The Psychology of Interpersonal Attraction - Social & Emotional Wellness.

The Psychology of Interpersonal Attraction  -  Social & Emotional Wellness.

Interpersonal attraction refers to positive feelings about another person. It can take many forms, including liking, love, friendship, infatuation, lust, and admiration.

Interpersonal attraction is the attraction between people which leads to friendships and romantic relationships. Interpersonal attraction, as in the process, is distinct from perceptions of physical attractiveness which involves views of what is and is not considered beautiful or attractive. In other words it goes beyond aesthetics, or what you may consider as being ‘ physically hot...’

The study of interpersonal attraction is a major area of research in social psychology. Interpersonal attraction is related to how much we like, dislike, or hate someone. It can be viewed as a force acting between two people that tends to draw them together and resist their separation. When measuring interpersonal attraction, one must refer to the qualities of the attracted as well as the qualities of the attractor to achieve predictive accuracy. It is suggested that to determine attraction, personality and situation must be taken into account. Repulsion is also a factor in the process of interpersonal attraction, one's conception of "attraction" to another can vary from extreme attraction to extreme repulsion.

So why are we attracted to certain people and not others? Why do our friends tend to be very similar to each other? And what causes us to decide on a mate? Many of these questions relate to social psychology in that society's influence and our own beliefs and traits play an important role. Psychological research has found a few reasons why we choose our friends, lovers, and partners.

Proximity - The vast majority of our friends live close to where we live or are in the same country or, at least where we lived during the time period the friendship developed (Nahemow & Lawton, 1975). Obviously friendships develop after getting to know someone, and this closeness provides the easiest way to accomplish this goal. Having assigned seats in a class or group setting would result in more friends whose last name started with the same letter as yours (Segal, 1974).

Association - We tend to associate our opinions about other people with our current state. In other words, if you meet someone during a class you really enjoy, they may get more 'likeability points' then if you met them during that class you can't stand.

Similarity - On the other hand, imagine that person above agrees with you this particular class is the worse they have taken. The agreement or similarity between the two of you would likely result in more attractiveness (Neimeyer & Mitchell, 1988)

Reciprocal Liking - Simply put, we tend to like those better who also like us back. This may be a result of the feeling we get about ourselves knowing that we are likable. When we feel good when we are around somebody, we tend to report a higher level of attraction toward that person (Forgas, 1992; Zajonc & McIntosh, 1992)

Physical Attractiveness - Physical attraction plays a role in who we choose as friends, although not as much so as in whom we choose as a mate. Nonetheless, we tend to choose people who we believe to be attractive and who are close to how we see our own physical attractiveness.

Personality - Researchers have shown that interpersonal attraction was positively correlated to personality similarity (Goldman, Rosenzweig & Lutter, 1980). People are inclined to desire romantic partners who are similar to themselves on agreeableness, conscientiousness, extroversion, emotional stability, openness to experience (Botwin, Buss, & Shackelford, 1997), and attachment style (Klohnen & Luo, 2003).

Human bonding Is the process of development of a close, interpersonal relationship. It most commonly takes place between family members or friends,[1] but can also develop among groups such as sporting teams and whenever people spend time together. Bonding is a mutual, interactive process, and is different from simple liking.

Bonding typically refers to the process of attachment that develops between romantic partners, close friends, or parents and children. This bond is characterized by emotions such as affection and trust. Any two people who spend time together may form a bond. Male bonding refers to the establishment of relationships between men through shared activities that often exclude females. The term female bonding is less frequently used, but refers to the formation of close personal relationships between women. Platonic bonding refers to the bond between male & female friends.  The role of a shared sense of  humour is quite significant in bond forming relationships. Remember that not all relationships have bonds.

The practical utility of all of the above is obvious, for those looking for a romantic partner or to make more friends. Move to an area or frequent places with people who you find attractive in terms of the above points, and participate in social events with like-minded people, so as to improve your odds of being similar to and familiar with attractive people.

 
Now let’s shift gears and talk about romantic attractions...

Kinds of Romantic Love

Researchers have proposed that romantic love includes two kinds of love: passionate love and compassionate love. These two kinds of love may occur together, but they do not always go hand in hand in a relationship:

• Passionate love: Involves absorption in another person, sexual desire, tenderness, and intense emotion.

• Compassionate love: Involves warmth, trust, and tolerance of another person. Compassionate love is sometimes considered to have two components: intimacy and commitment. Intimacy is the warm, close, sharing aspect of a relationship. Commitment is the intent to continue the relationship even in the face of difficulties. Researchers believe commitment is a good predictor of the stability of a relationship.

Triangular Theory of Love

Psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed a triangular theory of love that suggests that there are three components of love: intimacy, passion and commitment. Different combinations of these three components result in different types of love. For example, a combination of intimacy and commitment results in compassionate love, while a combination of passion and intimacy leads to passionate love.

According to Sternberg, relationships built on two or more elements are more enduring that those based upon a single component. Sternberg uses the term consummate love to describe a combination of intimacy, passion and commitment. While this type of love is the strongest and most enduring, Sternberg suggests that this type of love is rare.

Then there is Infatuation …

- Dana Peach, M.A., M.Ed.

Infatuation Phase I: Stricken!

The first act in the life of an infatuation is that magic moment when someone suddenly takes on "special" meaning for us.

You hear a phrase or a particular inflection in someone’s voice that strikes a chord in your heart. You are struck by the exact tilt of his head. You are warmed by a gaze or an unexpected tenderness. An intriguing remark goes straight to your soul. Or, perhaps from a respectable distance, you notice legs or skin or hair (or a more private physical trait) to die for. Lightning has struck.

Infatuation Phase II: Intrusive Thinking

After the bolt of lightning comes a storm of intrusive thinking about the desired one.

Every experience you now have seems interwoven with their qualities, every shared moment weighted with new meaning. When apart from them, you review and relish each moment spent in their presence and ruminate on their flavour. In fact, many infatuation informants report spending 80 to 100 percent of their time compulsively trying to crystallize the vision of their new love, living in vigilant expectation of the next contact.

Infatuation Phase III: Idealization

Early in the intrusive thinking phase, idealization sets in. The erotic sizzle permeates everything and creates that famous halo with which we love to blind ourselves. For a while, the infatuee sees no flaws in the beloved and admits to no blocks to forward progress.

Infatuation Phase IV: The Emotional Roller coaster

From this high intensity anticipation comes the primary emotional dynamic of infatuation: an exquisite combination of hope and uncertainty which has funded libraries of poetry.

At this point, life becomes that famous roller coaster ride: precious moments of delightful reciprocity (real or imagined) followed by agonizing doubts of ultimate success. Infatuation is now more consciously driven by simple fear. In fact, The Nagging Fear of Not Getting What You Have Begun to Desire is the unique torment reserved for the infatuated elite.

This pattern of human experience is as well-documented as any emotional experience has ever been. You can find poignant elaborations on the process incised upon clay tablets, etched in marble, painted on papyrus, fixed in celluloid, playing on the radio, and filtering through the voices all around you. It is a famous and favourite form of anguish.

But how can something so uncomfortable be so irresistible?

Science Has An Answer For Infatuation!

Research has confirmed the existence of an amphetamine-like chemical which is rapidly activated (like lightning!) when we begin to feel attracted to someone. This chemical is called phenylethylamine (PEA), that famous substance that makes laboratory rats press levers until they drop dead from exhaustion.

Diane Ackerman, author of The Nature of Love and A Natural History of the Senses, describes PEA as a "molecule that speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells", whipping the brain into a frenzy of excitement, sending ordinary attraction into overdrive and providing the assertive oomph! needed to take social risks and overcome any obstacles to mating. We can consider this a well-designed molecule from the point of view of species survival.”

Transcendental Infatuation into love...


When all is said and done, we will always want to fall in love with the pull of a potent attraction. We will always want to love infatuation and we will always reserve our right to be a Fool For Love. And that is as it should be. Who does not want to feel moved by the thrill of a profound, mysterious attraction that is able to overpower our ego defences and cause us to open our soul to another with the impetuosity of a child? The state of infatuation is so powerful that we want infatuation to have a meaning beyond that of a chemically-induced trance phenomenon, which is possible, but with just one little catch...

In order to make certain that infatuation can fulfil its true role in the natural discovery and growth of love, we have to stay semi-conscious and aware of our choices. Only conscious surrender and sustained attachment can make the original spark of infatuation eventually work to our benefit.


Relationships of any kind or form, be it friendships, romantic relationships, new or old all possess elements of interpersonal attraction in terms of social psychology. The key is to maintain a level of awareness where possible, and to continue to build on the foundations created by interpersonal attraction. Keep your relationships well, check them, balance them, feed them and allow them to flourish!

Live & Love Well!
Marie Joshua
Wellness Practitioner and Psychological Counsellor.

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