They say opposites attract.
And that is absolutely true when you are dealing with…say…magnets. Who doesn’t remember their elementary school science classes when you would watch the “north pole” of one magnet gravitate toward the “south pole” of another. Conversely, two north poles or two south poles would repel each other.
The axiom of opposites attracting might even apply to initial attraction among humans. But when it comes to successful, long-term relationships, the opposite is more likely to be true, according to Kelly Bordner, assistant professor of psychology at Southern.
“It’s likely that the initial difference in personality and temperament leads to interest, excitation and perhaps, attraction,” she says. “But in the long run, despite what people say, opposites don’t attract, they attack.”
Bordner explored this topic, as well as other psychological and behavioral myths, during a course last semester. Her students also examined the roots of the myths, separating fact from fiction, and looking at the implications of what would life be like if the myths were actually true.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Wise Words examines the “do opposites attract” subject today in the first of a 2-part series. The second part will look at the popular notion that we humans only use a small percentage of our brains.
The media culture is full of examples of opposites attracting. Fans of the “Big Bang Theory” have watched the on-again, off-again romance between nerdy scientist Leonard Hofstadter and the attractive but more superficial Penny. Yet, if the sit com were real life – granted that’s a reach — Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler would have a better chance of success.
“So, where did this myth originate? Well, no one really knows,” Bordner says. “But if you’re in it for the long haul, look for someone similar to yourself. After all, could you imagine spending the rest of your life bickering with your partner about whether to go out or stay in; whether to save money or spend it; whether to be neat or messy?”
Granted, sometimes a person’s “real personality” may not be evident right away. For example, a persona of bravado may merely be a cover for a deep-seeded insecurity. Some perceptive individuals can see through such a facade right away, but others are initially fooled and that can alter how someone views another, particularly a potential love interest.
“The reality is that these, and countless other quips and familiar ‘facts,’ are far from being true. Through examination of published scientific works and thoughtful discussion, we’ve asked ourselves: How and why did this myth originate? What evidence do we have that it’s (true or) false? What other falsities do I hold onto as a result of this?”
Bordner notes that not everyone shares her belief that deep down, most people seek mates with similar values and characteristics. In fact, most people say they prefer someone with opposite characteristics, according to a recent study published in the journal, Evolutionary Psychology. Yet, that study also shows the opposite is true: people generally prefer those who are similar in personality.
Other research — including a 2003 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — shows that people generally reflect a “likes-attract,” rather than an “opposites- attract” approach to decision making in finding a spouse.
Bordner also points out that the compatibility algorithms used by online dating sites usually use similar values and traits as key indicators.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Coming soon: Do people use only a small part of their brains in everyday life?