Matching Hypothesis Definition
The matching hypothesis refers to the proposition that people are attracted to and form relationships with individuals who resemble them on a variety of attributes, including demographic characteristics (e.g., age, ethnicity, and education level), personality traits, attitudes and values, and even physical attributes (e.g., attractiveness).
Background and Importance of Matching Hypothesis
Theorists interested in relationship development believe that similarity plays a key role in the process by which people select their friends and romantic partners. During the initial phase of relationship formation, when two people have not yet become good friends or committed partners, they assess the extent to which they resemble one another in demographic background, values and interests, personality, and other characteristics. The perception of similarity promotes feelings of mutual rapport and positive sentiment between the two, as well as the expectation that further interaction will be rewarding. These feelings, in turn, increase the likelihood that their relationship will continue to develop.
Evidence for Matching Hypothesis
There is ample evidence in support of the matching hypothesis in the realm of interpersonal attraction and friendship formation. Not only do people overwhelmingly prefer to interact with similar others, but a person’s friends and associates are more likely to resemble that person on virtually every dimension examined, both positive and negative.
The evidence is mixed in the realm of romantic attraction and mate selection. There is definitely a tendency for men and women to marry spouses who resemble them. Researchers have found extensive similarity between marital partners on characteristics such as age, race, ethnicity, education level, socioeconomic status, religion, and physical attractiveness as well as on a host of personality traits and cognitive abilities. This well-documented tendency for similar individuals to marry is commonly referred to as homogamy or assortment.
The fact that people tend to end up with romantic partners who resemble them, however, does not necessarily mean that they prefer similar over dissimilar mates. There is evidence, particularly with respect to the characteristic of physical attractiveness, that both men and women actually prefer the most attractive partner possible. However, although people might ideally want a partner with highly desirable features, they might not possess enough desirable attributes themselves to be able to attract that individual. Because people seek the best possible mate but are constrained by their own assets, the process of romantic partner selection thus inevitably results in the pairing of individuals with similar characteristics.
Nonetheless, sufficient evidence supports the matching hypothesis to negate the old adage that “opposites attract.” They typically do not.
- Berscheid, E., & Reis, H. T. (1998). Attraction and close relationships. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 193-281). New York: McGraw-Hill.
- Kalick, S. M., & Hamilton, T. E. (1996). The matching hypothesis re-examined. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 673-682.
- Murstein, B. I. (1980). Mate selection in the 1970s. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 42, 777-792.