In This Article Attraction in Close Relationships

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Communication of Attraction or Flirting
  • Love as a Special Variety of Attraction

Psychology Attraction in Close Relationships
by
Pamela C. Regan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0158

Introduction

Interpersonal attraction—liking or positive sentiment—plays a fundamental role in human life. The experiences we have and the outcomes we receive in virtually all areas of our existence—developmental, educational, occupational, social, relational, physical, and mental, to name a few—are deeply and continuously affected by the sentiments, feelings, and attitudes we evoke in others. Indeed, the answer to the question of who likes/dislikes us, who loves/hates us, or who is merely indifferent to us determines not only the personal, interpersonal, and social opportunities and outcomes we receive, but also the quality and even the quantity of our very lives. Although interpersonal attraction permeates and influences all human interactions and relationships, it plays a particularly important role in the formation and development of voluntary close relationships such as friendships and romantic relationships. Voluntary relationships typically are born within an open interaction field in which each potential partner is relatively free to initiate (or refrain from initiating) the relationship; consequently, the development and continued survival of these relationships is heavily dependent on the partners’ degree of attraction to one another. Thus, most theoretical and empirical work conducted on interpersonal attraction and relationship development—and virtually all work cited in this bibliography—is focused on voluntary relationships (and may not be applicable to nonvoluntary relationships [e.g., parent-child, coworker, arranged marriage]). The first section of this article introduces general review articles and books that summarize the scientific literature on interpersonal attraction and close relationship development. The second section focuses on theories of attraction and includes citations for the early models that focused primarily on attraction between strangers in lab settings, as well as more general process-oriented models that explain attraction in initial encounters and throughout subsequent relationship development. The third section presents research on the general factors that have been shown to generate liking and spark relationship initiation and development (e.g., familiarity, similarity, responsiveness, desirable partner attributes, physical attractiveness, proximity, receptivity). The article’s remaining sections cover research exploring the communication of attraction (i.e., flirting), and theory and research on one important and extensively investigated type of attraction—love.

General Overviews

Interpersonal attraction is one of the most commonly studied topics in the field of psychology. Social psychologists, particularly those specializing in attitudes, social perception and cognition, impression formation, and close relationships, have made the most sustained contributions to the topic. One of the earliest and most significant reference works is Huston 1974. This edited work contains chapters exploring multiple facets of interpersonal attraction, written by premier scholars, and provides a solid introduction to early attraction theory and research. Equally important are the early reviews—Newcomb 1956, Byrne and Griffitt 1973, and Huston and Levinger 1978. Berscheid 1985 and Berscheid and Reis 1998, as well as the entirety of the edited books Hendrick and Hendrick 2000 and Sprecher, et al. 2008, offer comprehensive and more contemporary overviews of major theories, research, and developments in the realm of interpersonal attraction and close relationships; these works are essential reading for any interested student or scholar.

  • Berscheid, Ellen. 1985. Interpersonal attraction. In The handbook of social psychology. 3d ed. Vol. 2. Edited by Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson, 413–484. New York: Random House.

    E-mail Citation »

    Written by one of the premier scholars in the area, this article provides a comprehensive overview of theory and research on interpersonal attraction through the mid-1980s.

  • Berscheid, Ellen, and Harry T. Reis. 1998. Attraction and close relationships. In The handbook of social psychology. 4th ed. Vol. 2. Edited by Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey, 193–281. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

    E-mail Citation »

    This update to Berscheid 1985 reviews two decades of additional theoretical and empirical developments pertaining to interpersonal attraction and close relationships, and is an especially useful primer for undergraduate and graduate students interested in the area.

  • Byrne, Donn, and William Griffitt. 1973. Interpersonal attraction. Annual Review of Psychology 24:317–336.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ps.24.020173.001533E-mail Citation »

    Written by two pioneering researchers in the area of attraction, this early review article provides an excellent overview of the measurement of attraction, existing theories of attraction, and empirical research on factors (such as similarity) that influence attraction.

  • Hendrick, Clyde, and Susan S. Hendrick, eds. 2000. Close relationships: A sourcebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

    E-mail Citation »

    This edited book is a valuable reference for readers interested in attraction and close relationships. Chapters explore the factors that influence attraction and relationship development in diverse partnerships and populations (among children, adolescents, the elderly, homosexual and heterosexual adults, etc.).

  • Huston, Ted L., ed. 1974. Foundations of interpersonal attraction. New York: Academic Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    Containing chapters written by premier scholars in the area, this now-classic edited book continues to serve as a useful guide to the early theories and research that form the basis for contemporary work on interpersonal attraction.

  • Huston, Ted L., and George Levinger. 1978. Interpersonal attraction and relationships. Annual Review of Psychology 29:115–156.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.ps.29.020178.000555E-mail Citation »

    This review article represents one of the first summaries of the interpersonal attraction literature. Of particular interest is the authors’ discussion of social and cultural influences on attraction and the need to investigate those external influences more systematically (a state of affairs that, unfortunately, continues to characterize contemporary attraction research).

  • Newcomb, Theodore M. 1956. The prediction of interpersonal attraction. American Psychologist 11.11: 575–586.

    DOI: 10.1037/h0046141E-mail Citation »

    In this, his entertaining and thoughtful presidential address to the American Psychological Association, Newcomb summarizes the state of attraction theory and research as it existed in the 1950s. Knowledgeable readers will appreciate Newcomb’s prescience with respect to many issues that subsequently became central to scholarship in the area.

  • Sprecher, Susan, Amy Wenzel, and John Harvey, eds. 2008. Handbook of relationship initiation. New York: Psychology Press.

    E-mail Citation »

    The chapters in this multidisciplinary book cover research and theory on interpersonal attraction and relationship initiation. Each chapter focuses on a distinct aspect of the process or context of initial attraction and relationship beginnings, and the book as a whole provides a comprehensive introduction to this area.

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