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Romantic Relationships: The Matching Hypothesis

Angel is currently studying for her A-levels (English, Sociology and Psychology) in the hopes of going to university next year.

The most devastating words to hear when eyeing your crush walk into the room is "out of your league". Sure, we find the likes of celebrities attractive, but when it comes to dating in real life we're a little more... realistic. According to the matching hypothesis, we will often date those whose levels of attractiveness are similar to our own. This avoids heartbreak in the long run so seems to be a logical dating strategy, yet there is little evidence to support this hypothesis.

The Matching Hypothesis and Romantic Relationships

Walster and Walster propose that when individuals seek a partner, they pick those whose social desirability is similar to that of their own, they call this the matching hypothesis. Individuals first assess their own value and then select candidates who are of similar value and so are more likely to be attracted to them. By choosing partners with a similar social desirability, individuals can maximise their chances of a successful outcome. These choices are referred to as 'realistic' by Walster because when individuals seek others who are similar in attractiveness it increases the chances of affection being reciprocated. Although the matching hypothesis covers a number of valuable assets (i.e. kindness), it is more closely associated with physical attractiveness.

Testing the Matching Hypothesis

To test the matching hypothesis, Walster et al advertised a 'computer dance' and from the volunteers who answered the advertisement, they randomly picked 177 male and 170 female university students. The participants were asked to collect their tickets for the dance and were unknowingly rated by four observers on attractiveness. They then completed a questionnaire to determine intelligence and personality.

Participants were paired randomly (despite being told they had been paired because they were matched by personality). Participants completed questionnaires about their date during and after the dance. They found that the results did not support the matching hypothesis; regardless of their own physical attractiveness, participants acted more positively towards the more attractive dates. These findings imply that individuals do not evaluate their own attractiveness in order to pick potential dates and prefer the more physically attractive dates.

Similarly, Taylor et al researched dating patterns in online dating chatrooms. They found no evidence to support the matching hypothesis, instead, participants had an overall preference to attractive partners. Individuals who attempted to contact those of similar social desirability were more likely in receiving a response. Prehaps the matching hypothesis is an effective dating strategy

Further Research

Complex Matching and Romantic Relationships

Walster was unable to provide proof for the matching hypothesis, Sprecher and Hatfield believe this is due to complex matching. They argue that physical attractiveness is only one of many valuable characteristics. Those who lack physical attractiveness may compensate with other characteristics such as a charming personality. This suggests that the matching hypothesis ignores other reasons behind romantic relationships.

Meltzer et al found that men had more satisfied marriages if their wives were attractive. In contrast, for women, their husband's attractiveness did not affect marital satisfaction. They also found that women lacking physical attractiveness but had traits such as kindness or intelligence did not tend to have lower levels of marital satisfaction. This research suggests that although physical attractiveness does have an effect on relationship satisfaction, it isn't the only influence as other characteristics can make up for the lack of others.

According to Darwin's theory of sexual selection, men value physical attractiveness more than women, although this may be true, Eastwick and Finkel found that although individuals expressed a desire for attractive partners, their partner choice in real life if not always reflect this preference. Despite voicing a preference for physically attractive partners, many were happy with partners who compensated looks for other characteristics.

To Conclude

The matching hypothesis states that individuals pick partners who have a similar level of physical attractiveness, this increases the chances of intimacy being reciprocated. The matching hypothesis may be useful advice to give to those who want to start dating, but research implies that we all respond more positively to physically attractive people regardless of our own appearance.

Sprecher and Hatfield argue that the reason individuals who have less attractive spouses can still have a satisfied relationship is that attraction is more complex and influenced by many characteristics such as intelligence and kindness.

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More on sexual selection:


Cardwell, M., Flanagan, C. (2016) Psychology A level The Complete Companion Student Book fourth edition. Published by Oxford University Press, United Kingdom.

© 2018 Angel Harper


Angel Harper (author) on October 07, 2018:

dashingscorpio, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your comment! I believe people start off hoping for physical attractiveness but later learn that there is more to attraction than appearances.

I think "The happiest people are those who learn to accept themselves for who they are and have to decide to make the most out of life." is my new favourite quote. Thank you for reading and commenting.

dashingscorpio from Chicago on October 07, 2018:

Very interesting article.

"According to the matching hypothesis, we will often date those whose levels of attractiveness are similar to our own."

However oftentimes it's because {it's the best one can do}!

Rejection plays a BIG role in mate selection. The more often one gets shot down the more likely they're willing to lower their sights.

Most men if given the opportunity to date a woman who looked like Margot Robbie versus one who looked like Chrissy Metz from "This Is Us", the vast majority would choose Margot Robbie!

One area in which men can overcome their own lack of attractiveness has to do with high income, wealth, power, and fame. It's not uncommon for a short bald man who owns his own successful company to have a wife who looks "out of his league". The term "Trophy Wife" is commonly used in such situations.

For the majority of the world the term "settling" has a negative connotation. However to {settle} actually means to finally make a decision. Human nature dictates we will always choose what we believe to be (our BEST OPTION) based upon the COST or EFFORT we are willing to expend in order to have whatever it is.

In some instances people decide they'd rather be alone if they can't have those who are "out of their league".

They choose Self-loathing and being alone over "settling".

Countless people will tell you they have no mate because they're "too fat, too short, are bald, have bad skin," or whatever you can imagine. However the world view doesn't bare that out.

However when I tell them to go into any public place (the mall, movie theatre, park, beach, restaurant, church..) and look around to see if they see others who are fat, short, bald, or have bad skin who do have girlfriends/boyfriends and spouses. Clearly if you see others in the same boat as yourself and they've found love then it's not your physical characteristics keeping you from finding (a mate).

Most people eventually become "realistic" and put things into perspective. They realize not everyone gets to date or marry "Ms. Universe" or the "Sexiest Man Alive". There are far more (average) looking people on the planet than there are "beautiful people".

Some people have done complete body make-overs but remain psychologically unhappy. They resent the fact that guys/women who would have never looked twice at them in the past are pursuing them now. This is because deep within their scars of rejection remain.

The happiest people are those who learn to accept themselves for who they are and have to decided to make the most out of life.

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