The Psychology of Attraction, Love Relationships and Intimacy
By the ideas of modern psychology there are four main things that cause attraction between two people. These four things are more strongly associated with friendship and early stages of more intimate relationships (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). These four staples are proximity, physical attractiveness, similarity and familiarity. In the paper that follows this author will dive into the foundations of attraction, what love is, the evolving ideas involving intimacy and the lasting effects relationships can imprint on our psychological map.
Physical attractiveness is one of the first things that come to mind when a person is asked about the laws of attraction. Studies have led to the idea that that physical attractiveness draws people to one another. Although most psychologists agree that physical appearance affects the level of attraction between two people, they are in disagreement with deciding why this is such (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). Some suggest that people are attracted to a "better-looking" person because being associated with "handsome" or “beautiful” people enhance social standing and self-esteem. Others suggest that men are attracted to women for biological reasons. Meaning, men seek women who are physically attractive because those physical qualities seem to be associated with youth and fertility (Feldman, 2005). Alexander Todorov and his colleagues performed a study at Princeton University in 2005 in which students were shown photographs of the two major candidates in 95 US Senate races and 600 US House of Representative races that had taken place since 2000. Based on looks alone they were able to properly pick the winners of the elections based solely on looks. The cuter, more baby-faced candidates were the winners in 72% of the senate races and 67% of the House races (Myers, 2008).
Proximity, the geological nearness and functional distance, between two people can also be a very effective factor on whether the relationship will have attraction or repugnance (Myers, 2008). The Pew survey proves that people are 38% more likely to marry someone who lives in the same neighborhood attends the same school, church, social functions and gym or works in the same building or area (Myers, 2008). The closer two people live to each other the more likely it is for them to like one another. Research has shown that the best single predictor of whether two people are friends is how far apart they live (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). This idea leads into one of the other staples of attraction, familiarity.
One of the major reasons proximity creates liking and attraction is that it increases familiarity. Generally speaking, the more a person interacts with another person, the more attraction builds between them (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). Familiarity is one of the pillars that allow a person to trust another person more openly. Several studies have shown that facial attractiveness is positively correlated with familiarity, the more a person visually acknowledges another person the more likely they are to become attracted to each other (Peskin & Newell).
The fourth piece of the attraction puzzle is similarity; how alike two people are can better predict how they will get along. This idea does not say mean that doctor will marry a doctor. Instead, it makes states that those interested in medicine are attracted to those interested in medicine. Statistics show that people who become a couple or enter into a relationship do so according to similarities in race, age, religion, education, physical characteristics, and other general characteristics (Newcomb, 1963). Additonal findings suggest that similarity and attraction are multidimensional building blocks (Lydon, Jamieson & Zanna, 1988), in which people are attracted to others who are similar to them in demographics, physical appearance, attitudes, interpersonal style, social and cultural background, personality, interests and activities preferences, and communication and social skills. A study conducted by Theodore Newcomb (1963) on college dorm roommates suggested that individuals with shared background, majors, attitudes, values, and political views became friends.
Moving forward from attraction into the topic of love this writer found numerous theories on what love is, how it forms and how to keep it sustained. The following paragraphs will briefly describe what happens in that transition from attraction to relationship while dissecting the theories of compassionate and passionate love. According to psychologist Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues these best represent the two basic types of love (Morgan & Shaver, 1999).
Compassionate love is characterized by mutual respect, attachment, affection, and trust. Compassionate love usually develops out of feelings of mutual understanding and shared respect for each other. This writer feels that this type of love in particular is what married couples strive for and try not to let go of. Another psychologist states, “Companionate love, not compassionate love, is the affection a person feels for those with whom their lives are deeply intertwined (Meyers, 2008).
Passionate love is characterized by intense emotions, sexual attraction, anxiety, and affection. When these intense emotions are reciprocated, people feel elated and fulfilled. Unreciprocated love leads to feelings of despondence and despair. Hatfield suggests that passionate love is transitory, usually lasting between 6 and 30 months (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). According to Hatfield, passionate love arises when cultural expectations encourage falling in love when the person “meets your preconceived ideas of an ideal lover, and when you experience heightened physiological arousal in the presence of the other person” (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). Ideally passionate love then leads to compassionate love, which is far more enduring, rewarding and substantial. While most people desire relationships that combine the security and stability of compassionate with the intensity of passionate love, Hatfield states that this is rare as one usually gives in to the other over time.
Another factor in relationships is intimacy. This author believes Harriet Goldhor Lerner, Ph.D. sums it up best. She states that "for starters, intimacy means that we can be who we are in a relationship, and allow the other person to do the same. An intimate relationship is one in which neither party silences, sacrifices, or betrays the self and each party expresses strength and vulnerability, weakness and competence in a balanced way." There are as many different ways to describe what intimacy is as there are stars in the sky. It means something different to each individual person. To some it is purely sexual; to others is it a giving and sharing of their spirit or soul with another human being. No matter how one views intimacy many psychologists say a relationship will not survive without it. That with intimacy there is a level of commitment and trust onto another person that the bond between them becomes more permanent.
Genuine intimacy in human relationships requires dialogue, transparency, vulnerability and reciprocity (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). In human relationships, the meaning and level of intimacy varies within and between relationships. Therefore, one can not measure their level and gage of intimacy along side another persons idea of intimacy. It is all a matter of psychological perception. To sustain intimacy for any length of time requires well developed emotional and interpersonal awareness (Morgan & Shaver, 1999). Intimacy requires an ability to be both separate and together participants in an intimate relationship. This is called self-differentiation (Meyers, 2008). It results in a connection in which there is an emotional range involving both robust conflict, and intense loyalty. Lacking the ability to differentiate one self from the other is a form of symbiosis (symbiosis relationships are associations in which one organism lives on another), a state that is different from intimacy, even if feelings of closeness are similar (Morgan & Shaver, 1999).
After discussing the four ideas of attraction in modern psychology this writer was presented with a strong appreciation for what is associated with friendship, attraction and early stages of the more intimate relationship. Proximity, physical attractiveness, similarity and familiarity all prepare a person for a solid foundation in a relationship and could prove to add to the foreshadowing of love one might find down the relationship road. In the better understanding of what love is and its subcategories one can clearly see which direction they are likely to conclude in. Intertwining new concepts and evolving ideas involving intimacy into these dealing with love may ultimately have a lasting effect on one’s psychological map.
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