What is Interpersonal Attraction and its factors?



Human beings are defined as social animal. The term ‘animal’ has been used because of the biological processes associated with us. But the term ‘social’ has a lot to say about nature of human beings. Have you ever thought if the human were made to grow and live in isolation? Obviously, you cannot imagine that how our life would have been if we didn’t have so many people around us. Human beings tend to socialize where Interpersonal Attraction plays a huge role.

Human infants are born with an inbuilt motivation and ability to seek contact with their social world. Interaction with others is so essential that lack of it can cause a lot of psychological disorder. Think about the punishment of kala pani. The prisoners of kala pani suffered a state of social exclusion in the Cellular Jail of Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This made them face many psychological disorders. Some of them even died during it.

What is Interpersonal Attraction?

Attraction is a step ahead of interaction. More than interpersonal relation, the interpersonal attraction is prolonged relationship based on liking between two persons. We cannot say that interaction is the necessary or sufficient condition for developing attraction but for an attraction to develop into a fruitful relationship, a healthy interaction is mandatory. In fact, all the motives of interaction can be achieved only if there is some sort of attraction between the interacting partners.

Social Psychologists have recognized these desires for long term relationships for decades. In their research, they have carefully considered all of the questions listed above – which are worth repeating. Why do people like or dislike each other? Why do they fall in love? Are these several kinds of love or just one? Why do some relationships gradually move toward deeper and deeper levels of commitment, while others fizzle or research has provided many insights about them (e.g., Hatfield & Rapson, 2009). That’s the knowledge we present in this chapter.

Factors affecting Interpersonal Attraction

Many factors play a role in interpersonal attraction. In fact, these range from the basic need to affiliate with others to similarity to them. Moreover,  frequent contact with them and their physical appearance also plays a huge role.

Internal Factors

The need to Affiliate –

To affiliate means to connect yourself with someone or something. The tendency to affiliate and associate with others has a biological basis (Rowe, 1996).

In terms of social psychology, it is as basic to human survival as hunger and thirst. The latter ones being important for our physical survival but the former one is important to our psychological well – being.

Much of our life is spent interacting with other people, and this tendency to affiliate (i.e., associate with them) seems to have a neuro-biological basis (Rowe, 1996). In fact, the need to affiliate with others and to be accepted by them may be just as basic to our psychological well-being as hunger and thirst are to our physical well-being
(Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Koole, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 2006).

From an evolutionary perspective, this makes perfect sense: cooperating with other people almost certainly  increased our ancestors’ success in obtaining food and surviving danger. As a result, a strong desire to affiliate with others seems to be a basic characteristic of our species. Human infants, for instance, are apparently born with the motivation and ability to seek contact with their interpersonal world (Baldwin, 2000), and even newborns tend to look toward faces in preference to other stimuli (Mondloch et al., 1999).

Individual differences in need to affiliate

People differ greatly in the strength of this tendency. These differences, whether based on genetics or experience, constitute a relatively stable trait (or disposition).

Basically, we tend to seek the amount of social contact that is optimal for us, preferring to be alone some of the time and in social situations some of the time (O’Connor & Rosenblood, 1996).

When their affiliation needs are not met, how do people react? Social exclusion leads to increased sensitivity to interpersonal information (Gardner, Pickett, & Brewer, 2000) and actually results in less effective cognitive functioning (Baumeister, Twenge, & Nuss, 2002).

Decades of research by social psychologists indicate that although the need to affiliate with others is both strong
and general (e.g., Baumeister & Twenge, 2003; Koole et al., 2006) there are some people who show what is known as the dismissing avoidant attachment style—a pattern in which they claim to have little or no need for emotional attachments to others, and who, in fact, tend to avoid close relationships (e.g., Collins & Feeney, 2000).

Are such people really an exception to the general rule that as human beings, we have a strong need to affiliate with others?

Social psychologists are ingenious, though, and research findings (e.g., Carvallo & Gabriel, 2006) indicate that in fact, even people  who claim to have little or no need for affiliation do, at least to some extent. True—they may be lower on this dimension than most other people, but even they show increased self-esteem and improved moods when they find out that they are accepted by others— the people they claim not to need.

Situational Influences

While people differ with respect to their need to affiliate with others, external events can temporarily boost or reduce this need. When people are reminded of their own mortality, for example, a common response is the desire to affiliate with others (Wisman & Koole, 2003). Similarly,
after highly disturbing events such as natural disasters, many people experience an increased desire to affiliate with others—primarily to obtain help and comfort and reduce negative feelings (Benjamin, 1998; Byrne, 1991).

One basic reason for responding to stress with friendliness and affiliation was first identified by Schachter (1959). His early work revealed that participants in an experiment who were expecting to receive an electric shock preferred to spend time with others facing the same unpleasant prospect rather than being alone. Those in the control group, not expecting an unpleasant electric shock, preferred to be alone or didn’t care whether they were with others or not.

One conclusion from this line of research was that “misery doesn’t just love any kind of company, it loves only miserable company” (Schachter, 1959, p. 24).

Why should real-life threats and anxiety-inducing laboratory manipulations arouse the need to affiliate? Why should frightened, anxious people want to interact with other frightened, anxious people? One answer is that such affiliation provides the opportunity for social comparison. People want to be with others—even strangers—in order to communicate about what is going on, to compare their perceptions, and to make decisions about what to do. Arousing situations lead us to seek “cognitive clarity” in order to know what is happening and “emotional clarity” (Gump & Kulik, 1997; Kulik et al., 1996).

External Factors

Whether or not two specific people ever come in contact with each other is often determined by accidental, unplanned aspects of where they live, work, or play. For example, wo students assigned to adjoining classroom seats are more likely to interact than those two given seats several rows apart. Once physical proximity brings about contact, additional factors play an important role. One of these is outward appearance—others’ physical
attractiveness. Another is the extent to which the two people find that they are similar in various ways.

Effects of Proximity

More than 6.7 billion people now live on our planet, but you will probably interact with only a relatively small number of them during your lifetime. In the absence of some kind of contact, you obviously can’t become acquainted with other people. Or have any basis on which to decide whether you like or dislike them. So in a sense, proximity (physical nearness to others) is a basic requirement that must be met before feelings of attraction can develop.

Actually, that was true in the past, but now, social networks and other electronic media make it possible for people to interact and form initial feelings of liking or disliking without direct face-to-face contact.

Ultimately, of course, such contact must occur for close relationships to develop beyond the “virtual world.”

Why does Proximity matter?

Repeated Exposure is the key. Picture yourself in a large lecture class on the first day of school. Let’s say that you don’t see anyone familiar. At first, this roomful of strangers is a confusing blur of unfamiliar faces.

Once you find your assigned seat, you notice the person sitting on both sides, but you may or may not speak to one another. By the second or third class, however, you recognize your “neighbors” when you see them and may even say hello.

In the weeks that follow, you may have bits of conversation about the class or about something that is happening
on campus. If you see either of these two individuals at some other location, there is mutual recognition and you are increasingly likely to interact. After all, it feels good to see a familiar face.

Apparently, the more often we are exposed to a new stimulus—a new person, a new idea—a new product—the more favorable our evaluation of it tends to become. This effect is subtle—we may not be aware of it—but it is both powerful and general. Research findings indicate that it occurs for people, words, objects—almost everything.

Zajonc (2001) explains the effect of repeated exposure by suggesting that we ordinarily respond with at least mild discomfort when we encounter anyone or anything new and unfamiliar. It is reasonable to suppose that it was adaptive for our ancestors to be wary of approaching anything or anyone for the first time. Whatever is unknown and unfamiliar is at least, potentially, dangerous.

With repeated exposure, however, negative emotions decrease and positive emotions increase (Lee, 2001) . A familiar face, for example, elicits positive affect, is evaluated positively, and activates facial muscles and brain activity in ways associated with positive emotions (Harmon- Jones & Allen, 2001).

Effects of Physical Attractiveness on Interpersonal Attraction

Although we are warned repeatedly against being too susceptible to others’ physical charms (“Don’t judge a book by its cover”), it is all too clear that others’ physical appearance does have a strong effect on us, and often plays a powerful role in interpersonal attraction and influences many aspects of social behavior (e.g., Vogel, Kutzner, Fiedler, & Freytag, 2010).

It has been found that people associate qualities like interesting, sociable, dominant, excited, adjusting, skilled successful, masculine/ feminine, etc with attractive men and women (Dion & Dion, 1991).

Although these associations may be incorrect, misguiding and logical. Yet researchers have found that people associate attractiveness with popularity, self esteem and  good interpersonal skills. Though attractiveness may not directly influence these qualities but attractive people are usually treated well by others.

Interpersonal Factors

Effects Similarity or Dissimilarity on Interpersonal Attraction

Newcomb (1956)  conducted a study that is a true “classic” of social psychology. He found that similar attitudes predicted subsequent liking between students.

In his research, he reasoned that if attitudes measured before people had even met. And it was found that later, the more similar their attitudes the more they liked each other. It could be concluded that similarity produced such attraction.

Many such investigations, with a variety of populations, procedures, and topics, revealed that people respond to similarity–dissimilarity in a surprisingly precise way. the proportion of similarity determines Attraction.

That is, when the number of topics on which two people express similar views is divided by the total number of topics on which they have communicated, the resulting proportion can be inserted in a simple formula that allows us to predict attraction (Byrne & Nelson, 1965).

The higher the proportion of similarity, the greater the liking. No one knows exactly how attitudinal information processes to produce that outcome. But it is as if people automatically engage in some kind of cognitive addition and division. Moreover, manipulating the units of positive and negative affect they experience.

Reciprocal Liking or Disliking

Everyone (or at least, nearly everyone!) wants to be liked. We enjoy being evaluated positively. Moreover, we welcome such input even when we know it is inaccurate. In fact, It is simply undeserved flattery. To an outside observer, false flattery may be perceived accurately for what it is. But to the flattered person, it is likely to appear accurate, even if not completely honest (Gordon, 1996; Vonk, 1998, 2002). Only if it is totally obvious flattery sometimes fails.

Research findings offer strong support for the powerful effects of others’ liking for us on our liking for them (e.g., Condon & Crano, 1988; Hayw, 1984). So, overall, it appears that the rule of reciprocity applies to many aspects of social life. In fact, operates with respect to attraction, too. In general, we tend to like those who express
liking toward us.


  • Baron, R. A. and Byrne, D. (1997). Social Psychology, 8th edition. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon
  • egyankosh.ac.in
  • Ciccarelli, S. K.; White J. N. Adapted by Girishwar Misra (2018). Psychology (5th Edition). Pearson.

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