Have you ever told someone: “I would never date a person who believes X,” where “X” could be a social or political belief, maybe a religious one, or even something as minimal as whether they use Apple versus Google Maps (don’t even get me started on this…)
Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle tapped into this idea when he expressed that the best friends (platonic or otherwise) are those who agree on the most valued virtues. For example, a disagreement on TV show preference probably won’t end a relationship, but disagreement on something more substantial (e.g., whether littering is okay) may cause a divide.
This illustrates the idea of self-other overlap: the closer you feel to another person, the more you perceive them as similar to (or as an extension of) yourself. For example, when participants were brought into a brain scanner and asked to imagine that their good friend (vs. an acquaintance) was going to receive a shock, the participant’s brain lit up in the same area as if the participant him or herself were going to be zapped.
However, just as interpersonal closeness makes another person seem more similar to you, so does a “similar other” suddenly seem closer to you.
For example, similarity is so powerful that there is a better than average chance you will marry someone with a similar first or last name—even if that’s just a single initial! And this effect extends to even more trivial similarities, too. In one study, participants who saw a confederate’s experiment number was similar to the participant’s own birthday ended up liking them more!
However, just as similarity increases liking, dissimilarity increases disliking. As the science shows time and time again, opposites, in fact, do not attract.
For example, one study looked at over 1,500 different friend pairs and examined their personality traits, attitudes, values, and recreational activities. For all of these pairs, 86% of the measured variables were similarly scored between friends.
In another study, the researchers recruited a large lecture class, this time randomly assigning participants into pairs to interact with one another. And although only 23% of these pairs actually spent time together outside of the research session, those pairs were significantly more similar than the pairs who didn’t hang out again.
When it comes to romance, the allure of someone “different” may be enough to motivate interest; however, too many differences will end up in too many clashes, and the relationship is unlikely to persist.
Still, the same rules don’t always apply to everyone; for example, people high in sensation-seeking behaviors (i.e., those who seek out varied, novel, or intense experiences) do prefer dissimilar partners. As well, other research suggests that if both partners acknowledge their discrepant interests, this can help sustain the relationship.
At the end of the day, though, it’s probably better to settle on someone similar to you. Or at least, make sure they use Google Maps over any other alternative.
Love on the Brain? Maybe dissimilarity isn’t a deal breaker for you, but what does the science suggest are common deal breakers in relationships?
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