At last, science has confirmed something we’ve long known to be true, but only after experiencing both scenarios. Opposites do not attract. Or at least, they don’t make for a successful, long-lasting relationship. Similarities do. The idea that opposite personalities can balance each other out, meeting perfectly in the middle is nothing more than a myth. This isn’t about physical attraction, however; it’s about our values and beliefs. In what’s been described now as a ‘paradigm shift’ in the way we look at relationships, scientists found that we’re more likely to be drawn to those who share the same views as us and more likely to give those who do not, a wide berth. Though pop culture and history may try to tell us otherwise, we are each set with a psychological default to seek out like-minded people.
Explaining their hypothesis, Angela Bahns of Wellesly College says: ‘Picture two strangers striking up a conversation on a plane or a couple on a blind date. From the very first moments of awkward banter, how similar the two people are is immediately and powerfully playing a role in future interactions. Will they connect? Or walk away? Those early recognitions of similarity are really consequential in that decision. We’re arguing that selecting similar others as relationship partners is extremely common, so common and so widespread on so many dimensions, that it could be described as a psychological default.”
Putting their theory to the test, the research team at Wellesly College gathered data on more than 1,500 random pairs. Some were romantic couples, some were friends, and some were just acquaintances. They were asked to complete a survey that featured questions about their respective values, prejudices, attitudes and personality traits.
Their answers were then analysed to determine how similar or different each pair was and, more importantly, to see whether people in longterm, romantic relationships had more in common. Exploding the myth beyond belief, it soon became apparent that not just those in longterm relationships shared similar life views, but even those pairs who were just considered acquaintances too. A second and perhaps more interesting experiment saw the team gather pairs who had never met in a classroom. Some of these pairs held different views and beliefs. After a certain amount of time they analysed these pairs again, only to discover that there were almost no changes in beliefs over time, which showed the researchers that those with ambitions of changing their partner will have very little success in longterm relationships.
“People are more similar than chance on almost everything we measure, and they are especially similar on the things that matter most to them personally.Though the idea that partners influence each other is central in relationships research, we have identified a large domain in which friends show very little change– personality, attitudes and values, and a selection of socially-relevant behaviors. To be clear, we do not mean to suggest that social influence doesn’t happen in relationships; however, there’s little room for influence to occur when partners are similar at the outset of relationships. Anything that disrupts the harmony of the relationship–such as areas of disagreement, especially on attitudes, values, or preferences that are important–is likely to persist. Change is difficult and unlikely; it’s easier to select people who are compatible with your needs and goals from the beginning.”
That being said, if you mix only with like-minded people from here on out, it’s unlikely that you’ll be exposed to alternate worldviews or values, meaning that you might be left with a rather insular, single-minded perspective on things. In short, embrace differences in acquaintances and friends, but if it’s a successful long-term relationship you’re after, you’ll have more chance of going the distance if you seek out a partner with whom your beliefs align.
*Dumps boyfriend who refuses to get on board with Beyonce.
The research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Pschology.