What Are the Social Factors That Influence Interpersonal Attraction?

1 January 2017

What are the social factors that influence interpersonal attraction? Discuss in relation to relevant psychological theories and studies Interpersonal relationships are the close relationships we form with others around us. They range from close romantic relationships up to more casual relationships such as acquaintances or university peers. There are numerous numbers of social factors that may lead to interpersonal attraction such as proximity, physical attractiveness, similarity and reciprocity. There are also numerous theories into attraction and how humans form interpersonal relationships.

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Proximity or being close to a person has a big influence on our choice of friends or romantic partners, previous research suggests that the nearer we are to someone the more likely we are to have some sort of interpersonal relationship with them. Festinger, Schachter and Black (1950) found that two-thirds of married graduate students close friends had once lived in the same block of flats as them. Suggesting that the proximity of the graduate students had led them to develop an interpersonal relationship with each other.

Physical attractiveness is also a factor that determines whether or not an individual will form an interpersonal relationship with another person. The first thing one notices about a stranger is their physical appearance. This can include factors such as how they have their hair, their dress sense, if they are well kept or not. There is a general consensus on what is seen as being attractive in society, such as women with baby like faces are seen as attractive (Cunningham 1990), however there are obvious individual differences in what someone finds attractive.

Socially people who are physically attractive are perceived as being popular, intelligent, and honest. In a study by Sigall & Ostrove (1975) attractive women were given more lenient court sentences when being prosecuted for a crime which was not related to their attractiveness. However if the crime was related to their attractiveness then they were given harsher sentences. In a further study by Landy & Sigall (1974) essays with an attractive photograph attached to them received a higher grade in comparison to those that had less attractive photographs attached to them.

Also evolution plays a part in how physically attractive we may find someone, women who look healthy are seen as physically attractive with rosy cheeks, child bearing hips and glowing skin. Men who seem to be financially stable are also seen as physically attractive. These are factors that are involved in evolution hence why they lead to being physically attracted to another person. Another factor into physical attractiveness was contributed by Singh (1993), the waist to hip ratio is seen as a sign of health and fertility in women and men. Women should have a waist to hip ratio of about 0. , whilst men should have a waist to hip ratio of 0. 9 these indicate signs of optimal health in both men and women. Singh stated that the most attractive part of a woman is her waist to hip ratio.

As stated above we are attracted to signs of health and fertility in our partners, and having a healthy waist to hip ratio is a good indicator of this. However there are significant cultural differences in what waist to hip ratio should be. In some cultures especially those in Europe find a waist to hip ratio of 0. 7 is attractive, whereas in some African or South American cultures a waist to hip ratio of 0. is seen as attractive. A further limitation of this theory is that people tend to look at the body weight of a person instead of focusing on just their waist to hip ratio as body weight is obviously a better indicator of how healthy a person appears. Similarity is another factor that can lead to interpersonal attraction. People with similar personalities are more likely to become involved in a relationship. However this is not always the case Winch (1958) found that in relationships couples who were dissimilar tended to have happier relationships.

Similar attitudes also play an important role in interpersonal attraction, people with similar attitudes tend to be attracted to each other. In a study carried out by Byrne (1971) found that strangers with similar attitudes to participants were rated as being more physically attractive in comparison to participants which had dissimilar attitudes. Another factor in interpersonal attraction is Reciprocity, this is the tendency to be attracted to people who like us and tend to be less attracted to those individuals that dislike us.

In a study carried out by Dittes & Kelley (1956) the findings show that participants conformed more when told ‘other group members like you’ in comparison when told ‘other group members dislike you’. People who have the tendency to have low self-esteem or are highly insecure concerning interpersonal relationships have a greater need for positive feedback from others around them, in order to form close interpersonal relationships. As well as the social factors that lead to interpersonal relationships there are a number of different theories that also account for the formation of interpersonal relationships.

The matching hypothesis by Walster et al (1966) is such a theory. In the study a computer dance was organised in which the participants were randomly allocated to partners. Midway during the dance the participants were asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding the view of their partners. The views were recorded and compared to judges views of the physical attractiveness of the participants. The participants rated as most physically attracted were liked most by their partners, however after six months participants stated they would have dated someone similar to their own level of physical attractiveness.

Walster et al. ’s findings show that humans are initially attracted to people who are perceived as being ‘beautiful or handsome’, after we realise that the person is not on the same level as attractiveness as us we tend to look for someone on our own level. Hence the name ‘Matching Hypothesis’ as we try to form interpersonal relationships with people who match our own level of physical attractiveness. However this theory does not account for other social factors that can also influence our decision in forming an interpersonal relationship.

Relationships do tend to occur between people of different levels of attractiveness, they may have got to know each other through proximity or similarity or other social factors. Theories into reinforcement also provide a great insight into the formation if interpersonal relationships. The reinforcement-effect model by Byrne & Clore (1970), this model is heavily influenced by Pavlovian conditioning. This model states that we are attracted to people that invoke positive feelings in us through offering us rewards or praise.

This is seen as positive reinforcement and we are more likely to want to gain this positive reinforcement throughout the relationship. We identify the stimuli as either being a reward or a punishment and try to seek the rewarding behaviour and try to avoid the punishing behaviour. These positive feelings are also associated with the praise or rewards given. Leading to these positive rewards being associated with that person, so when we are with that person we attribute these positive rewards to being with them.

People can either be liked or disliked according to whether they are associated with the positive feelings or the negative feelings. The Social exchange theory is another theory into the formation of interpersonal relationships. This model was founded by Homans (1961). The model states that in an interpersonal relationships negotiations must be made and we are more likely to engage in a relationship with another person if that relationship maximises our benefits and minimises are costs.

Whether we are attracted to another t-person is determined by how much effort we must put into the relationship acting as the cost in comparison to how much we gain from the relationship acting as the benefit or reward. If a relationship is high in cost but low in reward we are less likely to form a close interpersonal relationship with that person as we are not maximising our benefit or rewards. We try to see what the other person can offer us in the relationship that we can gain from and what we can give them to gain from.

The actions of the people involved in the relationship highly effect the outcome of whether the relationship will have a good cost-reward ratio, if it seems beneficial for both people involved an interpersonal relationship may be formed on this basis. The social exchange theory was further analysed by Foa & Foa (1975) in which they state that in a relationship certain goods must be exchanged for the relationship to seem beneficial for both people involved. The ‘goods’ that can be exchanged take many forms such as objects or products, advice, love or other affections, money or wealth and higher social status.

All these offer rewards. We as humans always try to minimise our costs and maximise our profits and the same goes for forming relationships, if the benefit is not high for us we tend to not indulge in the relationship any further. Overall it is clear to see that social factors have a clear influence on the formation of interpersonal relationships. These factors such as proximity, reciprocity and similarity do have great influence on the decision to enter and form an interpersonal relationship with another person.

Social factors account for some of the reasons why and how interpersonal relationships are formed but social factors do not account for the reason on a whole. There are many other underlying factors that also carry great influence when forming such a relationship. The social factors tend to work in conjunction with one another and aid each other in the process of forming an interpersonal relationship, but there are also other theories that state other factors are also just as important as the social factors.

The social exchange theory as stated above suggests that humans try to gain maximum rewards out of their relationship whilst minimising the cost. Other theories tend to take a less calculated approach such as the reinforcement affect model, this model suggests that instead of physical rewards we want to form interpersonal relationships with people associated with positive feelings or people that remind us of a positive memory. We want these positive rewards to be reinforced hence the formation of a close relationship. We tend to dislike people who evoke negative feelings or people that reinforce punishments.

The matching hypothesis is a further example of factors that account for the formation of an interpersonal relationship, Walster et al. (1966) found that we are more likely to form a close relationship with someone that matches our own level of physical attractiveness, hence the name ‘Matching hypothesis’. All in all it is evident that there are numerous factors that can cause the formation of interpersonal relationships, social factors are very influential and play a big role but essentially there are other underlying factors that must also be accounted for.

It is fair to say that social factors highly contribute to the formation of interpersonal relationships but there are also other factors that must be taken into consideration. However it is clear that social factors are underlying in most of the theories and studies into the formation if interpersonal relationships.

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