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The matching hypothesis (also known as the matching phenomenon) is derived from the discipline of social psychology and was first proposed by Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues in 1966, which suggests why people become attracted to their partner. It claims that people are more likely to form and succeed in a committed relationship with someone who is equally socially desirable. This is often researched in the form of physical attraction.
If this leads you to think of all the successful couples in which the partners differ greatly in physical attractiveness, it is likely that the less attractive partner has compensating qualities to offer. For instance, some men with wealth and status desire younger, more attractive women. Some women are more likely to overlook physical attractiveness for men who possess wealth and status.
It is also similar to some of the theorems outlined in Uncertainty Reduction Theory, from the post-positivist discipline of communication studies. These theorems include constructs of nonverbal expression, perceived similarity, liking, information seeking, and intimacy, and their correlations to one another.
Walster et al. (1966)
Walster advertised a "Computer Match Dance". 752 student participants were rated on physical attractiveness by four independent judges, as a measure of social desirability. Participants were told to fill in a questionnaire for the purposes of computer matching based on similarity. Instead, participants were randomly paired, except no man was paired with a taller woman. During an intermission of the dance, participants were asked to assess their date. People with higher ratings were found to have more harsh judgment of their dates. Furthermore, higher levels of attractiveness indicated lower levels of satisfaction with their pairing, even when they were on the same level. It was also found that both men and women were more satisfied with their dates if their dates had high levels of attractiveness. Physical attractiveness was found to be the most important factor in enjoying the date. It was more important than intelligence and personality.
One criticism Walster assigned to the study was that the four judges who assigned the attractiveness ratings to the participants had very brief interactions with them. Longer exposure may have changed the attraction ratings. In a follow up of the experiment, it was found that couples were more likely to continue interacting if they held similar attraction ratings.
Walster and Walster (1969)
Walster and Walster 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 also found evidence that supported the matching hypothesis. Photos of 197 couples in various statuses of relationship (from casually dating to married), were rated in terms of attractiveness by eight judges. Each person was photographed separately. The judges did not know which photographs went together within romantic partnerships. The ratings from the judges supported the matching hypothesis.
Self-perception and perception of the partner were included in the first round of the study; however, in the later rounds they were removed, as partners not only rated themselves unrealistically high, but their partners even higher.
Huston argued that the evidence for the matching hypothesis didn't come from matching but instead on the tendency of people to avoid rejection hence choosing 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.
White conducted a study on 123 dating couples at UCLA. He stated that good physical matches may be conducive to good relationships. The study reported that partners most similar in physical attractiveness were found to rate themselves happier and report deeper feelings of love.
The study also supported that some, especially men, view relationships as a marketplace. If the partnership is weak, an individual may devalue it if they have many friends of the opposite sex who are more attractive. They may look at the situation as having more options present that are more appealing. At the same time, if the relationship is strong, they may value the relationship more because they are passing up on these opportunities in order to remain in the relationship.
Brown 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.
Garcia and Khersonsky (1996)
Garcia and Khersonsky studied this effect and how others view matching and non-matching couples. Participants viewed photos of couples who matched or did not match in physical attractiveness and completed a questionnaire. The questionnaire included ratings of how satisfied the couples appear in their current relationship, their potential marital satisfaction, how likely is it that they will break up and how likely it is that they will be good parents. Results showed that the attractive couple was rated as currently more satisfied than the non-matching couple, where the male was more attractive than the female. Additionally, the unattractive male was rated as more satisfied (currently and marital) than the attractive female in the non-matching couple. The attractive woman was also rated as more satisfied (currently and marital) in the attractive couple.
Shaw Taylor et al. (2011)
Shaw Taylor performed a series of studies involving the matching hypothesis in online dating. In one of the studies, the attractiveness of 60 males and 60 females were measured and their interactions were monitored. The people with whom they interacted were then monitored to see who they interacted with, and returned messages to. What they found was different from the original construct of matching. People contacted others who were significantly more attractive than they were. However it was found that the person was more likely to reply if they were closer to the same level of attractiveness. This study supported matching but not as something that is intentional.
Further evidence supporting the matching hypothesis was found by:
- Berscheid and Dion (1974) 
- Berscheid and Walster et al. (1974)
- Kalick and Hamilton (1986)
- Price and Vandenberg stated that "the matching phenomenon [of physical attractiveness between marriage partners] is stable within and across generations".
- "Love is often nothing but a favorable exchange between two people who get the most of what they can expect, considering their value on the personality market." - Erich Fromm
- Walster, E., Aronson, V., Abrahams, D., & Rottman, L. (1966). Importance of physical attractiveness in dating behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(5), 508-516.
- Feingold, Alan (1 January 1988). "Matching for attractiveness in romantic partners and same-sex friends: A meta-analysis and theoretical critique.". Psychological Bulletin 104 (2): 226–235. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.104.2.226.
- Myers, David G. (2009). Social psychology (10th ed. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education. ISBN 9780073370668.
- Berger, Charles R.; Calabrese, Richard J. (1 January 1975). "Some Exploration in Initial Interaction and Beyond: Toward a Developmental Theory of Interpersonal Communication". Human Communication Research 1 (2): 99–112. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2958.1975.tb00258.x.
- Berscheid, Ellen; Dion, Karen; Walster, Elaine; Walster, G.William (1 March 1971). "Physical attractiveness and dating choice: A test of the matching hypothesis". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 7 (2): 173–189. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(71)90065-5.
- Murstein, Bernard I. (1 January 1972). "Physical attractiveness and marital choice.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 22 (1): 8–12. doi:10.1037/h0032394.
- Huston, Ted L. (1 January 1973). "Ambiguity of acceptance, social desirability, and dating choice". Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 9 (1): 32–42. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(73)90060-7.
- White, Gregory L. (1 January 1980). "Physical attractiveness and courtship progress.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39 (4): 660–668. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.520.
- Brown, Roger (1986). Social psychology, the second edition (2nd ed. ed.). New York: Free Press. ISBN 9780029083000.
- Garcia & Khersonsky (1996). "'They make a lovely couple': Perceptions of couple attractiveness.". Journal of Social Behavior and Personality 11 (4): 667–682.
- Shaw Taylor, L.; Fiore, A. T.; Mendelsohn, G. A.; Cheshire, C. (1 June 2011). ""Out of My League": A Real-World Test of the Matching Hypothesis". Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 37 (7): 942–954. doi:10.1177/0146167211409947.
- Dion, Karen K.; Berscheid, Ellen (1 March 1974). "Physical Attractiveness and Peer Perception Among Children". Sociometry 37 (1): 1. doi:10.2307/2786463.
- Berscheid, E; Walster, E (1974). "Physical Attractiveness". Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (New York: Academic Press) 7: 157–215. doi:10.1016/s0065-2601(08)60037-4.
- Kalick, S. Michael; Hamilton, Thomas E. (1 January 1986). "The matching hypothesis reexamined.". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 51 (4): 673–682. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2063.
- Price, Richard A.; Vandenberg, Steven G.; Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol 5(3), Jul, 1979. pp. 398-400.
- The Sane Society, 1955