Matching Hypothesis

Couples by Reclarkgable

The matching hypothesis is a popular psychology and social psychology theory, proposed by Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues in 1966, which suggests why people become attracted to their partner. It claims that people are more likely to form long standing relationships with someone who is as equally physically attractive as they are. This is influenced by realistic choices, desire of the match and good probability of obtaining the date.

In successful couples in which the partners differ greatly in physical attractiveness, it is likely that the less attractive partner has compensating qualities to offer. For instance, some men with wealth and status desire younger, more attractive women, and some women are more likely to overlook physical attractiveness for men who possess wealth and status.

In an early study, a ‘Computer Match Dance’ was advertised. 752 student participants were rated on physical attractiveness by four independent judges, as a measure of social desirability. Participants were told to fill in a questionnaire for the purposes of computer pairing, but it was used to rate similarity. Instead, participants were randomly paired, except no man was paired with a taller woman. During the dance, participants were asked to rate their date. It was found that the more attractive students were favored as dates over the less attractive students, and physical attractiveness was found to be the most important factor, over intelligence and personality.

However, the study lacks ecological validity: the interaction was very brief between participants, hence any judgment was likely to have been of superficial characteristics. The short duration between meeting and rating their partner also reduced the chance of rejection. Finally, because only students were used as participants, the sample is not representative of the whole population. In a follow up study six months after the dance, it was found that partners who were similar in terms of physical attractiveness were more likely to have continued dating: a finding that supports the matching hypothesis.

In a 1969 follow up to the Computer Dance allowed participants to meet beforehand in order to give them greater chance to interact and think about their ideal qualities in a partner. The study had greater ecological validity than the original study, and the finding was that partners that were similar in terms of physical attractiveness expressed the most liking for each other – a finding that supports the matching hypothesis. In a 1972 study, photos of 197 couples, mutually exclusive or engaged, were rated in terms of attractiveness: self-perception, perception of the partner, and appearance judged from photograph. The matching hypothesis was supported for judgment on photographs and self-perception ratings. The study found a tendency for two people of equal physical attractiveness to commit to a serious relationship.

A 1973 study argued that the evidence for the matching hypothesis didn’t come from matching but instead on the tendency of people to avoid rejection hence choosing someone similarly attractive to themselves, to avoid being rejected by someone more attractive than themselves. In an attempt to prove this participants were shown photos of people who had already indicated that they would accept the participant as a partner. The participant usually chose the person rated as most attractive; however, the study has very flawed ecological validity as the relationship was certain, and in real life people wouldn’t be certain hence are still more likely to choose someone of equal attractiveness to avoid possible rejection.

A 1982 study of 123 dating couples at UCLA found that good physical matches may be conducive to good relationships. The study reported that partners most similar in physical attractiveness were found to rate themselves happier and report deeper feelings of love nine months later. A 1986 study argued for the matching hypothesis, but maintained that it results from a learned sense of what is ‘fitting’ – i.e. we adjust our expectation of a partner in line with what we believe we have to offer others, instead of a fear of rejection.

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