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Similarity-Attraction Paradigm: Definition & Criticisms

Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 15 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

Is there a pattern in attraction? In this lesson, you'll learn about the similarity-attraction paradigm. You'll examine evidence to support the thesis of this paradigm as well as criticisms of the theory.

Similarity-Attraction Paradigm Definition

What would you do if you wanted to meet some new friends? You might join a group or club that is related to something you are already interested in. After all, this will help you meet others who share at least one interest with you.

People who are similar are often attracted to each other, but why is this true? In this lesson, you'll learn about evidence that supports the similarity-attraction paradigm, a paradigm that states people feel more comfortable with others who are similar (as opposed to dissimilar) to themselves. You'll also review some criticisms of the paradigm.

History of the Similarity-Attraction Paradigm

The theory that similarities or sameness attracts has been formalized in research since the mid-1900s. Researchers Ellen Berscheid and Elaine Hatfield conducted research in 1969 that showed participants were more likely to desire a relationship with those that were seen to share attitudes. They found that the more important a shared attitude, the higher the attraction rating. For example, two people who both prefer the same type of toothpaste were not as attracted to each other as two people who shared the same religious beliefs.

Donn Byrne expanded the study into a formalized Law of Attraction in 1971. Bryne showed that the Law of Attraction could be used to influence others.

Reasons for Attraction

You probably already know, inherently, that you feel more comfortable spending time with people who are similar to you. You may describe the feeling as they just get me. That sense of belonging, or fitting in, is the most important reason why humans are more attracted to those who share similar attitudes.

Additionally, being around people that support your general theories on life and agree with our general beliefs corroborates, or confirms, your beliefs as correct. Think back to the last test you had. If you were concerned about an answer you put for a particular question and found that many others chose the same answer, you would automatically feel much more confident that it was the correct answer. Alternatively, if no one else chose the same answer, you might begin to doubt yourself. Surrounding ourselves with others that 'have the same answers' helps us to feel more confident in the choices we make.

Furthermore, humans are creatures of habit, and for the most part, value stability. When those around you share your general outlook on life, meaning they are similar to you, they offer a sense of stability. You do not have to guess at how they will feel or what they will say in any situation. Their similarity means that how you feel or what you would say probably mimics their reaction. This stability is comforting.

Finally, research has found that the similarity-attraction paradigm is not just limited to attitudes, feelings and behaviors. People are also more attracted to others who are physically similar to themselves (remember, this is in general and does not apply to every person). An example is physical fitness. Those who are more physically fit tend to romantically pair off with others who are also physically fit.

In general, people are more attracted to others who are similar to themselves in areas such as:

  • Attitudes on important issues
  • Religious beliefs
  • Social habits (introvert or extrovert)
  • Bad habits (such as smoking)
  • Socio-economic status
  • Intelligence

Evidence for Similarity-Attraction Paradigm

A great place to look for evidence for the similarity-attraction paradigm is in any business. Corporate culture, or the general attitudes held by the employees of the company, is important to most companies. New employees are expected to fit into the standing corporate culture; in other words, candidates are more attractive to the company if they are similar to those already working for the company. This does not have to mean ethnically similar, although many companies have gotten into legal trouble for omitting racial diversity in their companies.

The existence of social clubs also provides evidence for the similarity-attraction paradigm. When we join a social club, we intentionally look for one that has a membership of people with similar interests.

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