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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 July, 2003, 00:50 GMT 01:50 UK
Opposites 'do not attract'
David and Victoria Beckham
A case of similarities attracting?
The old adage that opposites attract has been debunked by US scientists.

They found that people tend to choose partners who are similar - or at least who they think are similar - to themselves, both in looks and attitude.

Previous research has concluded that people prefer mates with qualities they think will be good at bringing up children - including financial solvency.

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
Peter Buston and Stephen Emlen
However the study, by a team from Cornell University in New York, suggests this is not necessarily the case, and that similar individuals tend to be attracted to each other because they are most likely to hold down a stable relationship.

The findings are based on questionnaires filled out by 978 college-aged men and women.

First, respondents rated the importance of various attributes in a long-term partner.

The attributes were grouped into four categories:

  • wealth and status
  • family commitment
  • physical appearance
  • sexual fidelity

Next, the respondents rated perceptions of themselves on those same attributes.

The results showed that if people rated a particular attribute as important in a partner, they were likely to give themselves a high rating for the same attribute.


Writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers Peter Buston and Stephen Emlen said their findings strongly suggested that a person's self-perception governed what they looked for in a mate.

Any relationship can fall apart if you don't share similar values
Paula Hall
"Individuals who had a high self-perception of themselves were more discriminating in their mate preferences than were individuals with lower self-perception scores.

"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."

The study is in line with previous research which found some evidence to suggest that like-minded people are more likely to have a successful marriage than more disparate individuals

"If our findings are confirmed by future work, then this study will have major implications for marriage counsellors and the public at large," write the researchers.

"Our results suggest that individuals seeking stable long-term relationships should not seek the highest quality partner available but should simply look for partners who are similar to themselves."

My friend and his girlfriend got chased by drunks who were sure they were brother and sister and behaving inappropriately
Simon, UK

The research also found particularly strong evidence that women who thought they were physically attractive tended to go for men who were wealthy, or high status.

Conversely, men who thought they were successful tended to go for good looking women.

Paula Hall, a counsellor for the charity Relate, told BBC News Online that it was important that people had a similar moral outlook on life.

"Any relationship can fall apart if you don't share similar values," she said.

However, she said that many people were attracted to people who were different from them - often because they wanted to learn how to be more like them.

"The safest bet would probably be to be with somebody who was identical to you in every sense, but it would be a bit boring," she said.

"After all variety is the spice of life."

Dusting dads 'more attractive'
11 Jun 03  |  Health
Infidelity 'is in the genes'
30 Oct 02  |  Health

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