It's Complicated: Opposites Biologically Attract And Psychologically Don't

by Dan Scotti

They say, “opposites attract” – in relationships, as well as friendships.

We’ve seen it on TV, with "The Odd Couple," and of course the burgeoning kinship of Dwight Schrute and Jim Halpert through nine seasons of "The Office."

We’ve heard it on the radio – through the ballads of Billy Joel, self proclaimed “back street guy,” who lusted for an uptown girl at heart.

Good girls will often chase the badass; quiet girls will crush on the life of the party; pretty girls will usually fall for the dude who’s a few notches below their “league.”

Like I said before, “opposites attract,” as they say.

Be that as it may, regardless of the frequency of which we hear the notion, there’s often very little justification behind it. After all, “opposites attract” is only a statement with any real validity when pertaining to magnets – as, yes, oppositely charged magnets will always attract, beyond any doubt.

But for people? It’s usually not so simple.

It’s also usually not so accurate. Despite the media’s reinforcement of the sentiment, certain psychological studies provide proof to lean toward the contrary.

According to the Association for Psychological Science, homophily – which is psych-jargon for the tendency of like people to attract – is the true nature of human attraction.

Thus, people who have loud, domineering personalities will tend to gravitate toward others who display loud, domineering, temperaments.

Basketball fans will typically spend their free time among friends who share a taste in hoops – and also probably wink at the girl in the Knicks beanie sitting across from them on the subway.

This is all in consonance with the balance theory, writes Kristine Keller of Psychology Today, which suggests that “we prefer consistency in our desires, thoughts, and attitudes.” With regard to relationships, this will provide the initial spark for chemistry – and doesn’t stop there.

As the APS reveals, not only is similarity between people a valid indicator of initial allure, but also for long term marital stability.

Additionally, once people begin to connect with another person, they’ll naturally begin to develop similar interests over time. This concept will only reinforce the bond between like people as the time they spend together passes.

In contrast, meeting people with different interests will often times prevent much further interaction. In line with the work of Donn Byrne and colleagues, meeting someone who expresses opposing values than you will often result in general distaste.

In support of this connection, APS reaffirms “statistical analysis shows proportionally more similarity in attitudes leads to proportionally more liking” as well.

Therefore, a person who likes coffee, the Grateful Dead, Roger Federer, Seinfeld, Chelsea FC and Raf Simons collaborations will be apt to like a person who shares all six of the same interests twice as much as someone sharing interest in only three of the six.

From a psychological standpoint, for what it’s worth, it would seem that there’s enough evidence to rule out any truth behind the whole “opposites attract” myth, once and for all.

But to quote the iconic Al Pacino in "The Godfather III" (and Silvio from "The Sopranos"), “just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

And by “they,” I really mean genetic scientists.

According to Science Daily, and a recent surge of genetic research, there is once again reason to believe that opposites do, in fact, attract – although probably not in the fashion we’ve been conditioned to expect.

By conducting studies done on the genetic region known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC), the European Society of Human Genetics concluded that human attraction is correlated directly with those bearing dissimilar MHCs.

The reasoning behind this approach is quite practical, too. By naturally being drawn to people who are genetically different from you, but not necessarily different in the matter of personal interests, it is “Mother Nature’s” little way of preventing incest (endogamy) – and diversifying offspring, in the process.

The complexity of this standpoint dwells in its unconscious nature. According to professor Maria da Graça Bicalho, head of the Immunogenetics and Histocompatibility Laboratory at the University of Parana, despite the practical reasoning behind “birds of a feather flock together,” the forces of attraction between those of genetic disparities are instinctive, and unconscious – as a means of ensuring successful, healthy reproduction.

Of course, Bicalho did not rule out the “nurture” side of nature vs. nurture debate, allowing room for cultural and environmental influence – and in the same way, you shouldn’t either.

As it seems, the substance behind “opposites attract” will likely depend on your personal stance between the roles of nature and nurture.

On the one hand, it would behoove those in support of “nature” – or the significance of environmental factors on one’s behavior – to seek out similar partners for the long haul.

On the other hand, those valuing the “nurture” side of the debate – which regards genetic imprint as the motivation of behavior – might be better off letting genetics take the wheel, and keeping the faith that their own instincts will put them in the right place.

You want my side of the debate?

Find someone who makes you happy, and who you find yourself wanting to spend time with. If that person is similar to you, great, you’ll have a lot of the same things to talk about. If that person is different than you? You’ll be able to talk about new things with each other, and broaden one another’s own horizons.

When it’s all said and done, you’ll be attracted to whomever you’re attracted to. So don’t get too caught up on the semantics, at least not beforehand.