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Romantic Relationships: The Matching Hypothesis

What is the matching theory and how does it apply to you?

What is the matching theory and how does it apply to you?

What Is the Matching Hypothesis?

The most devastating words to hear when eyeing your crush walk into the room is "they're out of your league". Sure, we find the likes of celebrities attractive, but when it comes to dating in real life we're a little more... realistic. According to the matching hypothesis, we will often date those whose levels of attractiveness are similar to our own. This avoids heartbreak in the long run so seems to be a logical dating strategy, yet there is little evidence to support this hypothesis.

The Matching Hypothesis and Romantic Relationships

Walster and Walster propose that when individuals seek a partner, they pick those whose social desirability is similar to that of their own, they call this the matching hypothesis. Individuals first assess their own value and then select candidates who are of similar value and so are more likely to be attracted to them. By choosing partners with a similar social desirability, individuals can maximise their chances of a successful outcome. These choices are referred to as 'realistic' by Walster because when individuals seek others who are similar in attractiveness it increases the chances of affection being reciprocated. Although the matching hypothesis covers a number of valuable assets (i.e. kindness), it is more closely associated with physical attractiveness.

Testing the Matching Hypothesis

To test the matching hypothesis, Walster et al advertised a 'computer dance' and from the volunteers who answered the advertisement, they randomly picked 177 male and 170 female university students. The participants were asked to collect their tickets for the dance and were unknowingly rated by four observers on attractiveness. They then completed a questionnaire to determine intelligence and personality.

Participants were paired randomly (despite being told they had been paired because they were matched by personality). Participants completed questionnaires about their date during and after the dance. They found that the results did not support the matching hypothesis; regardless of their own physical attractiveness, participants acted more positively towards the more attractive dates. These findings imply that individuals do not evaluate their own attractiveness in order to pick potential dates and prefer the more physically attractive dates.

Similarly, Taylor et al researched dating patterns in online dating chatrooms. They found no evidence to support the matching hypothesis, instead, participants had an overall preference for attractive partners. Individuals who attempted to contact those of similar social desirability were more likely in receiving a response. Perhaps the matching hypothesis is an effective dating strategy

Does personality make up for a lack of good looks?

Does personality make up for a lack of good looks?

Complex Matching and Romantic Relationships

Walster was unable to provide proof for the matching hypothesis, Sprecher and Hatfield believe this is due to complex matching. They argue that physical attractiveness is only one of many valuable characteristics. Those who lack physical attractiveness may compensate with other characteristics such as a charming personality. This suggests that the matching hypothesis ignores other reasons behind romantic relationships.

Meltzer et al found that men had more satisfying marriages if their wives were attractive. In contrast, for women, their husband's attractiveness did not affect marital satisfaction. They also found that women lacking physical attractiveness but had traits such as kindness or intelligence did not tend to have lower levels of marital satisfaction. This research suggests that although physical attractiveness does have an effect on relationship satisfaction, it isn't the only influence as other characteristics can make up for the lack of others.

According to Darwin's theory of sexual selection, men value physical attractiveness more than women, although this may be true, Eastwick and Finkel found that although individuals expressed a desire for attractive partners, their partner choice in real life if not always reflect this preference. Despite voicing a preference for physically attractive partners, many were happy with partners who compensated looks for other characteristics.

Maybe attraction is more complex than we think.

Maybe attraction is more complex than we think.

To Conclude

The matching hypothesis states that individuals pick partners who have a similar level of physical attractiveness, this increases the chances of intimacy being reciprocated. The matching hypothesis may be useful advice to give to those who want to start dating, but research implies that we all respond more positively to physically attractive people regardless of our own appearance.

Sprecher and Hatfield argue that the reason individuals who have less attractive spouses can still have a satisfying relationship is that attraction is more complex and influenced by many characteristics such as intelligence and kindness.

More on sexual selection:

Further Research


Cardwell, M., Flanagan, C. (2016) Psychology A level The Complete Companion Student Book fourth edition. Published by Oxford University Press, United Kingdom.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Angel Harper