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In this lesson, we continue examining the question of why we like – and are attracted to – certain individuals more than others.

We define and discuss the concepts of similarity, reciprocal liking, and ingratiation, and how they affect our attraction to others.

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Liking and Attraction

In another lesson, we discuss the fact that exposure and proximity to certain people lead to us liking them more. The people that we see and interact with regularly are the ones most likely to become our friends.

But, there are certainly other factors that determine if we are attracted to someone enough to develop a relationship with that person.It’s important to note that when we talk about attraction, we aren’t always talking about sexual attraction. By definition, attraction is just something that draws people together.

Let’s talk more in depth about some of the factors behind attraction and close relationships, in particular, similarity, reciprocal liking, and ingratiation.

Similarity

Imagine you meet someone for the first time and discover you have a lot in common. You cheer for the same sports team, enjoy watching the same TV shows, and even love the same restaurants. With so much in common, chances are that you’d be attracted to this person. Similarity, or a match of personal aspects with those of another person, is one of the most powerful forces behind attraction and the creation of close relationships.

As the old saying goes, and as you have likely experienced for yourself, birds of a feather do flock together.We are attracted to others who share our attitudes, values, personality characteristics, communication style, background, and so on. Over and over again, research has shown that the more similar a person is, the more likable we find that person. Interestingly, research has also shown that even more important than similarity is perceived similarity.

For example, one particular study was designed to compare actual and perceived similarity between personalities of college roommates. The psychologists found that friendships grew between roommates who shared values and personality traits, but even more so when they simply perceived their roommates as similar. This was the same result of a more recent meta-analysis.A different group of psychologists found that in long-term relationships, perceived similarity was a better predictor of liking and attraction than actual similarity. It appears that similarity in reality matters, but the simple belief that someone is similar to us is actually more important.

By now, you may be wondering about the old saying that ‘opposites attract.’ To a certain extent, it does make sense that two people could have personality traits or strengths that would complement the other person, completing what is missing. All of us could probably think of a romantic couple or two who view their differences as complementary, especially if one is significantly more outgoing than the other. However, research has been unable to confirm this.

Study after study shows that, at least for the vast majority of us, similarity, not complementarity, is what promotes liking and attraction.

Reciprocal Liking

Beyond similarity, another extremely powerful predictor of liking and attraction is our perception of another person’s liking of us. We like to be liked, and just knowing that someone likes us is enough for us to feel attracted to that person. This is a phenomenon known as reciprocal liking. Romantically, discovering that someone whom we find appealing really likes us seems to get our engines going.

Experiments confirm that people who are told others like them usually feel affection for them, in turn. The phenomenon may work because knowing that we are liked makes us feel good about ourselves, and we like being around someone who gives us positive feelings.Reciprocal liking is so powerful that sometimes it can even make up for a lack of similarity.

In one well-known study, male participants expressed increased interest in a female confederate that disagreed with them on important issues, simply because she made eye contact, leaned in, and listened attentively. Because it appeared that the female confederate was interested in the male, the male was interested in return.

Ingratiation

The last topic we’ll discuss in this lesson is related to reciprocal liking. Flattery sometimes acts as a cue that someone likes us. We tend to like someone who compliments us. However, this is only true if there is no apparent ulterior motive.

Ingratiation is the use of flattery to gain another’s favor. Most of us probably use the phrase ‘sucking up’ or the term ‘brown-nosing’ to describe ingratiation.Imagine that someone you are just getting to know compliments your hair one day. That would probably make you feel good and like that person a little more, even if you’re not aware of it. But, if you receive the compliment and you haven’t washed your hair in a while or are having a bad hair day, you might suspect the person’s motives. Even though we like flattery, if we attribute it to ingratiation, we typically lose respect for the flatterer and like the person less as a result.

Lesson Summary

In summary, similarity, or a match of personal aspects with those of another person, is one of the most powerful forces behind attraction and the creation of close relationships. We are attracted to others who share our attitudes, values, personality characteristics, communication style, background, and so on. Over and over again, research has shown that the more similar a person is, the more likable we find that person. However, it appears that although similarity in reality matters, the simple belief that someone is similar to us is actually more important.Beyond similarity, another extremely powerful predictor of liking and attraction is our perception of another person’s liking of us. We like to be liked, and just knowing that someone likes us is enough for us to feel attracted to that person.

This is a phenomenon known as reciprocal liking. Flattery sometimes acts as a cue that someone likes us, and we tend to like the person who compliments us. However, this is only true if ingratiation, or the use of flattery to gain another’s favor, is not detected.

Learning Outcomes

When you get to the end of this lesson, you could be able to:

  • Describe how similarity, reciprocal liking and ingratiation are related to attraction
  • Explain whether actual similarity or perceived similarity is more important for attraction
  • Summarize research regarding the relationship between reciprocal liking and similarity

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