Attraction Theory: Definition, Measurements & Effects

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  • 0:01 Attraction
  • 0:49 Types of Attraction
  • 2:43 Elements of Attraction
  • 6:00 Measurement
  • 7:14 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Why do people like each other? What accounts for the differences in what people find attractive? In this lesson, we'll examine attraction theory, including the types of attraction, elements of attraction, and how to measure attraction.


Izzie is confused. All around her, people are pairing up. Sometimes, Izzie can see why the people are together: they may have a lot in common. But sometimes, Izzie doesn't understand why two people end up together.

Izzie is wondering about attraction, or what makes people like each other. She wonders why, for example, her sister and her sister's boyfriend are together when they don't have much in common. In fact, Izzie thinks the only reason for her sister to be with her boyfriend is because he gives her many gifts!

The psychologist Samuel Frenning came up with a theory for why people are attracted to each other. To understand his theory, let's look closer at his attraction theory, including the three main types of attraction and the four main elements of attraction.

Types of Attraction

Izzie is trying to find out why people are attracted to each other. According to attraction theory, there are three main types of attraction. You can remember the three types if you think of the first letter of each word in the phrase, Prefer Sunny Trees.

'P' is for physical attraction, or being attracted to someone based on their physical looks or features. For example, Izzie is very attracted to her favorite movie star. He's very good-looking!

But Izzie's favorite movie star is known to be a jerk, so that turns her off from him. After all, she might be physically attracted to him, but she wouldn't want to spend any time around such a bad guy.

'S' is for social attraction. This involves being attracted to someone based on their personality. Izzie knows what this is like when she thinks about the boy she has a crush on. At first, she didn't think much about him; he isn't very good-looking. But he's really funny and fun to be around, so after a while, she started to like him more and more. His personality won her over!

'T' is for task attraction, which involves being attracted to someone based on their abilities. This makes Izzie think about her best friend, who is dating the captain of the soccer team. His talents at soccer are the main attraction for her best friend.

Of course, a person can feel more than one of these types of attraction. For example, though Izzie's best friend feels task attraction towards her boyfriend, she also feels physical attraction to him. In other words, it's not just that he's great at soccer; she also thinks he's cute!

If you have social and/or task attraction for a person, but no physical attraction, then the relationship is platonic. That is, you'll just be friends.

Elements of Attraction

Okay, Izzie understands the types of attractions, but she's still not sure what attracts people to each other. Why is one person's personality attractive to her and another type of personality attractive to someone else? To explain individual differences in what people like, attraction theory looks at four major elements of attraction. To remember these elements, just think of A Pretty Stellar Reward.

'A' is for appearance, or how someone looks. In general, people are attracted to others who are considered good-looking, which is because good looks are subconsciously associated with health and vitality, two important features for a mate.

But there's a catch here: what is considered good-looking varies widely from culture to culture and even from individual to individual. For example, in many developed nations, thin people are considered attractive, while in many developing nations (especially those who have not been heavily influenced by Western ideals), heavyset people are considered more attractive.

'P' is for proximity, which in this case means how physically connected two people's worlds are. Studies have shown that people who live close to each other, work together, or go to the same school are more likely to be attracted to each other than those who are less physically connected.

In fact, the mere exposure effect is based on the finding that people find others more attractive the more they are exposed to them. In other words, just seeing the same person over and over at the coffee shop can make them seem more attractive! Izzie can see this at work in her own life: the people with whom she spends the most time end up being more attractive to her.

'S' is for similarity, or how alike two people are. Izzie's always heard that opposites attract, but in general, it's more true that like attracts like. This makes sense to Izzie because her best friend and best friend's boyfriend both love soccer. Their mutual interest in soccer is a major bonding point for them.

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