This study investigated the matching hypothesis of interpersonal attraction to determine its role in choice of marriage partner. A class of 39 Level I Aberdeen University psychology students aged between 18-25 years, was used to conduct a correlational study using photographs of 20 brides and 20 grooms.
The class was divided into two groups and asked to rank the physical attractiveness of each bride and groom on a scale of 1-20, with 1 being most attractive and 20 being least attractive.
A class median rank was obtained for each bride and groom, from which a statistically significant positive correlation was found between the level of attractiveness for the bride and groom couples. It was concluded that physical attractiveness plays a significant role in choice of marriage partner.
There is evidence to suggest that long term relationships tend to occur between individuals who share a similar level of physical attractiveness. Walster et al (1966) used four judges to rate the attractiveness of 752 student participants.
Each student was asked to fill in a questionnaire and was told that they would be assigned by computer to a similar partner for the college dance. In fact each student was paired randomly with a member of the opposite sex.
It was found that the level of physical attractiveness was the most important factor as to whether or not a woman would be asked out on second date, but that partners who shared a similar level of attractiveness were more likely to still be together six months later.
Similarity in the level of attractiveness between partners also seems to be associated with progress in a relationship. Folkes (1982) analysed the behavioral steps taken to form relationships with 67 couples of a dating service.
Each member had access to information about a potential partners’ personality and interests in the form of a questionnaire, a photograph and a five minute videotape of an unstructured interview.
Dating decisions were therefore not based solely on a person’s physical appearance. It was found that the more similar the level of physical attractiveness, the more likely couples were to begin dating and continue dating later on.
In a separate study, Murstein (1972) analysed the physical attractiveness of 99 couples who were either engaged or going steady and 98 new couples. Each couple was asked to rate their own attractiveness and the attractiveness of their partner.
It was found that couples which shared a similar level of attractiveness were more likely to form intimate relationships than couples with dissimilar levels of physical attractiveness.
The purpose of this study was to test the validity of the matching hypothesis in interpersonal attraction, so as to determine whether similarly attractive individuals tended to form long term relationships. Two groups were used to rank twenty colour head and shoulder photographs of brides and grooms on a scale of one to twenty in order of attractiveness.
To minimise the order effect, group one ranked brides first and grooms second, and group two ranked grooms first and brides second. The results from both groups were then collected and used to obtain a median class ranking.
The aim of this study was to test the matching hypothesis of interpersonal attraction by analysing the similarity of physical attractiveness between newly married couples.
The research hypothesis was that there would be statistical support for the matching hypothesis.
There were 39 participants consisting of 11 male and 28 female Level 1 Aberdeen University psychology students, aged between 18-25 years. All were members of a Level 1 group practical class.
A3 sheets containing 20 passport sized head and shoulder colour photographs of brides lettered A-T, and A3 sheets containing 20 passport sized head and shoulder colour photographs of grooms lettered A-T.
A4 paper and pens were used to record ranking scores for brides and grooms, and A4 protocol sheets were used to record class median ranking scores (Appendix 1).
The study was of a within subjects design. A Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient (Spearman’s rho) was used to calculate the correlation coefficient between the median attractiveness ranks of brides and grooms.
In order to minimise the order effect, counterbalancing was used during the ranking procedure by dividing the class into two groups.
The researcher divided the class into two groups. Each group was further subdivided into subgroups each containing 3-4 participants. Group one participants were given an A4 sheet containing 20 passport sized head and shoulder colour photographs of brides lettered A-T.
Group two participants were given an A4 sheet containing 20 passport sized head and shoulder colour photographs of grooms lettered A-T. The class was then instructed to rank the brides (group one) and to rank the grooms (group two) on a sheet of A4 paper. The class was given 10 minutes to do so. Ranking occurred on a scale of 1-20, with 1 being most attractive and 20 being least attractive.
After the first phase of ranking, the researcher collected the A4 sheets containing the pictures of the grooms from group two and the A4 sheets containing the pictures of the brides from group one.
Group one participants were then given an A4 sheet containing 20 passport sized head and shoulder colour photographs of grooms lettered A-T, and Group two participants were given an A4 sheet containing 20 passport sized head and shoulder colour photographs of brides lettered A-T.
The class was again instructed to rank the brides (group two) and to rank the grooms (group one) and were given 10 minutes to do so. Ranking again occurred on a scale of 1-20, with 1 being most attractive and 20 being least attractive.
After the completion of the second phase of ranking, the researcher collected the A4 sheets containing the pictures of the grooms from group one and the A4 sheets containing the pictures of brides from group two.
Ranking scores for each of the twenty brides was then collected by the researcher from the entire class, followed by the ranking scores for each of the twenty grooms. From these rankings, the researcher calculated the median ranking scores for each of the twenty brides and grooms which were then read out to, and recorded by, the participants on their protocol sheets.
To determine the statistical significance between the bride and groom median ranking scores, Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient was used to calculate a correlation coefficient.
Table 1 – Class median ranks for bride and groom couples
Table 1 shows the class median ranks obtained for each couple. Some couples, such as bride H and groom L had identical ranking scores, whilst other couples such as bride C and groom K had very dissimilar ranking scores.
Figure 1 shows the class median ranking scores obtained for each bride and groom couple in the form of a scatterplot.
Figure 1: Scatterplot of bride and groom couple median attractiveness ranking scores
As the points in figure 1 gradually slope upwards from left to right, there appears to be a positive relationship between bride and groom median ranking scores. However, as the ellipse of the points on the scatterplot are fairly wide, this does not appear to be a particularly strong relationship.
Spearman’s Rank Correlation Coefficient was used to determine the correlation coefficient of the bride and groom median ranking scores.
A correlational value of Rho = 0.398; n=20; p<0.05 was obtained. As the obtained value is greater than the critical value (0.381), the results obtained are significant and confirm the positive relationship observed between bride and groom median ranking scores in figure 1.
The scatterplot in figure 1 suggested that a positive relationship existed between bride and groom median attractiveness ranking scores, and this was confirmed as being statistically significant by the correlational value of Rho = 0.398.
The research hypothesis can therefore be accepted, as the results obtained show statistical support for the matching hypothesis. These results support those of Folkes (1982) and Murstein (1972), as it appears that individuals who share a similar level of attractiveness are likely to form long term relationships.
One possible explanation which may help to explain why the matching hypothesis occurs is that less attractiveness individuals may feel a certain degree of apprehension or lack of confidence when approaching more attractive individuals (Huston, 1973).
As a result, rather than risking rejection, most individuals will tend to opt for the “safer” option by approaching someone who shares a similar level of attractiveness as their own.
However, care must be taken when interpreting these findings, as whether or not an individual has a fear of rejection is likely to be determined by their level of self esteem and their self concept.
Thus an unattractive individual with high self esteem may not fear rejection when approaching other more attractive individuals, whilst an attractive individual with low self esteem may fear rejection even when approaching less attractive individuals.
An alternative explanation for the matching hypothesis is the social exchange theory (Homans, 1958), and may also cast light on some of the anomalous results obtained during this study.
For example, bride N had a median ranking score of 17.5 and was coupled with groom J who had a median ranking score of 6, a difference of 11.5 between the two ranking scores.
The matching hypothesis states that similarly attractive individuals tend to pair together, but in this instance, it was clearly not the case as a relatively unattractive bride was paired with a relatively attractive groom.
It may therefore be possible that in some relationships, such as between bride N and groom J, other factors, such as money or status, displace the importance of physical attractiveness in forming long term relationships.
Another factor that should be taken into consideration when assessing the validity of the matching hypothesis, is how the results of this study were collected. Each group of 3-4 participants were created at random, resulting in some groups containing a mixture of both male and female participants of different ages.
As a result, the ranking of the brides and grooms may have been affected by males ranking differently to females. Another consideration is the effect of menstrual cycle phase on ranking, as women generally tend to prefer feminine looking faces but switch their preference to masculine looking faces during ovulation (Penton-Voak et al 1999). To obtain more accurate results, further study could use same sex and same age groups and divide women according to their menstrual cycle phase.
There are also issues with some of the materials used during this study. Not all pictures for example, were of the same quality and some faces were looking at an angle which may have affected the relative attractiveness, and thus the subsequent ranking scores, of the brides and grooms. Further study could easily eliminate this inconsistency by ensuring that all photographs were of the same quality and facial angle.
Finally, it was not known how long each bride and groom couple had been together, which may have lead to the false assumption that marriage was an indicator of a long term relationship when in fact it may not have been.
Some couples for example, may have decided to get married after a few weeks which would not constitute a long term relationship. Therefore, if further studies choose to use marriage as an indicator of a long term relationship, it should be known how long those couples have been in that relationship before they decided to get married.
The results from this study provide statistical support for the matching hypothesis, thereby allowing the research hypothesis to be accepted.
Folkes, V.S. (1982). Forming relationships and the matching hypothesis. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 8, 631-636.
Homans, G.C. (1958). Social Behavior as Exchange. American Journal of Sociology, 63 (6), 597-606.
Huston, T.L. (1973). Ambiguity of acceptance, social desirability, and dating choice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 9, 32-42.
Murstein, B.I. (1972). Physical attractiveness and martial choice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22, 8-12.
Penton-Voak, I. S., Perrett, D. I., Castles, D. L., Kobayashi, T., Burt, D. M., Murray, L. K., & Minamisawa, R. (1999). Menstrual cycle alters face preference. Nature, 399, 741–742.
Walster, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D., & Rottmann, L. (1966). Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4, 508-516.
Reviewed – 29th March 2016