Theoritical Approach to Interpersonal Attraction

Interpersonal attraction is defined as the evaluation one person makes of another along a dimension that ranges from strong liking to strong dislike. Attraction research consists of the attempt to identify the factors responsible for these evaluations and to create theoretical formulations that provide and explanation for this behavior. For instance, any given person is liked by some people, disliked by some and a matter of indifference to many others. These differences in attraction are based on the characteristics and actions of the individual himself. Attraction depends on the person who is making the evaluation. Attraction also depends on the similarities and differences between the evaluator and the person being evaluated. Attraction is also influenced by the situational context in which they are interacting. The following figure indicates the level of attraction and evaluative categories.

Attraction involves the attitudes we form about other people and affect also plays a key role in forming such attitudes.

Attitudes about a person-It is the human tendency to evaluate about everything and everyone we encounter. We form attitudes about people, objects and events. At school, at work and where we live, we come in contact with other people and develop attitudes about them.

Affect as the basic factor underlying attraction. Some social psychologists propose that we make positive evaluations whenever we are experiencing negative feelings. Our interpersonal likes and dislikes are determined by emotions. Any factor that has an effect on a person's emotional st2ate also has an effect on attraction.


The social psychological theories influential in attraction research fall into two categories-the cognitive consistency theories and the Reinforcement theories.

The Cognitive Consistency Approach 

Cognitive consistency theories assume that people try to keep their cognition in some kind of consistent relationship with one another. They assume that inconsistency is uncomfortable and as a consequence, people strive either to attain consistency between their cognition and to reduce inconsistencies. Most influential theories of attraction are Heider's Balance theory, Newcomb's symmetry theory and Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory.

Heider's Balance Theory: 

Heider's Balance theory addresses both the antecedents and the consequences of interpersonal attraction. It focuses upon two kinds of relationships that may exist between three entities: a person (p), another (o) and a third person or other entity (x). The two relationships are sentiment relationships (e.g liking and disliking) and unit relationships (e.g. the perception that any two of these persons or entities do or don not belong together). Heider proposed that sentiment relationships and unit relationships tend. toward a . harmonious balanced state, where positive sentiments are felt for those with whom individuals perceive they are in a unit relationship and negative sentiments are felt for those with whom they are not. Heider's theory assumes that imbalance is uncomfortable and so attempts will be made to restore balance either by coming to like or to dislike the others or to form or break a unit relationship.

Newcomb's Strain-Toward-Symmetry Theory: 

Heider's theory was focused on the P-O-X trait, while Newcomb was interested in cognitive consistency. Within a larger group of persons. Newcomb hypothesized that if a collective system is imbalanced, then one or more of the members of the collectivity will discover the fact and the individual member will following the discovery attempt to reduce the imbalance and finally these strain-instigated changes, which may include changes in attitude as well as changes in attraction will tend to reduce collective imbalance.

This theory hypothesized that balance in a collective system increases with the Person's length of acquaintance. This was proved in an experiment in which the new batch of students were assessed in terms of their attitudes and values before they met the others and their attractions towards the other were reassessed periodically over the course of the terms. The result revealed that there was little relationship between actual attitude similarity and attraction initially, but a significant and positive relationship was found between the degree to which they actually shared similar attitudes and their attractions for each other in their final weeks of study. Newcomb's emphasizes the fact that knowledge of other people's attitudes is of critical adaptive importance to humans.

Festinger's Cognitive Dissonance Theory: 

This theory holds that cognition about any person or object are dissonant when they are illogical or incompatible and that dissonance is uncomfortable and produces attempts to reduce or eliminate it. This theory demonstrated that an individual's attraction to another is caused not only by other's characteristics and behavior but attraction is also influenced by the individual's own behavior toward the other.

Aronson (1959) through his experiment demonstrated that increases and decreases in feelings of attraction for others can be the result not of changes in other's behavior but of personal attempts to achieve cognitive consistency. He found that women who had undergone a severe initiation experience to he admitted to what they later discovered to be a dull discussion reduced the dissonance generated by rating the discussion as more interesting and the other group members more positively than those women who experienced either a mild initiation or no initiation at all.

The Reinforcement Approach 

Newcomb (1956) proposed that an individual's attraction to another is a function of the frequency with which the other rewards the individual and further; that the likelihood of an individual's receiving rewards from another varies with the frequency with which the individual rewards the other. Newcomb hypothesized that attraction should vary with degree of perceived attitude similarity because attitude similarity was hypothesized to be rewarding. The most important reinforcement theories are social exchange theory, equity theory, and theory of social interdependence.

Homans Social Exchange Theory 

Homans conceives of social interactions as similarities to economic transactions. People are viewed as reward-seeking and punishment-avoiding creatures. Who try to maximize their rewards and minimize their punishments to obtain the most 'Profit' they can form their social interactions. He emphasized on the principle of satiation which accounts that, the more a person has of a commodity, the less valuable are further units of it (e.g., for some one who has received a great deal of social approbation, affection from still another person is not 'North as much as it is to an individual who is starved for it. The esteem one individual may give another plays a central role because it is like any other commodity which people exchange in interaction.

Homans formulated "distributive justice hypotheses" which means that a man in an exchange relation with another will expect that the rewards of each man be proportional to his costs-the greater the rewards, the greater the costs and that the net rewards or profits of each man be proportional to his investments-the greater the investments, the greater the profit. If this rule is violated, the person's attraction towards the other will be affected.

The Equity Theory 

Adams (1963) proposed that inequity exists for individuals when they perceive that the ratio of their outcomes to inputs in a relationship with another and the ratio of the other's outcomes to inputs are unequal. Since inequality creates tension, the individual is motivated to eliminate or reduce it. One way in which people may eliminate or reduce inequality is to alter their own inputs into relationship, either by increasing them or decreasing them, depending upon whether the equity is personally advantageous or disadvantageous.

Theory of Social Interdependence 

Thibaut and Kelly's theory attempts to predict and explain the emergence of norms governing the relationship between two or more people and and dependence within a relationship. It focuses upon the behavior outcome matrix characteristic of a relationship which describes the ways in which two or more individuals· are dependent upon the behavior of each other in achieving favorable outcomes for themselves. This theory also stresses that an individual's behavioral pay off matrix characteristic of the relationship rather than a function of the individual's pay off matrix alone.

Thibaut and Kelly focused on two concepts-comparison level (CL) and comparison level for alternatives (CLalt). Comparison level (CL) is conceived to be the standard by which people evaluate the rewards and costs of a given relationship in terms of what they feel they deserve and it is defined as the average value of all the outcomes known to the individual. It is hypothesized that relationships whose outcomes are above the CL will be satisfying and attractive to the individual and relationships whose outcomes fall below the CL will be relatively unattractive. Comparison level for alternatives is conceived to be the standard an individual uses to decide whether to maintain or terminate a relationship.

However, in some situations people maintain their relationship even if they regard it as unsatisfactory and continue to interact with others whom they regard unattractive simply because they have no better alternative.


Many investigators attempted to distinguish both theoretically and empirically, between certain varieties·of attraction, particularly between liking and more intense positive sentiments.

Liking vs Love 

The question that often arises is whether liking and love represent different quantitative expressions of attraction or whether they are qualitatively different phenomena. Liking and one variety of love, romantic love appears to differ in ways that suggest that their determinants may differ in kind.

• Romantic love seems to have a swift onset while liking appears to grow gradually.
• Romantic love seems to differ from liking in its fragility. Mild form of attraction seem to be stable and wore intense forms of attraction appears to be more volatile and short lived. It is the actual rewards that are exchanged in interaction that are of primary importance in creating liking but it is the anticipation of rewards to be received in future association with another that are of importance in generating the intensity of attraction, romantic love.
• The nature of the rewards that have been shown to be important in generating liking seem sensible but events associated with punishment such as suffering, agony, frustration and fear do not diminish romantic love but increase its intensity.

Thus, different factors influence the appearance of liking and Romantic love.

 Love - Another Variety of Attraction 

According to Rubin (1973), the dimensions underlying the love are attachment, caring for the welfare of the other and intimacy while the dimensions underlying liking seem to be affection and respect. Swensen (1972) has found that certain behaviors seem to differentiate between loved persons and acquaintances. Behavior toward a loved ·person of the opposite sex included self-disclosure, giving both material (e.g. gifts) and non-material benefits (e.g. emotional and moral support) to the other as well as verbal and physical (e.g. hugging) expressions of affection.

Altruistic Love 

According to Kelly (1983), love refers to the individual's caring about the other person's welfare as well as the individual's acting in ways that promote the other's well being, sometimes even at the expense of the individual's own. This is the variety of love called agape. It is also sometimes called brotherly, charitable or communal love, emphasizing its quality of responding to another's need rather than giving with expectation of return. This variety of love appears similar to B-love or love for another's being as opposed to D-love or deficiency love that grows out of the individual's needs and what the other is perceived to be able to do to satisfy those needs.

Although altruistic love may accompany other forms of attraction, the determinants of altruistic love may differ from determinants of other forms of love.

Altruistic love focuses on behavior that promotes the welfare of the other and not upon positive appraisals of the other's properties nor upon  positive feelings and emotions experience in association with the other nor upon behavior that promotes proximity to the other.


The determinants of attachment behavior or behavior that promotes close physical proximity to another have been of great interest particularly in infants, in infrahuman animals and in human adults. These determinants revolve around familiarity of the other and do not include how much the other is liked. Familiar persons are evaluated favorably and interaction with them is rewarding.

Proximity-promoting behavior and separation distress may be exhibited toward persons who have become familiar but not to those who are not regarded and with whom the interaction is not rewarding.

Philias or Friendship 

Liking implies a milder sentiment than love, but sometimes liking develops into an intensity and it is termed love. Liking revolve around the rewards two people receive or anticipate receiving from their interaction with each other. Love defined as the favorable evaluation of the others qualities is known as pragmatic love.

Eros or Romantic Love 

It is one of the most dramatic forms of attraction and assumed special importance in our culture as the sine qua non of marriage. The term romantic love is sometimes used synonymously with the term heterosexual love to refer to any positive feeling, toward any person of the opposite sex. It is also used interchangeably with the phrase passionate love to refer to more intense feelings towards opposite-sex others.

Romantic love refers to a perceived psychological dependency positing a crucial relationship between perceived dependence upon another for comfort, well-being and happiness and love for him or her.
Schachter theorized that individuals will experience romantic love whenever two conditions coexist-they are strongly aroused physiologically and situational cues indicate that romantic love is the appropriate interpretation of their feelings. The romantic experiences of individuals possessing an internal locus of control orientation would differ from those who possessed an external locus of control orientation. Fewer internals than externals reported having been romantically attached, internals experienced romantic attraction as being less mysterious and volatile than externals and internals more strongly opposed an idealistic view of romantic love than externals did.


Interpersonal attraction is a positive attitude held by one person toward another person. It is the basis for the development, maintenance and dissolution of close personal relationships. Attraction is influenced by the situational context in which they are interacting. Different theories give a wider perspective on how attraction to other develops. The most important theories are. Consistency theories are and Reinforcement Theories. The most influential Consistency and Balance theory, strain toward symmetry and cognitive dissonance theory. The reinforcement theories include Homan's social exchange theory, equity theory and theory of social interdependence. There are varieties of interpersonal attraction which include liking, a mild sentiment to love, an intense attraction. 
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