Keith E Rice's Integrated SocioPsychology Blog & Pages

Aligning, integrating and applying the behavioural sciences

Formation of Relationships #2



Attractiveness Factor

  • stereotypes of attractiveness

There are cultural stereotypes of what  constitutes ‘attractiveness’ which the majority of  people in a society generally agree with.

  • ‘average’ faces more attractive than 95 percent of ‘real’ faces – Judith Langlois & Lori Roggman 1990

A computer was used to morph  photos of upto 32 students to an  ‘average’ of attractiveness.

These ‘averaged’ photos were judged  to be more attractive than 95% of the  untreated photos.

Average faces have been shown to  possess more symmetrical features.

Langlois & Roggman have suggested  that the  appeal of the average face  is that we see it or faces like it more  often than we see extremes of  attractiveness or non-attractiveness –  so we are more familiar and  comfortable with it. Thus, there is an  ‘exposure effect’.

However, Cellerino found that when  average female faces were enhanced  to be more  ‘childlike’ – reflecting high  levels of oestrogen –  they were  deemed to be more attractive.

  • common stereotypes generally hold true – Saul Feinman & George Gill 1978

In a study at the University of  Wyoming, Feinman & Gill found that  males preferred light-skinned blondes  with blue eyes while women  preferred dark-haired and dark-eyed  men.

  • women
    • facial features are important
    • childlike features

wide cheekbones & narrow cheekbones also attractive – Michael Cunningham 1986

indicates high levels of oestrogen – A Cellerino (2003)

Cellerino argues that humans have  evolved to have a preference for baby  features because  this ensures that  we take care of our young,

  • overall weight an important factor – Stephen Franzoi & Mary Herzog 1987

Franzoi & Herzog carried out their research on  American college students.

  • men who score highly on the Macho Scale much influenced by physical attractiveness – J C Towhey 1979

Towhey asked males and females how much they thought they would  like a person, based a photograph and biographical information.

Those who scored high on the Macho Scale (dealing with sexist  attitudes, stereotypes and behaviour) were much more influenced by  physical attractiveness than those who were low on the Macho Scale  who virtually ignored it as a factor.

  • men
    • more likely to be judged on stature, muscles & buttocks than face
    • firm buttocks and large chests – S B Beck, C I Ward-Hull & P M McLear 1976
    • square jaw, small eyes, thin lips indicate maturity – Cunningham 1986
    • taller men preferred – B Pawlowski, Robin Dunbar & A Lipowicz 2000

A team of researchers in Liverpool  and Poland  analysed the records of  3201 Polish men aged  between 20  and 60.

They found that fathers in the group  were, on  average, 3 cms taller than  childless men. Umarried men were  considerably shorter than married  men.

The only exception to this was men  who were  born in the 1930s and,  therefore, in the ‘marriage market’ in  the 1950s when the losses of Polish  men in  World War II severely  reduced the availability of young men.

Dunbar conceived the idea for the  investigation  during his famous 1995  content analysis of  ‘lonely hearts’  ads – see Human Reproductive  Behaviour – when he noticed that  male advertisers only mentioned their  height if they were at least average  height.

  • square-jawed ‘hunks’ fancied at most fertile time of cycle; slightly-feminised faces more at other times – Ian Penton-Voak 1999

Several studies have shown that  attractive males are often those  with slightly feminised  faces.

According to Penton-Voak &  David Perrett  (2000), men with  feminised faces are perceived to  be more honest, more sensitive  and likely to make better parents.  Men with more masculinised  faces are more likely to be  perceived as dishonest, dominant  and cold.

Penton-Voak’s research at the  University of  St Andrew’s has  discovered that the pattern of  female attraction to male faces  changes  according to a woman’s  menstrual cycle. Women  generally prefer slightly feminised  faces but are more attracted to  masculinised faces around  ovulation.

The reason for this, taken from  Evolutionary  Psychology, is  thought to be that the  characteristics associated with  slightly feminised faces are better  for long-term relationships but  women will get better genes for  healthy, attractive offspring from  the more  masculine man.

  • more ‘feminine’ features judged more appealing – David Perrett 1999

Based at the University of St  Andrews and working in conjunction  with colleagues in Japan, Perrett  used computers to alter faces so  that  they appeared more  masculinised or more feminised.

When participants in both Scotland  and Japan were asked to rate the  ‘faces’, they judged the more  feminised to be the more attractive.

  • universals of female attractiveness? – Cunningham, Alan Roberts, Anita Barbee, Perri Druen & Cheng-Huan Wu 1995

Cunningham et al had recently- arrived native Asian and Hispanic  students and white Americans rate  the attractiveness of Asian,  Hispanic, black and white women in  photographs. The mean correlation  between the groups in attractiveness  ratings was +.93.

  • physically attractive people = generally attractive – J C Brigham 1971

Males and females both argued that physically attractive individuals are poised, sociable, interesting, independent, exciting and sexually warm.

  • more attractive=more sensitive, kind, interesting, strong, poised, sociable, outgoing, caring, exciting, sexually warm and responsive, likely to have successful marriage and be happy – Karen Dion, Ellen Berscheid & Elaine Walster 1972

Dion, Berscheid & Walster  presented male and female  participants with photos of men and  women from a college yearbook and  asked to rate the pictured individuals  on a number of traits. The photos  had previously been rated as  attractive, average and unattractive.

The only exception to the results  favouring the  attractive was the more  attractive individuals being rated as  slightly, but not significantly, less  likely to be good parents than neutral  or unattractive individuals.

Feingold (1992) also reported that  physically attractive people were  more likely to be perceived as  sexually warmer, more sociable  and  more socially skilled.

  • attractive people are more popular and sought after, assumed to be higher in positive traits (eg: intelligence, kindness, warmth), more likely to be employed (even when attractiveness is not a job prerequisite) and perceived as happier, more sensitive, successful and socially skilled – Solomon 1987
  • Halo Effect: total impression unduly influenced by one trait
    • men think… – S R Weir & M Fine-Davis 1989

blondes lower IQs

redheads difficult

  • redheaded men negative image – Dennis Clayson & Micol Maughan 1984

Based at the University of Iowa,  Clayson & Maughan found  participants assessed redheaded  men as unattractive and also less  successful and more effeminate than  dark or fair men.

The researchers also found  redheaded were assessed as  unattractive but also more  competent and professional.

Feinman & Gill (1978) found that only  7% of male participants favoured  redheaded women while only 2% of  female participants favoured  male  redheads.

  • physical attractiveness related to
    • positive self-concept – R A Lerner & S M Karabenick 1974
    • good mental health – G R Adams 1981
    • assertiveness & self-confidence – Karen Dion & Steven Stein 1978
    • female likelihood of employment – even if not job prerequisite (‘Professional Beauty Qualification’ – Naomi Wolf 1991)
  • self-fulfilling prophecy?
    • more socially-skilled women were more attractive – W Goldman & P Lewis 1977

Male students spoke on the phone for about 5 minutes with women they knew nothing about and then rated them for social skills.

Independent observers noted that the more attractive the woman, the higher the social skills.

  • men friendlier & took initiative more when believed talking to attractive women – M I Snyder, E D Tanke & Berscheid 1977

Male students engaged in a 10- minute conversation with women  they believed to be either  ‘attractive’ or ‘unattractive’. The  assignments were made at  random, with the males having no  real idea of how attractive their  females were.

The behaviour of the men who  believed the they were talking to  attractive women is taken as  evidence that people may treat  attractive individuals in ways that  lead them to have more self- esteem and self-confidence and  greater social skills.

Independent judges listened only  to the women’s half of the  conversations, not knowing  whether the male partners  believed them to be attractive or  unattractive. These judges found  the ‘attractive’ women were more  sociable, poised and humorous  than the women whose male  partners believed them to be  unattractive.

  • essays rated higher in quality when supposedly written by more attractive women – David Landy & Elliot Aronson 1969

Landy & Sigall (1974) followed this  study up.

Male students were asked to grade 2  essays of  different quality written by  female students. A good essay was  paired with a photo of an attractive  photo of a control photo or a photo of  a relatively unattractive woman. A  poor essay was similarly paired.

An independent assessment had  already been made of the essays by  someone with no knowledge of the  authors.

The more attractive woman had her  essays  more highly assessed,  whether good or poor.

  • killing an attractive victim resulted in a longer sentence than killing an unattractive victim – Landy & Aronson 1969
  • a more attractive defendant received a harsher sentence than an unattractive one when she used her attractiveness to swindle someone – H Sigall & N Ostrove 1975

Sigall & Ostrove also found that,  otherwise, jurors tended tended to  take an easier view of attractive  women defendants.

In a study of criminal trials in  Pennsylvania John Stewart (1980)  found that attractive male  defendants received lighter  sentences and were more likely to  avoid imprisonment as less  attractive people.

  • attractive women judged as egoistic, vain, materialistic, snobbish and less likely to have a successful marriage – Marshall Dermer & Darrel Thiel 1975
  • importance of attractiveness
    • surveys show physical attractiveness not impt for liking – F A C Perrin 1921; Abraham Tesser & Michael Brodie 1971

People may say physical  attractiveness is not important in  liking someone but are they merely  saying what they think they should –  social desirability bias?

Walster’s first so-called ‘Computer  Dance’  (1966) is often cited as an  example of people actually selecting  partners on the basis of nothing but  physical attractiveness!

None of the measures of intelligence,  social skills or personality were  related to the partner’s liking for each  other.

  • important for later dates – E W Mathes 1975
    • declines in importance when marriage partner being chosen – W Stroebe, C A Insko, V D Thompson & B D Layton 1971
  • physically attractive boys & girls (5-6) more popular with their peers – Karen Dion & Berscheid 1972
  • women believed attractive children less likely than unattractive children to commit aggressive act – Kenneth Dion 1972

Dion had women read a description  of an aggressive act (either mild or  severe) by a 7-year-old. The  description was accompanied by  a  photo of either an attractive or an  unattractive  child.

The women believed that attractive  children were  less likely to commit a  similar act in the future  than  unattractive children, if the  misbehaviour was serious.

  • schema reverse effect: men & women influenced in rating female photos more attractive by favourable personality descriptions – A E Gross & C Crofton 1977

Male and female participants were shown photos and personality descriptions of college women and asked to rate the women in the photos for physical attractiveness.

Favourable personality descriptions produced higher ratings of physical attractiveness than did unfavourable personality descriptions – despite the photos and the descriptions having been paired at random.

  • greater physical attractiveness
    • greater displays of physical intimacy – Silverman 1971

Couples were observed in  naturalistic dating settings – bars,  social events, theatre lobbies,  etc. 2 males and 2 females  formed the observer team. The  observed couples were mostly in  the 18-22 range and unmarried.  Each observer rated the dating  partner of the opposite sex on a 5-  point scale.

They found a extremely high level  of similarity between the  attractiveness of the dating  couples. Also, the more similar  their level of attractiveness, the  happier they seemed to be  (as  reflected in degrees of physical  intimacy –  eg: holding hands).  60% of similarly attractive  couples were rated as happy,  46% of moderately similar and  only 32% of least similar couples.

The study is, of course, vulnerable  to the  accusation of observer  bias – ie: the  expectation of  similarity could have influenced  the observer’s ratings – since they  only saw the couple together.

  • symmetry is a handicap – requires good genes – A P Moller 1992, D Concar 1995

This concept is an extension of  Amotz Zahavi’s Handicap  Hypothesis  (1975).

This postulates that handicaps  passed on through the genes –  such as a bird having a very long  tail – are sexually selected  because, for an animal to survive  with a notable handicap, it must  be genetically superior to others  of its species.

Moller and Concar, separately,  have argued that  symmetry in  humans is genetically expensive –  effectively a handicap. Therefore,  we are attracted  to beauty  because, in terms of Zahavi’s  theory, it indicates ‘good genes’.

Anthony Little, Coren Apicella  & Frank Marlowe (2007) found  evidence of the universal appeal of  symmetry when they compared  preferences for symmetry in both  the UK and the Hazda, a hunter- gatherer tribe in Tanzania. Both  groups preferred symmetrical  faces – the  Hazda more so!

  • Matching Hypothesis
    • attracted to people of same level of attractiveness
      • fear of rejection by more attractive – Huston 1973

Huston argued that the evidence for  the Matching Hypothesis didn’t come  from matching but instead on the  tendency of people to avoid rejection.  Hence, they choose someone  similarly attractive to themselves, to  avoid being rejected by someone  more attractive than themselves.

Huston attempted to prove this by  showing participants photos of  people who had already  indicated  that they would accept the  participant as a  partner. The  participant usually chose the person  rated as most attractive.

However, the study has very flawed  ecological validity as the  relationship was certain; and, in real  life, people wouldn’t be certain.  Hence, they are still more likely to  choose someone of equal  attractiveness to avoid  possible  rejection.

  • Expectancy-Value Theory: try to get most attractive partner who might realistically want us – what is ‘fitting’ (Roger Brown, 1986)
  • first ‘computer dance’ did not support – Elaine Walster, V Aronson, D Abrahams & L Rottman 1966

See document(s): computer_dances.html

  • follow-on info did
  • repeat ‘computer dance’ did – Elaine Walster & G William Walster 1969

On the second run, the students met beforehand which allowed them to think about the qualities they were looking for in a partner.

Students expressed the most liking for those who were at the same level of physical attractiveness.

  • engaged & dating couples judged from photos to be similar levels of physical attractiveness – Bernard Murstein 1972

Judges rated photos of each  partner of 99  couples – engaged  or steady – for physical  attractiveness on a 5-point scale,  without knowing who was paired  with who.

The couples then had to rate their  own and their partner’s physical  attractiveness.

Judges’ ratings strongly supported  the  Matching Hypothesis –  partners received very  similar  ratings and they were significantly  more alike than the same ratings  given to  ‘random couples’ -ie: the  actual couples randomly sorted  into couples to form a  control  group.

How partners rated themselves for  attractiveness was significantly  more similar than self-ratings for  random couples. However,  partners’ ratings of each other did  not prove significant.

Murstein concluded: “Individuals  with equal market value for  physical attractiveness are more  likely to associate in an intimate  relationship such as premarital  engagement than individuals with  disparate values.” in  ‘Physical  Attractiveness & Marital Choice’ in  Journal of Personality & Social  Psychology  #22

  • married couples more similar than dating couples – Murstein & P Christy 1976
  • can also include trade-off with other characteristics – eg: very beautiful (Marilyn Monroe) & very intelligent  (Arthur Miller) or very beautiful (Anna Nicole Smith) & very wealthy (J Howard Marshall)
  • ‘personality’?
    • more important than looks?
    • warm and competent liked more than others – Zick Rubin 1973
    • cultural factors
      • eg: extroversion valued more than introversion – Steve Duck 1999
      • Hazel Markus, Shinobu Kitayama & Rachel Heiman 1997

American and Canadian students rated ‘assertive’ and ‘strong’ with ‘physical attractiveness’

Korean students rated ‘sensitive’ and ‘generous’ with ‘physical attractiveness’

  • perception of personality trait may change over length of relationship – Diane Felmlee 1995

Eg: ‘predictability’ may be interpreted as  ‘dependability’ in the earlier stages of a  relationship; but after several years  ‘predictability’ might be boring.

4 Other Factors

  • proximity
    • married graduate students assigned randomly to 17 2-storey buildings – Leon Festinger, Stanley Schacter & Kurt Back 1950
      • 2/3 closest friends in same building
      • close friends 2x likely to be on same floor

Living on the same floor as someone  increases the likelihood of bumping  into them more often than people  who live on another floor.

This study suggests that greater  contact increases the likelihood that  relationships will form.

In interviews residents mentioned  41% of neighbours who lived next  door, 22% who lived 2 doors away  (approx 30 feet) and 10% of those  who lived at the other end of the hall.

  • students living near stairs had most friends
  • residents mentioned

41% next door

22% 2 doors away

10% other end of hall

  • # college roommates 2x as likely to be friends as floormates # floormates 2x as likely to be friends as general residents – R F Priest & J Sawyer 1967
  • liking of a stranger related to frequency of contact – S Saegart 1973

Participants were asked to rate the tastes of various drinks. During this process, they came into contact with a stranger 1, 2, 5 or 10 times.

  • 5000 Philadelphia marriage licences – J S Bossard 1932
    • clear tendency for proximity
    • 1/3 within 5 blocks
  • 50% of people in Columbus, Ohio, married people within walking distance – Clarke 1952
  • less important today with greater travel & mobility?
  • most of enemies of apartment blocks in California lived close by – E B Ebbeson, G L Kjos & V J Konecni 1976
    • initial impression key factor – A Schiffenbauer & R S Schiavo 1976

A participant had to wait in a laboratory setting with a female confederate who acted either in a a pleasant or unpleasant manner towards the participant.

When the confederate acted pleasantly, the closer she sat to the participant, the better she was liked. When she acted unpleasantly, the closer she sat to the participant, the less she was liked.

Proximity appeared to increase the intensity of the initial reaction.

  • attitude
    • T M Newcomb 1961
      • 17 students rent-free housing

17 male students were allowed to live  rent-free for a year in a house at the  University of Michigan in return  for  their participation.

Prior to being assigned rooms,  information was obtained about them  from tests and questionnaires. This  enabled Newcomb to assign on the  basis of similarity of attitudes or  dissimilarity of attitudes.

The men took tests and  questionnaires at regular intervals (to  gather information about attitude) but  otherwise lived as  they would in any  dormitory.

  • students of similar attitudes rooming together

58% formed friendships

  • students of dissimilar attitudes rooming together

25% formed friendships

  • Interpersonal Balance Theory – Fritz Heider 1946, T Newcomb 1953/61

requirement for Cognitive Consistency

People like to have a clear, ordered consistent view of the world. ‘Hence we are balanced’ if we agree with our friends and disagree with our enemies.

get rid of inconsistency by reinterpretation (Cognitive Action) or end relationship (Behavioural)

2nd year study: familiarity more impt than similarity of beliefs

Newcomb’s follow-up the next year did not produce the same results. Familiarity was more important.

Regardless of whether low or high similarity was the basis of the room allocations, roommates came to like each other.

what about people who cope with blatant inconsistency?

  • preference for leisure activities more impt than attitudes – C Werner & P Parmalee 1979
    • “those who play together stay together”
  • dating partners most desirable when similar – Donn Byrne, Oliver London & Keith Reeves 1968

The participants were American university  students who completed and attitude &  personality questionnaire. Half were then sent  off on a blind dates with people they were told  were ‘similar’ in attitude & personality to  themselves; the other half went on dates with  people ‘dissimilar’ to themselves.

The information on attitude similarity was faked.

  • other person seemed to have similar attitudes on either 75% or 25% of topics
  • more effect on interpersonal attraction when attitudes important to participant
  • most desirable also influenced by researchers’ prior rating of date’s attractiveness

A potential confounding variable here is that  the researchers told the participants before the  date how attractive their date was.

Since similarity and attractiveness both  influenced how desirable the date was when  rated afterwards, it is difficult to be sure just  how much the desirability was influenced by  similarity.

  • demographics
    • people relate better to others of same age, sex, social class, ethnic group, educational background, etc – Sharon Brehm & Saul Kassin 1996
    • secondary school students’ best friends tended to be of same age, religion, sex, social class & ethnic background – D B Kandel 1978
  • personality
    • “Birds of a feather flock together”? or “Opposites attract”?
    • most evidence supports similarity
    • 1000 engaged couples 42 personality characteristics – R L Burgess & P Wallin 1953
      • no support for opposites attract
      • significant within-couple similarity for 14 characteristics

They found significant within-couple similarity for 14 personality characteristics such as feelings easily hurt or leader of social events.

  • married couples with complementary needs happier – R F Winch 1958

For example: if someone who is domineering  marries someone who is submissive, then they  both have their needs fulfilled.

However, Michael Botwin, David Buss &  Todd Shackelford (1997) contradicted this  when they found domineering people ideally  looked for someone also strong while  submissive people ideally wanted non- domineering partners.

  • importance of similarity – Zick Rubin 1973
    • if we like those who are similar to us, then they will like us
    • communication is easier with those who are like us
    • similar others confirm ‘rightness’ of attitudes & beliefs
    • if we like ourselves, we will like others who resemble ourselves
    • similar people likely to enjoy similar activities
    • dating partners tended to be similar in physique, age, intelligence, religion, physical attractiveness and attitudes towards sex – C T Hill 1976
    • high degree of similarity impt in initial choice for female room-mates – Hill & D E Stull 1981

Similarity was also a good predictor for them continuing to room together.

Hill & Stull did not find similarity to be so important for men rooming together.

  • marital low level positive correlations on wide range of measures – David Nias 1977
    • personality
    • leisure interests
    • reading tastes
    • sports
    • attitudes to children
  • Reciprocal Liking
    • biological response to those who like us – E Hess 1975

Hess presented male students with two identical photographs of an attractive young woman – but one of the photos had been slightly altered so that the woman’s pupils appeared larger.

Far more male students preferred the ‘doctored’ photo when asked to choose – but couldn’t say why.

Involuntary pupil dilation occurs when we see something we like. So the male students were expressing a preference for the photograph in which the woman appeared to like them!

  • increases our self-esteem – Walster 1965

For details, see Elaine Walster  1965 on Formation of Relationships.

  • both similarity & complimentarity impt for successful relationships – Robert Sternberg & S Grajek 1984


  • personal/sensitive information

Sternberg (1986) identified intimacy as a key component of both liking and loving.

  • Social Penetration Theory – Altman & Taylor 1973

The development of a relationship involves increased self-disclosure on both sides.

  • Norm of Self-Disclosure Reprocity

This norm is usually followed by people in the early stages of a relationship in which how much one reveals about oneself is paced with how much the other is revealing about themselves.

According to Altman & Taylor, revealing too much about oneself too quickly can be threatening to the other person.

“disclosure begets disclosure” – Berg 1987

Disclosure Reprocity Effect

The more someone tell us about them, the more we feel obliged to tell them about us.

  • 4 stages


small talk, cautious & tentative

Exploratory Affective Changes

letting the other get to know you

Often the level of conversation with  casual acquaintances or  neighbours.

Affective Changes

increasingly intimate

Eg: dating relationships, close friendships

Stable Exchange

deep knowledge of other

Achieved, according to Altman & Taylor, in only a few relationships.

  • partners listen and validate each other
  • Norm decreases – Archer 1979

In an intimate relationship over  time, the other person is likely to  offer support and understanding  rather than self-disclose.

  • Depenetration – Altman & Taylor 1973

This involves abandoning self- disclosure across a wide range of topics.

topics choosen to hurt – Tolstedt & Stokes 1984

A variation of Depenetration is to talk intimately about only a few  topics which are usually chosen to  hurt the other person and usually  involve negative feelings.

  • women disclose more than men?
    • meta-analysis – Dindia & Allen 1992

Their meta-analysis reviewed 205 studies covering some 24,000  participants in total.

women disclose more to romantic partners & same-sex friends

no diff in disclosure of males & females to male friends

However, Dindia & Allen did conclude that males preferred to disclose to men rather than women.

differences small but unchanged over 30 years plus

  • gender differences in same sex friendships – Wright 1982

women ‘face-to-face’

Women will converse in close proximity, directly facing each other.

Women may be able to relate to  each other better on an emotional  level. This kind of intimacy would  be facilitated by facing the other  person.

This idea of women being more able to handle emotional intimacy may be supported by Gilligan’s (1982) work on moral  reasoning. From this she asserted that young women tend to favour a more caring and connecting  perspective as a basis for dealing  with other people.

men ‘side-by-side’

Men seem to prefer to be side-by- side posture and are often instrumental – ie: doing something together. (Eg: watching a football match.)

men disliked being sat opposite but women preferred it – Fisher & Byrne 1975

Fisher & Byrne had male or female confederates sit next to people working in a library.

When a confederate sat opposite a male, the student appeared  uncomfortable and placed books or  other obstacles in between them.  They seemed more at ease when a confederate sat at side of them.

However, female students seemed more uncomfortable when a confederate

  • Stage Theories
    • Social Exchange Theory (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959)1.1 People seek out and maintain those relationships in which the rewards exceed the costs.
      • This theory suggests that behavior of socialized persons is purposive, or goal oriented, and not random.
      • People repeat behaviors that are rewarded and avoid those that go unrewarded.
      • If reciprocity does not exist (if nothing is received in return) a relationship will likely terminate.


Stimulus-Value-Role (Murstein, 1971, 1987)
– Stimulus is the trait (usually physical) that draws your attention to the person.
– After time is spent together dating or hanging out, Values are compared for compatibility and evaluation of maximization of rewards while minimization of costs is calculated.
-If after time and relational compatibility supports it, the pair may choose to take Roles, which typically include exclusive dating, cohabitation, engagement, or marriage.