Do opposites attract? The answer depends on your relationship status

Do opposites attract? The answer depends on your relationship status

As it turns out, the rules of attraction may not be as clearly defined as in Paula Abdul’s 1980s hit “Opposites Attract.” Instead, a new study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found our relationship status affects who we find attractive.

For the study, researchers from Charles University in the Czech Republic showed a series of photos to students and asked them to rate their attractiveness. Participants were shown both individuals of the opposite sex and the same sex. Some of the photos were digitally manipulated so that they resembled the students.

“We found that single participants, those not in relationships, rate dissimilar faces as more attractive and sexy than self-resembling faces,” said Dr. Jitka Lindova, lead author, in a press release.

They observed this trend for both opposite sex ratings and same sex ratings. On the other hand, people in relationships rated similar faces more attractive.

“For the first time, we have observed how our partnership status affects who we find attractive,” Lindova said.

The researchers theorized that mechanisms that control how we perceive attractiveness and lead to a preference for genetically suitable partners may actually be suppressed when people are in a relationship. “This might be a relationship maintenance strategy to prevent us from finding alternatives to our own partner, or perhaps self-resemblance becomes more important in terms of the social support we expect to receive from relatives, which are known as kinship cues,” Lindova hypothesized.

Dr. Tahir Sheikh, a psychiatrist at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., says that while similarities may help people from drifting in a relationship, they can bring people together as well.

“Studies have shown that birds of a feather do flock together. People tend to date and marry others who have similar characteristics from age, race, income, body type, education and religion. To take it one step further, some people can be prone to choosing a partner who looks similar to them because they deem those characteristics as trustworthy,” says Dr. Sheikh. “Research has shown over and over again that you can be opposite on one or two characteristics, but overall it’s similarity that wins out every time.”

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Johnna Kelly
Johnna Kelly

Johnna Kelly, healthe news contributor, is a manager of public affairs and marketing at Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove. She is a former newspaper reporter and spent nearly 10 years as a public relations professional working for state and county government. During her time as a communications staffer for the Illinois General Assembly, she was integral in drafting and passing legislation creating Andrea's Law, the nation's first murderer registry. In her spare time, she volunteers at a local homeless shelter, enjoys traveling, photography and watching the Chicago Bulls.