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The matching hypothesis is a popular psychological theory proposed by Walster et al. in 1966, it suggests why people become attracted to their partners. It claims that people are more likely to form long standing relationships with those who are equally as physically attractive as they are.
In order to test his hypothesis, Walster advertised a “Computer Dance”. 752 student participants were rated on physical attractiveness by four independent judges, as a measure of social desirability. Participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire, supposedly for the purposes of computer pairing but actually used to rate similarity. Instead, participants were randomly paired, except no man was paired with a taller woman. During the dance, participants were asked to rate their date. It was found that the more attractive students were favoured as dates over the less attractive students, and physical attractiveness was found to be the most important factor, over intelligence and personality. These findings don’t support the matching hypothesis.
However, the study lacks ecological validity: interaction was very brief between participants, hence any judgement was likely to have been of superficial characteristics. The short duration between meeting and rating their partner also reduced the chance of rejection. Finally, because only students were used as participants, the sample is not representative of the whole population. In a follow up study six months after the dance, it was found that partners who were similar in terms of physical attractiveness were more likely to have continued dating: a finding that supports the matching hypothesis.
Walster and Walster (1969) ran a follow up to the Computer Dance, but instead allowed participants to meet beforehand in order to give them greater chance to interact and think about their ideal qualities in a partner. The study had greater ecological validity than the original study, and the finding was that partners that were similar in terms of physical attractiveness expressed the most liking for each other – a finding that supports the matching hypothesis.
Murstein (1972) also found evidence that supported the matching hypothesis: photos of dating and engaged couples were rated in terms of attractiveness. A definite tendency was found for couples of similar attractiveness to date or engage.
Huston (1973) argued that the evidence for the matching hypothesis didn’t come from matching but instead on the tendency of people to avoid rejection hence choose someone similarly attractive to themselves, to avoid being rejected by someone more attractive than themselves. Huston attempted to prove this by showing participants photos of people who had already indicated that they would accept the participant as a partner. The participant usually chose the person rated as most attractive: however, the study has very flawed ecological validity as the relationship was certain, and in real life people wouldn’t be certain hence are still more likely to choose someone of equal attractiveness to avoid possible rejection.
Brown (1986) argued for the matching hypothesis, but maintained that it results from a learned sense of what is ‘fitting’ – we adjust our expectation of a partner in line with what we believe we have to offer others, instead of a fear of rejection.
Further evidence supporting the matching hypothesis was found by Silverman (1971); Berschied et al (1971); Dion and Berschied (1974) and Berschied and Walster et al (1974). Indeed, Price and Vandenberg (1979) stated that “the matching phenomenon [of physical attractiveness between marriage partners] is stable within and across generations”.