Beyond easing fear and satisfying the need for information or social comparison, mere affiliation with others is not usually a satisfactory form of interaction. Most people form specific attractions for other individuals, rather than being satisfied with belonging to a group. These attractions usually develop into friendship, love, and other forms of intimacy. Interpersonal attraction, the experience of preferring to interact with specific others, is influenced by several factors. An important situational or circumstantial factor in attraction is propinquity. Propinquity refers to the proximity or nearness of other persons. Research by Festinger and his colleagues has confirmed that people are more likely to form friendships with those who live nearby, especially if they have frequent accidental contact with them.
Further research by social psychologist Robert Zajonc indicated that propinquity increases attraction because it increases familiarity. Zajonc found that research subjects expressed greater liking for a variety of stimuli merely because they had been exposed to those stimuli more frequently than to others. The more familiar a person is, the more predictable that person seems to be. People are reassured by predictability and feel more strongly attracted to those who are familiar and reliable in this regard.
Another important factor in attraction and friendship is physical attractiveness. According to the physical attractiveness stereotype, most people believe that physically attractive people are also good and valuable in other ways. For example, physically attractive people are often assumed to be intelligent, competent, and socially successful. Attraction to physically attractive persons is somewhat modified by the fear of being rejected. Consequently, most people use a matching principle in choosing friends and partners: They select others who match their own levels of physical attractiveness and other qualities.
Matching implies the importance of similarity. Similarity of attitudes, values, and background is a powerful influence on interpersonal attraction. People are more likely to become friends if they have common interests, goals, and pastimes. Similar values and commitments are helpful in establishing trust between two people. Over time, they choose to spend more time together, and this strengthens their relationship.
Another factor in interpersonal attraction is complementarity, defined as the possession of qualities that complete or fulfill another's needs and abilities. Research has failed to confirm that "opposites attract," as attraction appears to grow stronger with similarities, not differences, between two people. There is some evidence, however, that people with complementary traits and needs will form stronger relationships. For example, a person who enjoys talking will have a compatible relationship with a friend or partner who enjoys listening. Their needs are different but not opposite—they complete each other.
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