Do Opposites Really Attract?
We’re all familiar with the term “opposites attract”, but it’s not a golden rule. Some research suggests we’re a lot more likely to date people just like ourselves.
“Positive assortative mating” is the scientific term for ending up with and well mating with a partner who mirrors your traits. It can be quite literal: one study found that we’re more likely to pair up with those who have similar facial features and are of a similar height. Other studies have found we tend to like partners with a similar level of body fat; and online daters prefer those of their own race. And those with bipolar disorder or major depression are more likely to choose a partner with a similar disorder.
But it’s not always the case. In the famous “Sweaty T-shirt Study”, women were asked to smell a T-shirt men wore for two days – without deodorant. The women indicated that they preferred the scent of the men whose immune response genes were different from their own. In this study, opposites did attract. And similarly, same-sex couples are less likely to resemble each other, compared to couples of different sexes.
But decades of research shows that we have a lot of different preferences. So, why do you fall in love with one person and not another?
Recent research suggests our partner preference could come down to our brain chemistry. In one study, those with higher dopamine levels – think explorers who are sensation-seeking and independent – were more likely to be attracted to people similar to themselves. Those with higher serotonin levels – think calm and controlled – were more likely to pick similar partners, too. But men with high testosterone levels – competitive and decisive – were more likely to be drawn to women with high estrogen levels, and vice versa.
We can’t say either way that opposites do attract, or that birds of the feather really flock together. It comes down to having good chemistry, and that’s different for every couple. Beauty really is in the brain of the beholder.