Walster (blind date event)
It would be nice to think that the formation of a relationship relied on more than physical attractiveness. However, the importance of beauty should not be underestimated. Walster (1966) arranged for a blind date event where students were paired up with a stranger. Midway through the date, they were separated and asked what they thought of their date. Attractiveness was the only significant predictor of how highly someone was rated.
There is a lot of agreement between people about whether someone is physically attractive. Physical attractiveness is often the first thing we observe about a stranger. However, there are differences in what is perceived to be attractive in men and women. Buss (1989) found that the vast majority of males rated physical attractiveness as important. However, his research was limited in its explanation of what particular factors are considered to be attractive
Moving on, if we accept that humans evolved, it is therefore logical to assume that our behaviour likewise evolved to help us survive. Sociobiology therefore is a field of psychology that aims to explain social behaviour in evolutionary terms. Behaviour is said to be adaptive if it leads to increased survival and reproduction of an organism. This means that the gene that causes this behaviour will be passed on to the next generation. It is argued that most behaviour is adaptive; otherwise the organism would not have lived long enough to pass the genes on.
Sociobiological (evolutionary) explanations of attractiveness therefore see attraction as an adaptive behaviour that leads to increased reproduction and survival. Men and women should seek out partners who are likely to produce healthy children. Sociobiological explanations of attractiveness state that traits associated with attractiveness act as indications of good health. Therefore, choosing an attractive partner is the best way of ensuring a healthy partner and a healthy child. Perceived health is important for two reasons: firstly, that partner is going to be physically able to bear children (women) or provide for the family (men); it also means that there is a good chance that the genes that they carry will produce healthy offspring. Langois et al (1994) found that symmetrical faces are perceived to be more attractive. Presumably, this is because symmetry is associated with good health.
Asymmetrical Faces & Beauty
Many disease and genetic illnesses can cause asymmetrical faces. Similarly, Little et al (2007) examined preferences for symmetry in both the UK and the Hadza, a primitive hunter-gatherer society in Tanzania. Both groups preferred symmetrical faces.
Beauty can also be a good predictor of health in general. This is supported by Henderson & Anglin (2003). They looked at photographs from high school yearbooks produced in the 1920s. Students whose photographs were rated a high in facial attractiveness lived significantly longer on average than those whose photos were rated as low in attractiveness. In sociobiological terms, we find the traits beautiful, which suggest good health, as we have evolved to seek out healthy mates who will produce healthy children.
Another aspect of the sociobiological approach is that age and financial prospects can be a factor in mate selection. Bear in mind however, that beauty and age are interlinked. The traits that are seen as beautiful are often indications of youth.
Buss (1989) and 37 cultures
Buss (1989) Studied 37 cultures around the world and found differences in age preferences and according to Buss, what men and women find attractive in the opposite sex are those features which maximise the probability that their genes will be passed on.
Alternatively, however, Buss also found that both men and women rated kindness and intelligence higher than attractiveness in all cultures. This may suggest that biological and evolutionary factors are not everything, and that culture has a role to play. However, it could also be argued that kindness and intelligence are traits that would improve reproductive success, and so may still support the sociobiological explanation.
Howard et al ...
Additionally, a theory proposed by Howard et al (1987) gives an alternative explanation for the female preference for older men. Their explanation argues that it is a result of culture, not of biological factors. Historically, women have had a much lower status than men, and the only way in which to enhance their social status is to marry an older man of high status. Women therefore could only offer youth and physical attractiveness instead, however, this theory does not explain how and why the older man sees the younger woman as attractive.
This theory does provide a good explanation of why certain facial characteristics are perceived to be attractive as these characteristics can be related to health and reproductive success. However, it assumes that people might reject potential mates on the basis of characteristics that suggest genetic disorders or illnesses. Following this logic people with these characteristics will never find mates. However, this is often not the case, and many of people with genetic disorders find partners.
As a theory of relationship formation, it is limited, as it cannot explain non-sexual relationships. It is hard for this theory to explain how someone can love their best friend as much as their husband, and why they may like their best friend more (Sternberg & Grajek, 1984).
Walsters et al continued
In Walster et al (1966) mentioned previously, the people in the blind date all preferred partners more attractive than them (going against the matching hypothesis). However, this may have been because the interaction was brief, and the participants were not thinking about the long term. Walster followed up the participants, and found that the students were more likely to have subsequently gone on to date their partners after the dance if they were similar in physical attractiveness than if they were different. This provides support for the matching hypothesis.
Alternatively, a weakness of Walster’s research is that there are ethical issues, the reason for this is because the students were told that the questionnaire information would be used to match them with their ideal mate. But the matching was purely random, they also didn’t know that their attractiveness was being assessed, or that they were taking part in a study at all. This suggests that there is a problem of informed consent in walster’s study and therefore the researchers did not protect their participants from harm.
There are large individual differences in how important physical attractiveness is, for instance, Towhey (1979) gave males and females a set of photos and biographical information about people, and asked them to judge how much they would like them. Those who scored high on the Macho Scale (dealing with sexist attitudes, stereotypes and behaviour) were much more influenced by physical attractiveness than those who were low on the Macho Scale who virtually ignored it as a factor. Similar evidence comes from Murstein (1972) who found that the physical attractiveness of engaged and those going out together were rated to be similar.
Murstein and Christy (personality)
Also, it has been argued that physical attractiveness is only important during the start of a relationship. The matching hypothesis might account for initial attraction, but successful long-term relationships are better predicted by other factors such as personality and socioeconomic background. However, Murstein and Christy (1976) reported that married couples were significantly more similar in attractiveness than couples that were dating. This does seem to provide some support for the matching hypothesis. The matching hypothesis is able to explain matching in ways other than physical attractiveness. This can explain why beautiful people may be attracted to less attractive people who may be able to provide intelligence or wealth instead.
The "economic theory"
The “economic” theory expresses relationships in terms of a distribution of resources. Thibaut & Kelley (1959) proposed the social exchange theory. Is built upon the theory that relationships form due to the rewards that we get from them (Foa & Foa 1975). However, social exchange theory is more specific to attraction. This theory argues that if you have a friend/partner who constantly needs help and support (high cost) then they need to provide you with lots of rewards to make up for it. It is also assumed that if a relationship is to continue, people expect to be rewarded as often as they reward the other person. Should the costs of a potential relationship seem to outweigh the benefits that a person may get from it, the relationship will not form. It may be that the costs and benefits of a relationship are not apparent from the outset, and when these become apparent, a relationship may break down.
Thibaut & Kelley (1959) propose 4 stages that all relationships go through, firstly, “sampling” the costs and rewards of associating with others are explored, and secondly, “bargaining” a process of negotiation in which rewards and costs are agreed, thirdly “commitment” exchange of rewards and acceptance of costs stabilises. Greater focus on the relationship itself and lastly “Institutionalisation” Norms and expectations are firmly established.
Additionally, Social exchange theory also takes into account previous relationships to provide a comparison level with which to assess the rewards and costs. For example, someone who has had bad relationships in the past may not expect many rewards from future relationships. This may lower a person’s expectations, and they may accept lower rewards. On the other hand, someone who in a previous relationship had many rewards and few costs may have higher expectations, and expect more.
In support of this, Hatfield (1979) questioned newlyweds about their level of contentment in their marriage. Social exchange theory states that the happiest people should be those who over benefit. However, it was found that the happiest people were those who felt that the marriage was equal for both partners in terms of costs and benefits.
Thus, the “Equity theory” addresses this issue. This theory states that people are not looking for a relationship in which they can over-benefit, but one in which the rewards for both parties are equal. In fact, over-benefitting can be as damaging for a person than under benefitting.
The factors that determine the choice of marriage partner vary significantly from culture to culture. It may be argued that sociobiologists consistently underestimate the role of culture in their explanations of social behaviour. For example, in cultures where arranged marriages are common, an individual may have little over their choice of partner. Therefore, attractiveness may not be applicable.
In conclusion, it is difficult to quantify what “rewards” and “costs” are as they are subjective and unique to each person. For example, you may have a friend who constantly needs emotional support and advice from you, and from the outside it may seem as if your costs outweigh the rewards you gain from the relationship. However, you may gain rewards in the sense of feeling good about helping and also there may be gender or cultural differences in the rewards expected from a relationship.
p.s. ily tino