Opposites Attract

Do opposites attract? Do birds of a feather flock together? The age -old questions remains up for discussion today. A seemingly apparent and simple matter is actually much more complex than it is on the surface. The answer appears to be no. Opposites do not attract. Academic studies, film, online dating, and more illustrate the psychology of this behavior. 

Similarity-Attraction Theory

The similarity-attraction theory argues that people are attracted to others that are similar, rather than “opposite.”  In Morry’s study (2005), same-sex friendships were tested to see individuals’ satisfaction with an ongoing friendship with a perception of similarity on traits and behaviors.  Individuals were asked to rate their relationship satisfaction on a Relationship Assessment Scale (RAS).  Through this study, it was found that the more satisfied an individual was the greater the perception of similarity, in terms of traits and behaviors.  However, individuals may be projecting themselves onto their friends (Morry, 2005).  With this in mind, the graph to the right and the one below measures the level of satisfaction as a predictor of traits.  The two are split by the participants' sex.
The two are split by the participants sex.  In both men and women, a high level of satisfaction results in a low absolute difference score.  However, women have a slightly higher satisfaction level than men.  The lower the difference score, the higher the perception of similarity, which may support the idea of one projecting one’s self onto their friend.

Perception of similarity can also be found in romantic relationships and to a greater degree than in friendships.  Individuals want a partner with a similar personalty (Barelds and Dijkstra, 2008).  It was found that couples perceive more similarities the longer the relationship goes on (Sprecher, 2013).  The table below shows how the perception increases from the beginning stage to the current stage of the relationship at the time of this study by Sprecher.  The two in the relationship are essentially becoming a mimic of one another (Karrenmans and Verwijmeren 2008).

In a speed dating experiment, it was found that individuals have a strong racial preference for the same race (Fishman, Iyengar, Kamenica, and Simonsson, 2008).  Adolescents have the tendency to seek out individuals that are similar in some way, just as adults.  There is a diverse study that takes into account African American, Asian American, and European American adolescents (Hamm, 2000).  Similarity was high for substance use, modest for academic orientations, and low for ethnic identity.  However, it was found that African American adolescents did chose friends that were similar with ethnic identity.  Therefore, if there is a similarity, the percentage for a friendship is slightly raised, but not guaranteed.  It is also important to note that adolescents were not looking for a clone of one's self; they more wanted someone with similarities.

Is Attraction in the Genetics?

The video to the right describes a study in which couples share more genetic similarity than individuals who are randomly paired (Domingue, Fletcher, Conley, and Boardman, 2014).

Opposites Even Attract in Film

 Films have perpetuated the idea that opposites attract.  In Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, the neurotic comedian falls for the free-spirited singer.  Two polar opposites fall in love through the quirky fantasy of film.  In another example, The Breakfast Club, the rough riding “criminal” falls for the snobby “princess.”  The theme is classic and has completely saturated the film industry.  

 From the        youngest age, viewers are bombarded by the most impossible romantic relationships.  Romance is, at least in the Disney point of view, more beautiful if it is unlikely.  Over and over again, the same romantic dynamic is kindled. Beauty and the BeastCinderellaThe Little Mermaid, and many more illustrate the theme.  And yes, the belief that anyone, even if they have nothing special, can fall in in love with a prince or princess, is hopeful for all of us.  The fairy tale reflects human romantic desires for the unattainable.

Dating in a Virtual World

Online dating illustrates that opposite character has little to do with romantic interest. Dating apps and websites allow users to portray themselves completely in a succinct manner.  If a person wished to meet their “opposite,” it would not be hard to find someone based on their interest. Yet, studies show that very different factors influence romantic interest.  In one such study (Hitsch, Hortaçsu, and Ariely, 2010), it was found that physical attractiveness does play a prominent role in the online dating scene.  Below, two graphs regarding this matter can be found.  Both sexes had a greater tendency to send a first-contact e-mail if the person was deemed attractive.  However, men had a slightly higher probability than women. While this may be the case for appearance, the study also found that women had the preference for income.  In an online dating study from Australia, people employed a "filtering" process, which included attractiveness and psychical proximity (Couch and Liamputtong, 2008).   

The physical attraction factor does play a role in dating, but if that is all that is present, chances are that the relationship will not work.  Tinder, for example, is a dating app that allows uses to swipe right or left depending on their interest level.  Right for yes, and left for no.  Since people base if off of looks, chances are "opposites will attract," but with time the relationship will not work because it started on a superficial level.       

Can You Guess the Couple?

Play the video to the right and see if you can guess the real couple from the actors.  It is not that easy, is it?  This clip is from the television show Brain Games, which is on the National Geographic Channel.

Why this Myth?

College students were given a test designed to measure common misbeliefs.  One of the questions was, "Generally speaking the saying 'Opposites attract' is ____ description of how people come to like one another."  9% answered almost always true, 11% said very accurate, 57% believed it was somewhat accurate, and 23% discredited it, with the choice usually an inaccurate (McCutcheon, 1991).  This shows how the repetition of a saying will result in individuals believing it must be true, no matter how absurd it might be.  Just because individuals can be total opposites does not mean that they are destined to be together.  This way of thinking is why this myth was chosen.  The goal of this digital story was to highlight why this is not an everyday occurrence, even though some may think so.  Opposites attract in charges, not in relationships.


Barelds, D. P., & Dijkstra, P. (2008). Do people know what they want: A similar or complementary partner?. Evolutionary Psychology, 6(4), 595-602.

Couch, D., & Liamputtong, P. (2008). Online dating and mating: The use of the internet to meet sexual partners. Qualitative Health Research, 18(2), 268-279.

Domingue, B. W., Fletcher, J., Conley, D., & Boardman, J. D. (2014). Genetic and educational assortative mating among US adults. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(22), 7996-8000.

Fisman, R., Iyengar, S. S., Kamenica, E., & Simonson, I. (2006). Gender differences in mate selection: Evidence from a speed dating experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 673-697.

Hamm, J. V. (2000). Do birds of a feather flock together? The variable bases for African American, Asian American, and European American adolescents' selection of similar friends. Developmental psychology, 36(2), 209.

Hitsch, G. J., Hortaçsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). Matching and sorting in online dating. The American Economic Review, 130-163.

Hitsch, G. J., Hortaçsu, A., & Ariely, D. (2010). What makes you click?—Mate preferences in online dating. Quantitative marketing and Economics, 8(4), 393-427.

Karremans, J. C., & Verwijmeren, T. (2008). Mimicking attractive opposite-sex others: The role of romantic relationship status. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

McCutcheon, L. E. (1991). A new test of misconceptions about psychology. Psychological Reports, 68(2), 647-653.

Morry, M. M. (2005). Relationship satisfaction as a predictor of similarity ratings: A test of the attraction-similarity hypothesis. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 22(4), 561-584.

Sprecher, S. (2013). Correlates of Couples’ Perceived Similarity at the Initiation Stage and Currently. Interpersona: An International Journal on Personal Relationships, 7(2), 180-195.

Sprecher, S., & Regan, P. C. (2002). Liking some things (in some people) more than others: Partner preferences in romantic relationships and friendships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 19(4), 463-481.