redigeret af Freja Bjerck-Amundsen
What people expect and wish for regarding their future partners’ personality and behavior is of interest to many of us, also to Sund & Hed. Therefore, Sund & Hed has talked to Steven Ludeke, Associate Professor (Lektor) in the Department of Psychology. He primarily studies individual differences and where they come from, particularly focusing on personality and sociopolitical attitudes. Recently, Steven published a paper on the topic of romantic partner choice, and in this article he gives us a teaser on it. Read along!
When people talk about their ideal romantic partner, they often describe a lot of parts of their personality. But there are different ways to imagine the personality of your ideal mate. Do they have traits that are very similar to yours? Or perhaps traits that are different, if you’re seeking someone to complement your strengths and weaknesses – this is the whole “opposites attract” notion. Or, alternatively, do we all agree on what a “better” personality looks like, and everybody just imagines their ideal partner as one with the “best” versions of various personality traits. We can also imagine that there might be interesting differences between men and women in how they envision the personality of their ideal partner, and perhaps also differences across cultures.
“The idea of opposites being attracted to each other just doesn’t match the data. In general, people want someone who is similar to them”
We studied four different cultures (Denmark, China, the U.S., and Germany), and found some results we thought were pretty neat. One thing our study confirmed (which was already observed in previous research if not well known by the public) is that the idea of opposites being attracted to each other just doesn’t match the data. In general, people want someone who is similar to them, and there wasn’t any indication of meaningful differences in this across cultures.
On the other hand, there were interesting differences across traits. For example, the personality trait called Openness to Experience (which concerns with how inclined a person is towards art, aesthetics, intellect, and new experiences) is something where people indicated that their ideal partner was very similar to them. The result was similar but not identical for Honesty-Humility, a trait that reflects a person’s degree of modesty and fairness. For this trait, people wanted someone similar-to but also a bit higher than themselves. This contrasts with a trait like Extraversion: this trait reflects how outgoing and confident one is, and it’s one where people were comparatively more likely to rate their ideal partner as higher in the trait than themselves rather than similar to themselves. This was particularly pronounced among female respondents, who wanted partners who were much more extraverted than the women rated themselves as being. We found an even bigger gender difference for Emotionality, a trait that covers fearfulness, anxiety, and sentimentality. As with Extraversion, there was still a bit of a preference for similar partners, but the biggest effect was that women rated their ideal man as having much lower Emotionality scores than the women assigned to themselves.
It’s worth knowing that these preferences aren’t random with respect to how beneficial and desirable these traits are. Of course, in daily life we will often talk about personality differences as largely reflecting different but equally valuable and legitimate ways to be a person, but in research we’ll allow ourselves to be a bit more evaluative. This reflects the fact that personality traits are reasonably predictive of important and valued outcomes. If you want a long, happy, and prosperous life, some versions of a given trait (e.g. low rather high emotionality) seem to help you achieve those outcomes. This is important because it helps us understand the differences between what men and women are seeking in their ideal partners. Specifically, while people in general seem to prioritize finding partners whose personality is similar-to but a bit better-than their own personality, women were much more likely to indicate they desired a partner with much “better” personality characteristics than they rated themselves as having.
Our study can’t say whether this reflects women being more choosy or aspirational than men when conceiving of their ideal partners, or whether this instead reflects that men exhibit their choosiness on characteristics we didn’t assess in our study. But other studies indicate that the latter option is at least part of the story. Studies of male and female mating preferences suggest males place a greater priority than females do on the physical attractiveness of their partner, especially in the relatively wealthy countries that most of our samples came from. (See Buss et al., 1990.)
“Personality traits are reasonably predictive of important and valued outcomes. If you want a long, happy, and prosperous life, some versions of a given trait (e.g. low rather high emotionality) seem to help you achieve those outcomes”
As interesting as we thought it was to see how much people sought similarity in their partners, it’s worth knowing that this doesn’t necessarily mean you should be very worried if you find yourself in a relationship with someone very different from you. Previous research has not found that relationship satisfaction or duration is very affected by personality similarity. (See Dyrenforth et al., 2010.)
That doesn’t mean personality doesn’t matter once you’re in a relationship, though – it does. People report higher levels of relationship satisfaction when their partners are kind, emotionally stable, and conscientious. It’s just that the benefits of having a nice or emotionally stable partner can be experienced by everyone, not just those who are nice or emotionally stable themselves. (See Malouff et al., 2010.)
For those of you who might be interested in more details: A link to the original article can be found in Fact box 1.