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What Is Attraction Theory? And How Does It Affect Your Relationships?

Attraction Theory 101: How To Build Relationships That Last

Ever found yourself asking the following questions?  If so, Attraction Theory may be able to help:

How do I make them like me? How do I take our relationship to the next level? Wait, are they flirting with me or am I just misreading their behavior?! Do I really like them or am I just bored or lonely?

All these questions, and so many ways to answer them! But while we tend to focus on other people’s feelings during the “talking stage” of dating, it’s even more important to turn that focus inwards and understand where you’re coming from.

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably attracted to that person in some way or another. So let’s take a look into attraction theory as psychology has a lot to say about how we like or dislike other people. In this article, we’ll explain the attraction and reward theory, plus how it can change your approach to relationships!

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Attraction Theory, Explained

Attraction theory – sometimes referred to as social attraction theory or interpersonal attraction theory – is a branch of social psychology that studies how much we like or dislike a person. Interpersonal attraction is related to our positive feelings or experiences with someone else, and this can lead to forming a platonic or romantic relationship.

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More specifically, there’s the reward theory of attraction. It states that we’re more attracted to people we associate rewarding events with. Think of it as costs versus benefits. If they bring us more reward and more pleasure than pain, then we’ll probably wish to continue being with them.

This theory can explain why you’re still hung up on an ex or your first love. You’re still romanticizing the rewarding parts. So, let go of the old to make room for new!

What Are The Factors That Affect Interpersonal Attraction?

Many studies attempt to determine what affects our attraction to others. We can narrow that down to four: physical attractiveness, close proximity, similarity, and reciprocity.

So how do you make them like you back? Again, it’s all about the reward. Here are four pillars that can influence their attraction toward you!

Attractiveness: How Physically Attractive Are You To Them?

While you might think looks don’t matter, research suggests otherwise. Most people tend to desire others who are physically attractive. It’s just like how posts of attractive people get more engagement on social media.


Physical attraction can be influenced by issues of race, gender identity and preference, and culture. Interestingly, your perception of your own attractiveness plays a part in choosing a romantic partner. We call this the matching hypothesis in social psychology. Simply put, people tend to form relationships with those on their level.

Ask yourself: What’s my type? What’s their type? Are we on the same level, realistically speaking? We’re not saying lower your standards. We’re saying you should focus on and love yourself enough to choose someone who deserves you!

Proximity: How Near Are They To You?

So now you might be thinking: how do I start a relationship with a hottie now?! Well, they’re probably a lot closer to you than you think. Your best bet, honestly, is to look within your current relationships. Beyond that, well, there’s always narrowing down the distance you set on your dating apps. People tend to nurture a relationship with someone physically close to them.

For example, it’s so much easier to form an attraction with someone who goes to the same school as you. Here’s another way to explain it. Why do you think you drifted apart from a close friend from high school now that you’re older? Closeness breeds familiarity.

There’s a concept coined by Dr. Robert Zajonc called the mere exposure effect. This theory of attraction states that the more we interact with a person, the more likely we’ll view them positively. Our brains sometimes associate easily accessible with available, and therefore attractive. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Just, you know, respect their boundaries.

Similarity: Do Opposites Attract?

Short answer: no they don’t, sorry. Our idea of opposites attracting is actually an illusion. Maybe you have more in common than you think, and those differences stand out due to contrast. Maybe what you’re seeing are personality traits you want to fix.


In reality, loads of studies have shown that the more similar two people are, the more likely they’ll be attracted to each other. Research suggests people tend to gravitate towards partners of similar attitudes, interests, age, cultural background, and socio-economic standing.

So when vetting a potential partner, get a sense of their personality, history, and behaviors. Find something to bond over! Observation and communication are key. What kind of music makes them feel good? What do they find most rewarding in life? How do they view their family and friends? Hear out what they have to say about key issues to see if your attitudes are similar.

Reciprocity: Are The Feelings Mutual?

This might be a bit tricky to figure out. Physical attractiveness, nearness, and similarity help us form a relationship and possibly find romantic partners. But it’s reciprocity that helps us maintain them. Reciprocity is all about the give and take.

Attraction theory researchers call this the gain-loss theory of attraction. Our motivation to pursue someone changes if their like or dislike for us increases. Aren’t we more likely to be attracted to a person who likes us back? So shoot your shot. You may miss, but you might also increase your chances. The rewards outweigh the missed opportunity.

Intimacy And Self-Disclosure: Now, How Do I Actually Keep A Relationship?

Simple. Increase your intimacy and self-disclosure. In theory, these are elements of healthy romantic relationships. In other words, do unto others what you want them to do to you. Share something about yourself to encourage them to share something back.

How can you better enjoy being with each other? What can you do to make them feel rewarded? Try finding interests you can bond over. Discover their love language, and be consistent with how you communicate it.

Social Psychology Can Help You Figure Out If They Like You Back

As we said, the reward theory of attraction can explain why people seek partnerships that benefit them. Physical attraction and responsiveness can definitely increase pleasure. Being close to one another means it’s easier to meet up and spend quality time together. Where similarity is concerned, you probably wouldn’t maintain a partnership with someone who doesn’t share your values.

It’s not rocket science. It’s communicating to see if being with them rewards them as much as it can reward you.

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What Is Attraction Theory? And How Does It Affect Your Relationships?
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