find someone with opposite traits and two perfect halves come together to make a perfect whole. The ole “you complete me.”  Well, guess what….it’s not true.

In actuality, we all attract people who are just like we are. This phenomenon is called the similiarity-attraction effect (SAE). This effect has been shown to exist in just about every culture in the world. The bottom line is that we all want to spend time with people who feel and behave similarly to how we do. It’s simple… the more familiar, the more comfortable we are.

A recent study completed by researchers at Columbia University sought to test this principle in a new way. The psychologists invited a diverse group of executives to a cocktail mixer where they were asked to network with as many new people as possible.  Interestingly, they found that despite the goals set for the evening, people  interacted with people most like them. So, finance people chatted with finance people, marketers with other marketers, lawyers with other lawyers.  Instead of making new connections, in  a big, crowded room, these subjects managed to find people of similar backgrounds to spend their time with.  The researchers had this to say in summary:

Do people mix at mixers? The answer is no…Mixer parties are supposed to free their guests from the constraints of preexisting social structure so they can approach strangers and make new connections. Nevertheless, our results show that guests at a mixer tend to spend the time talking to the few other guests whom they already know well.

This craving for the similar and the familiar doesn’t only play a role at cocktail mixers, it can shape our whole social world. It holds us back from really expanding the reach of our social networks, breaking patterns and meeting different kinds of people.

My husband and I joke with one another that if it hadn’t been for online dating we wouldn’t have ever met! My idea of a fun night out was a fancy cocktail place in a trendy DC neighborhood. My husband’s idea of a fun night out was a dark, basement bar that likely had sports playing on the tv. We never frequented the same types of places – ever. But we went out on a limb and ended up meeting one another online.  That ended up working for us….helping us expand our social circles to find each other.

So, the question becomes…are you a slave to SAE? Or….can you break out of the familiar and embrace new people, places and things? What are some ways that you can break out of the familiar?

To read more about this phenomenon, check out this great article in this month’s issue of Wired magazine.

Photo credit: therichbrooks’ flickr photostream


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Categories: Discussion


I'm a married publicist who holds a Master's degree in psychology, with a concentration in Marriage and Family Therapy. I'd like to make the world a better relationship at a time.

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2 Comments on “Myth Buster: Opposites Don’t Actually Attract….”

  1. January 30, 2012 at 2:40 am #

    When my husband and I first met, I thought for sure we were total opposites. But, having gotten to know one another much better over the past five years, I’ve come to realize that the core of our personalities are very similar. We share similar values, have similar life goals, and have a similar sense of humor–the most important thing, IMO!

    Although we took very different paths to get there, we ended up finding each other and are settling into our forever life full of the SAE 🙂

    • January 30, 2012 at 4:40 pm #

      Same for me too! On the outside in terms of activites we like, we appear to be opposites. But we do share the same values and humor. We’ve been working on planning our life goals.

      Love a life full of SAE…lol

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