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Interpersonal Attraction

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Interpersonal Attraction

“He’s hot.”

“She’s so pretty.”

“They’re so funny.”

“I like how she’s just like me.”

Are the popular girls in school popular because they’ve always been popular or just because they’re pretty? Are the swimmers only friends with other swimmers because they spend all their time together? Are you friends with people because you have been around them since you were younger and then eventually became friends?

Are any of these statements reasons why we are friends with someone over another person? We know that physical attraction is a factor when choosing a romantic partner, but does it matter for friendship?

  • What is interpersonal attraction?
  • What are factors of interpersonal attraction?
  • What are examples of interpersonal attraction?

Definition of Interpersonal Attraction

All these questions are answered by studying interpersonal attraction.

Interpersonal attraction is the phenomenon explaining why we are more attracted to certain people rather than others.

This includes platonic friendship as well as romantic love. Attraction is the positive emotion you feel towards someone, like when you get excited to hang out with a friend or nervous about going on a first date.

While we often think of having “types” when it comes to a romantic partner, there are also reasons why we gravitate towards certain people, even as friends. It’s not entirely based on physical appearance and personality (like romantic attraction is) but based more on convenience.

Interpersonal Attraction, Photograph showing three beautiful women with the two on the outside leaning their heads on the shoulders of the one in the middle, StudySmarter Friends who experienced interpersonal attraction. pixabay.com.

Factors of Interpersonal Attraction

Although we can believe that we have free choice in who we become friends with, other interpersonal factors are involved. Just think about you playing a sport in middle and high school. You spent a lot of time with the people on that team and became friends with some of them. Maybe you have been best friends with your next-door neighbor since childhood. Perhaps you started taking a new class and became friends with the people there. But do you have any similarities with your neighbor? Would you be friends with the people on the team if you had met them otherwise? Do you have anything in common with your new friends from your class? If the answer is no to any of these questions, why are you friends with them? And more importantly, how did you even become friends with them?

Proximity

Studies have shown that police academy cadets tend to be friends with those whose last names are alphabetically close to theirs. Any thoughts on why?

Proximity! One of the most prominent factors of interpersonal attraction is the proximity you have with the person. In this case, proximity purely means physical proximity. The reason why the police officers are closest with people with similar last names is that they are organized in groups alphabetically. They sleep near those people, train with them, and through this constant proximity, they become friends. Do you have good friends who just so happen to be your neighbors? Or maybe if you’ve gone to a summer camp and you end up being close friends with the people you lived nearby? While part of that might be because you and your friends are socially compatible, another factor is the geographic proximity you share with them.

Take some time and think through your good friends to see if they are geographically close to you. Is that the only reason why you are friends with them?

Interpersonal Attraction, Photograph of two houses next to one another with a tree in the middle, StudySmarterAre you friends with your neighbor? wikimedia commons.

Repeated Exposure

Have you ever looked at an outfit and didn’t like it? And then looked at it again and still didn’t love it, but maybe you liked it just a little bit? And by the fifth time you looked at it, you realize it’s a great outfit? Or maybe the first time you listened to a song, you hated it, but the more times it came on the radio, the more you began to like it?

The more familiar we get with varying things – songs, clothes, school topics – the more we like them. That goes for people too. It has been shown that the more exposure you get to something (anything), the more you like it. A study has even shown that people like the letter E more than they do Q because we use the letter E much more. The reasoning behind this phenomenon is that when we continually get exposed to a stimulus, we become more familiar with it. This increasing familiarity leads us to like it more since we like things we are familiar with. It can be applied to interpersonal relationships as well. The reason why you gravitate towards a particular person could be because you are familiar with them through seeing them multiple times before. This familiarity causes you to be comfortable and feels favorable emotions towards them, leading to a friendship.

Similarities

“Opposites attract.”

Do they?

Although there are exceptions to every rule, social psychologists have declared that sharing similar traits is more important than sharing dissimilar ones. When we find out that we share some similarities with someone, we like them more. Why? Liking them, in essence, is complimenting yourself. When you like someone similar to you, you are saying that you like yourself – you remind me of myself, and I like myself; therefore, I should like you. In addition to liking someone to like ourselves, we also enjoy it when others like us. When someone you know likes you, there’s a greater chance that you’ll like them too because of the reciprocity of the liking effect (we like people who like us).

Physical Attractiveness

Physical attractiveness is a factor in determining interpersonal attraction. If we go back in time, people only looked for reproductive ability in partners. Although we have evolved, that reasoning can still be used for several physical features. People prefer a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio for women. One might say because people like the hourglass look, others claim that this is the ratio that maximizes fertility for women. People might say they want to date someone because they have a symmetrical face bilaterally. However, others would say that a symmetrical face means that someone is free of parasites.

Interpersonal Attraction, A photograph showing a woman celebrating Holi. She is in the middle of the picture throwing up gulal, a colored powder, into the air, StudySmarterPhotograph of a beautiful woman celebrating Diwali. pixabay.com.

A study was conducted about the symmetry of the human face. The researchers gathered men, measured the symmetry of their faces, and then had each of them sleep in the same t-shirt for two nights in a row. The experimenters then took these t-shirts and had women smell them. The experimenters found that the women at the peak of their fertility cycle preferred the smell of the symmetrical men. However, an alternative study to this one concluded that if the sexes were reversed, the results did not match. When women slept in the same t-shirt, and then men smelled it, there were no preferences based on bilateral facial symmetry. These two studies can conclude that sometimes attractiveness can be a completely innate response to seeing someone.

Of course, it is all about the quality of friendships rather than the quantity. Just as studies have shown that people who are more conventionally physically attractive will have more friends initially, research has also shown that that factor decreases drastically when people get to know each other.

Example of Interpersonal Attraction

Even though there are instances of interpersonal attraction and relationships that do not fall into these criteria, this is most often why we have friendships with certain people. These factors play to our behavioral, affective, and cognitive systems.

An example of interpersonal attraction is a new student joining your high school. She is in your grade, and she’s conventionally pretty but nothing special. However, for some reason, so many people in your grade want to date her or be friends with her. Why is that? Simply because she’s new! People who are new and pretty will be more attractive to others. Chances are, there are people in your class who are more appealing than she is but won’t get any attention because they’re not new. As studies show, after people get to know this new student, the hype around her will die down. Since she is physically attractive, she got lots of attention since people are drawn to those they find attractive.

Interpersonal Attraction - Key takeaways

  • Interpersonal attraction is the positive feeling towards someone else, whether platonically or romantically.
  • Factors that affect interpersonal attraction:
    • Proximity is how geographically close you are to the other person. You spend more time with the person because you have the same classes or live in the same neighborhood and, therefore, are closer.
    • Repeated exposure is how many times you are exposed to the other person. The more you are exposed to them, the more familiar they feel, therefore the more you like them.
    • Similarities are how much you have in common with the other person. The more similarities you have, the more you will be attracted.
    • Physical attraction is a factor in interpersonal attraction. The more physically attractive we find someone, the more we initially want to be their friend.

Frequently Asked Questions about Interpersonal Attraction

Interpersonal attraction is the positive feeling towards someone else, whether platonically or romantically. 

Interpersonal and social attraction are synonymous. They both explain why people gravitate towards certain people over others. 

Interpersonal attraction is influenced by how (geographically) close you are to someone, how often you are exposed to someone, how similar you are to someone, and how attractive you find them. 

Interpersonal attraction is important because it is why we end up being friends or partners with someone over someone else. 

The attraction factors are proximity, repeated exposure, similarity, and physical attraction. 

Final Interpersonal Attraction Quiz

Question

What does interpersonal attraction help us understand?

Show answer

Answer

Why we are more likely to be friends or romantic partners with someone over others

Show question

Question

Why does proximity matter for interpersonal attraction?

Show answer

Answer

The closer we are to someone physically, the more likely we are to be friends

Show question

Question

Why does repeated exposure matter for interpersonal attraction?


Show answer

Answer

The more we interact with someone, the more familiar they become. We like familiarity, therefore increasing attraction. 

Show question

Question

Why does similarity matter for interpersonal attraction?


Show answer

Answer

We are essentially complimenting ourselves when we say we like someone who is similar to us

Show question

Question

What is the reciprocity of liking effect?

Show answer

Answer

We like people who like us

Show question

Question

Why does physical attractiveness matter for interpersonal attraction?


Show answer

Answer

We like people who are attractive. Maybe it's an inherent trait from being a human or maybe it's because we like looking at pretty things. 

Show question

Question

What is not a factor of interpersonal attraction?

Show answer

Answer

Similarity

Show question

Question

Which is not a factor of interpersonal attraction?

Show answer

Answer

Repeated exposure 

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Question

Mary Jane and Peter have been friends since they were younger because their parents are neighbors. 


Which is not a possible explanation for this friendship?

Show answer

Answer

Repeated exposure 

Show question

Question

Jack and Jill have the same class schedule. They are friends. 


What is not a possible explanation for this friendship given the statement?

Show answer

Answer

Physical attractiveness 

Show question

Question

Selina sees Bruce for the first time and finds him attractive and wants to be friends with him. She notices that other people find him attractive and what to be his friend too. 


Will he have that many friends in a couple months?

Show answer

Answer

No. Studies show that people who are attractive will have more friends at first, but then it normalizes. 

Show question

Question

Could the reciprocity of liking effect be used to explain why you might develop romantic feelings for someone when you find out they like you?

Show answer

Answer

Yes, the reciprocity of liking effect states that we like people who like us, so it can also be extended to romantic liking. 

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