Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Applied Study of Affinities for Personal Attributes Using an Epidemiological Model

Academic journal article Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal

Applied Study of Affinities for Personal Attributes Using an Epidemiological Model

Article excerpt

Relationship choices are critical to one's psychological and physical well-being. Yet prior investigations of factors that influence these choices have been determinedly nonutilitarian. Many studies have assessed the attractiveness of specific personal attributes, the benefits of having attractive or unattractive characteristics, and the influence of evolutionary pressures on the attractiveness of certain qualities. However, attributes have not been investigated for their effect on those who have an affinity for them in today's society. Research should be directed toward identifying affinities that are normative but maladaptive because they decrease the likelihood of forming good relationships. This research would parallel epidemiological studies of risk factors for health problems and would yield information that could be used to improve relationship choices.

The character of relationships greatly influences health and well-being including self-esteem (Leary & Downs, 1995), psychopathology (Bloom, Asher, & White, 1978), immune system response (Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1993) and even length of life (Coyne et al., 2001; House, Robbins, & Metzner, 1982). These relationships depend to a large extent on choices, conscious or unconscious, that occur on an ongoing basis. According to one source, "The everyday conduct of relationships can involve momentary choices between relationships, between different distributions of time with different partners, and even strains on loyalties to different persons who may make simultaneous competing demands on one's relational resources or provisions" (Duck, West, & Acitelli, 1997).

Because relationship choices are critical to one's psychological and physical well-being, it is important to understand the forces that influence them. Among these are affinities, forces that cause one person (the perceiver) to be drawn to, and seek a relationship with, another (the target) based on the latter's attributes. Some affinities are idiosyncratic and depend on the perceiver's unique experience, psychological makeup, opportunities, or psychopathology (McLeod, 1995). Others are normative and affect large numbers of people because of genetic and/or cultural influences.

Previous research has only rarely addressed the contributions of normative affinities to less than optimal relationship choices. This article describes previous studies on affinities and suggests an applied research field that links affinity and relationship research. This will create a new field of attractiveness research in which affinities are studied as risk factors for unhealthy relationship choices in the same way that affinities for behaviors such as smoking, inactivity, and eating fatty foods are studied in epidemiology as risk factors for disease. This research could have the same practical applications for psychological well-being as epidemiological research has for health.


Considerable research examines affinities from the standpoint of the target rather than the perceiver. This research examines what personal attributes are attractive, the advantages of being attractive, and the disadvantages of not being attractive (Berscheid & Reis, 1998). Examples of attributes that have been studied include physical appearance (Adams & Crossman, 1978; Bercheid & Walster, 1974; Huston & Levinger, 1978; Walster, Aronson, Abrahams, & Rottman, 1966), ability (Aronson, Willerman, & Floyd, 1966), pragmatic competence (Place & Becker, 1991), socioeconomic status (Baize & Schroeder, 1995; Townsend & Levy, 1990), expressiveness (Sprecher, 1989), age and sexual fidelity (Buss, 1989).

In contrast, evolutionary psychology examines affinities from the standpoint of the perceiver by exploring how genetically based affinities may have been linked to reproductive success during human evolution (Buss, 1994, 1999). According to evolutionary psychology, male traits are attractive if they signify men who will be good providers and defenders of their offspring. …

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